MANATEE -- Manatee County government has a funding problem, which must be addressed with additional revenue sources, a Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board said Thursday.
After hearing about funding issues from county staff and learning how other counties are funded, the advisory board, which is tasked with finding ways to address the revenue shortfall, unanimously agreed there is a problem and something must be done.
The county, which over the years has had a strong reliance on property taxes, faces a potential deficit in 2018 when it is expected to exhaust the general portion of the budget stabilization reserve fund.
"We have a revenue problem, but we also have a revenue-allocation problem," said Ron Allen, who is Commissioner Betsy Benac's appointee to the board.
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While the committee didn't decide which of eight revenue options to recommend to the Manatee County Commission, members did decide an infrastructure sales tax and franchise fees are a more favorable solution than increasing property taxes.
A half-cent sales tax would generate $22.8 million, some of which would be dispersed to cities in the county. Franchise fees are estimated to produce $15 million.
"We have a revenue prob
lem defined as we are not maintaining the assets we already have, so whatever we come up with should solve that problem and make the budget process sustainable into the future, because you don't want to solve the problem for a year or two and then we left a hole in the bucket for somebody to deal with it three, four, five years from now," County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said. "I think if you can say we fixed the problem and we are sustainable, then I think you met your mission."
Over the years, Manatee County government has "definitely ignored revenue sources," said Mike Moschella, chairman of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.
"It's not an one-dimensional problem," Moschella said, adding he doesn't see just one revenue option solving the shortfall. "What we have to do is stop looking at every problem in a silo."
With the advisory board's May 1 expiration date approaching per resolution, members discussed the importance of holding the commission accountable for fixing the future revenue problem.
"We've got to hold their feet to the fire and that's the problem. They aren't doing it today," said Charles Williams, who is Commissioner Charles Smith's appointee.
To be included in a recommendation to the commission later this spring, board members discussed the importance of listing areas where revenues could go such as transportation, public safety and parks.
"I think we've got to show them that we have this glaring issue and we don't have enough money to pay for the playgrounds or whatever," said Tom Garland, who is Commissioner Larry Bustle's appointee. "It's going to have to be sold."
Dave Zaccagnino, who is Commissioner Carol Whitmore's appointee, said they are going to have to show what is going to happen if commissioners don't do anything. "I think that is important," he said.
Manatee Chamber of Commerce representative Mac Carraway, appointed board leader Thursday, said they have to "come in hard with the idea that there is no disagreement whatsoever" of the revenue problem.
"There is a sense of urgency," Carraway said. "This can't just be a can that gets kicked down the road. It has to be addressed."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.