MANATEE -- A half-cent sales tax is the way to go to fix Manatee County government's funding issues, a Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board decided Thursday.
With the funding issue around $400 million, a half-cent sales tax, which could be coupled with debt service, would generate enough to address the transportation, public safety and parks/community amenity concerns.
"They have a problem in '18," Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said. "This is the solution."
The committee, tasked with addressing county funding issues, must now sell its proposal to the Manatee County Commission. A presentation is planned for the April 26 commission meeting where the committee will break down how revenues generated from the half-cent sales tax could be spent.
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"This is a sales pitch. ... this is what you need to do," said Chuck Slater, who is Commissioner John Chappie's appointee to the board.
The committee also heard from a political consultant who has worked with other governments on sales tax campaigns. Manatee County would have enough time to get this done for the November election as the odds are greater it will pass in a presidential election, political consultant Steve Vancore said.
First, the community will have to be polled, which would typically cost between $12,000 to $14,000, he said.
"Our job is to improve your odds," he said. "Once this becomes our child, we want to make sure it is properly birthed."
With the Manatee School Board expected to go to voters this fall for renewal of its half-cent sales tax, which sunsets in 2017, Vancore said "putting the two together is better than putting the two apart."
The sales tax would be paid by residents and visitors to Manatee whereas the other top contender, a franchise fee, would be paid by residents in the unincorporated county.
"We like to think it would be sustainable in the long haul as long as future governments don't embark on any major initiatives," Hunzeker said of the sales tax.
Tom Garland, who is Commissioner Larry Bustle's appointee, said it is key to sell the sales tax.
"I'm just concerned it will taint the water when we need to really get the sales tax," Garland said of presenting multiple options.
The sales tax provides the "opportunity for a resolution and a sustainable resolution," which is key, said Mac Carraway, who is the Manatee Chamber of Commerce representative and appointed board leader.
"We are trying to do something that is fiscally responsible," he said. "We clearly favor the infrastructure sales tax and recommend the county take that approach with all due haste."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024.