MANATEE -- While no solutions were achieved, the Manatee County Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board convened Thursday to learn more about the potential deficit facing the county in 2018.
The 13-member advisory board, which is looking for ways to help address Manatee County government funding issues, received an overview of the board's objectives from County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.
"We have a diverse group," Hunzeker said. "This is good. We have a cross section of the community and you represent it. ... We will start working on solutions in the first of the year."
Each commissioner appointed one board member from his or her respective district. The other six members come from organizations, including the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Black Chamber of Commerce, Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.
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In a county reliant on property taxes, Hunzeker told the advisory board: "Property tax revenue isn't coming in like it used to come in."
While the county population has increased by 50,000 since the beginning of the recession, property taxes have decreased 18 percent. The county general fund is the problem, according to Hunzeker.
"We need to figure out a way to fund this and other things that we've never funded before," Hunzeker said. "We are not going through the solutions tonight. We are just going to go through the problems."
With a sunset date of May 1, the advisory board has to come up with possible solutions by then.
"I assume the problem isn't going to go away after this board goes away," said Junior Salazar, the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce representative, who wondered whether the advisory board should be in place for a longer period.
Ron Allen, Commissioner Betsy Benac's appointee, said a sector of tourism is coming to Manatee County on a daily basis and not staying in any real estate.
"They are still using the beach services or whatever services they are here for," he said, adding a sales tax could be a way to capture revenue from those visitors.
When the board meets in January, it will learn about the county's revenue sources. In February, the board will hear from county administrators from three other Florida counties about their revenue sources. The board will analyze possible solutions before making any recommendation to the Manatee County Commission.
"If it's different, draw me a picture of what the difference is," Hunzeker told the advisory board.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.