With Election Day a little more than a week away, TV and print ads promoting two Manatee County sales tax initiatives will continue to hit the airwaves as well as voters’ mailboxes over the coming days.
“We have multiple mailers going out,” said Mac Carraway, vice chairman of Forward Manatee. “We have television spots that will occur between now and Election Day. We got those kind of spaced out to provide ongoing exposure between now and then.”
The TV ads will appear on a variety of cable and network stations such as BayNews9 and ESPN, according to Carraway.
“It crosses the spectrum to try to let as many folks know about it and hopefully to encourage their interest in the issue and encourage them to get to that place on the ballot,” he said. “We know it’s a crowded ballot.”
Forward Manatee, a political committee formed to advocate the passage of both the county and school sales tax initiatives on the November ballot, has spent more than $232,000 to help get their message, out of the $318,440 in contributions received to date. To assist with consulting, marketing and TV ads, the committee has paid VancoreJones Communications in Tallahassee more than $220,000.
“That’s their expertise,” Carraway said. “They’ve done this for a long time.”
Since forming in July, Forward Manatee has participated in speaking engagements around the county, educating residents about the importance of the sales tax to both the county and school district.
“We are certainly in kind of the midst of our efforts to get out mailings and other media driven messaging about Forward Manatee,” Carraway said. “Really just focusing on information that is going to help voters understand the distinction between the two initiatives, that they are two distinct votes.”
Initiatives 6, 7
In initiative No. 6 on the ballot, the county is asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax that would be used to leverage the issuance of debt to finance improvements. The sales tax would generate enough to address transportation, public safety and parks/community amenity needs as the county faces a deficit come 2018. Officials estimate the sales tax would generate $30 million a year, with about $5 million allocated for the cities.
In initiative No. 7, the school board is asking for an extension of its half-cent sales tax, first implemented in 2002. School officials have repeatedly said extending the tax is crucial. The district anticipates needing new schools, especially in the northern and eastern portions of the county, and the half-cent sales tax would help fund those projects among others. The half-cent sales tax brings the district about $30 million annually.
If both measures are approved — a half-penny for the schools and a half-penny for the county — it would raise the sales tax rate in the county from 6.5 percent to 7 percent. Each measure would be in effect for 15 years.
“Our hope first and foremost is that people vote and that they think about these initiatives and how they will impact Manatee over the coming years,” Carraway said. “The yes vote will do very favorably for the county for quite some time.”
County outspends school district
While not allowed to advocate for the passage of the respective initiatives, both the county and school district have spent some funds to educate voters.
The county commission approved spending $20,000 for “outreach to inform Manatee voters about the half-cent for infrastructure,” according to county spokesman Nick Azzara.
To date, the county has spent $14,129, which includes road and parks signs, design work, utility bill inserts and promoted social media posts, according to Azzara.
The school district has spent less money on its initiative, spending $2,020 on fliers that were distributed to schools, according to district spokesman Mike Barber.
“We had no specific budget like that,” Barber said.
As Forward Manatee has been speaking to voters in the community, the biggest obstacle they’ve had to overcome is previous financial history, said John Horne, who is spearheading the school portion of the committee.
“There is an oversight committee that is going to watch every dollar that comes in,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest obstacle we are overcoming. People are thinking the two government entities have not been good stewards. ... I think both are in the right direction. I think everybody has learned a lesson. I just think government is a business and I think they learned a lesson.”
With Sarasota County sales tax at 7 percent, no one has left to come to Manatee because its sales tax is currently 6.5 percent, Horne said.
“It is so crucial to continue the school tax and bring on the new tax,” he said. “Nobody is going to leave because we are at 7 percent. Seven percent will put us as the same.”
As the election nears, Carraway is encouraged by the conversations and feedback he’s received.
“People want to invest in Manatee County,” he said. “It is amazing to me the kind of statements people make how much they care about this community. It is really terrific to hear. We are optimistic. By the time we get to Election Day, the people in Forward Manatee and the people that support it will not have left any stone unturned. We are working very hard. It will ultimately be up to the citizens of Manatee County to decide what they want to do.”
Top contributions to Forward Manatee
- NDC Construction Co., $25,000
- NCDG Management LLC, $20,000
- Schroeder-Manatee Inc., $20,000
- Willis A. Smith Construction, $15,000
- Harvard-Jolly Inc., $15,000
- Fawley Bryant Architects Inc., $10,000
- E.T. MacKenzie of Florida Inc., $10,000
- Ripa & Associates LLC, $10,000
- Frederick Derr & Co., $10,000
- Michael A. Kennedy, $10,000
- C & M Road Builders Inc., $10,000
- QGS Development Inc., $10,000
- Gator Grading & Paving LLC, $10,000
- Realtors PAC, $10,000
- PJ Hayes Inc., $10,000