MANATEE -- All county governments have a giant puzzle -- a budget -- they must put together every year, Leon County Administrator Vincent Long said Thursday.
"We are all missing pieces," he said Thursday. "We are just missing different pieces."
County administrators from Charlotte, Leon and Escambia counties spoke to the Manatee County Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board, which is tasked with finding ways to address funding issues. The county faces a potential deficit in 2018 when it is expected to exhaust the general portion of the budget stabilization reserve fund.
Over the years, Manatee County government has had a strong reliance on property taxes, Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker has said.
The meeting was an opportunity for advisory board members to hear what other counties use as funding sources. All three presentations spoke favorably of what the 1 cent infrastructure sales tax is able to do for their respective counties.
A 1 cent infrastructure sales tax in Manatee County is estimated to generate $56.2 million per year with some revenue being dispersed to cities within the county.
Showing pictures of projects funded with revenue from the 1 cent sales tax, which has generated nearly $369 million since 1994, Charlotte County Administrator Ray Sandrock called the tax the county's "saving grace."
"It is an opportunity to make a big improvement to your community and have others that are visiting help pay for that," he said.
In Leon County, the 1 cent sales tax was a "relatively easy sell," Long said. He shared how his county and the community marketed the sales tax in order for it to pass. Long showed the advisory board a three-minute marketing video used when voters were asked to renew the sales tax in 2014.
"We wouldn't have a capital program without the sales tax," he said, adding money that would have previously been used toward capital is now used for maintenance of existing assets.
While counties aren't allowed to tell voters to vote "yes" on a sales tax, which requires a referendum, counties can tell the community what it can get with revenue from such a tax, Hunzeker said.
"The voters want to receive something," Hunzeker said. "People want parks. They want sidewalks. They want roadways fixed. They want something that will improve their quality of life."
In order to pass an infrastructure sales tax, Hunzeker said, it's a matter of having a list of projects that need to be done -- not just a single issue.
"There has to be something for all segments of the community, not only geographically, but geopolitically," he said.
The Manatee County School District's half-penny sales tax sunsets in 2017. While Manatee County government could still levy a full penny sales tax, it would become the county with the highest sales tax on the west coast of Florida, Hunzeker said.
"There is no county that has over 7 (percent) and currently we are at 6.5 with the school," he said. "It would be a bold move to do a full penny even though we are authorized to do a full penny."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.