MANATEE -- Using pictures of Manatee County's existing assets such as playgrounds and roads contrasted with ones of the improvements an additional revenue source could make possible, the Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board will try to sell the county commission this week that a half-cent sales tax is the way to fix the county's funding issues.
At 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, the county commission will hear the recommendation from the committee, which was tasked with addressing the county's funding issues. The committee sunsets May 1.
"We've been through a lot to understand the problem, identify the problem, look at alternative revenues," said Mac Carraway, who is the Manatee Chamber of Commerce representative and appointed board leader. "When you boil it down, it's really a simple proposition. ... The commission will take the recommendation, deliberate the recommendation and do what they want to do."
With a potential deficit looming in 2018, a half-cent sales tax, which could be used to leverage the issuance of debt to finance improvements, would generate enough to address transportation, public safety and parks/community amenity needs.
"They appointed you to look at their problem in '18," County Administrator Ed Hunzeker told the committee, which consists of both commission-appointed members and community organization representatives. "You've looked at their problem in '18. You've come up with what you believe is the solution to the problem in '18. The solution you have come up with not only solves '18 but is sustainable for the long run. They need to take your solution and get to work on implementing it. It is now their problem, not yours."
The purpose of the committee was to "make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners that represent the consensus of the Advisory Board regarding matters related to the best combination of available revenue sources to fund county services, programs and capital projects," states the resolution that created the group last October.
With the Manatee County School Board expected to go to voters this fall for renewal of its half-cent sales tax, which sunsets in 2017, the committee is recommending that the county also goes to voters this November with a referendum.
"We've got to get this voted on in November. Otherwise the demographics don't work," said Tom Garland, Commissioner Larry Bustle's appointee.
The funding issue needs to be addressed right away, Garland said.
"This is an immediate problem that needs to be addressed that we are not at all similar to our neighbors at how we deal with these issues," he said.
On April 18, a request for legal services was submitted by Dan Schlandt, deputy county administrator, to County Attorney Mickey Palmer about a sales tax referendum. The request was a follow-up to the committee's decision on April 14 that "the county pursue a half-cent infrastructure sales tax referendum on the November 2016 election ballot," the RLS states.
"Included in that recommendation was support for potentially combining the initiative into a one cent infrastructure tax to be split one-half to the School Board and the other half to the county (and municipalities)," according the RLF. "Requesting assistance in drafting the implementing ordinance and interlocal agreement and also assisting with general advice on the referendum process. If the concept above is approved by the Board it would be necessary to develop an implementing ordinance and also to have an interlocal agreement with the School Board and the municipalities."
Should the commission elect to proceed the recommendation of a half-cent sales tax, the next step would be the commission having a joint meeting with the school board to "jointly work out together a timeline and marketing plan," Hunzeker said. The school board still has to vote whether to go to voters this year to ask for the renewal of its half-cent sales tax.
"I think the board's challenge would be get together with the school board and have that chat pretty quickly," Hunzeker said.
Then, the commission could work with staff to define a list of projects that would be funded with the revenue generated by a half-cent sales tax, Hunzeker said.
"The community could see the projects that would be proposed to be funded and at the same time, the community would come together and start the initial steps in forming a marketing committee and perhaps take the initial steps at the polling," he said. "We have a list, we have the marketing formation starting, the partnership between county and school board and you get the ball rolling in May."
A recommendation to hire a lobbyist or polling agency "exceeds the scope and mandate the county commission issued to that body," Assistant County Attorney Rob Eschenfelder wrote in an e-mail.
"The administration, if it desires to retain the services of a polling and/or lobbying strategy firm to interact with the County's voters concerning any proposed revenue initiative, it has the authority to do so via various methods of procurement," Eschenfelder wrote.
But the county's business organizations could help in getting the initiative started, said Mike Moschella, chairman of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance has endorsed the committee presenting the sales tax recommendation to the commission for approval.
"It's up to us to go to our respective organizations and basically create that support to get the ball rolling, which would be initial funding to start a PAC and do the polling," Moschella said.
A formal report will also be given to the commission on Tuesday, which will play a role in the "public consumption of the issue," Carraway said.
"We are trying to think like citizens," he said. "We understand that this is talking about taxing and spending. We've been sensitive to all those things that are likely to be on concerns of likely every citizen before they would entertain yes or no on this."
While the recommendation is for the half-cent sales tax, "an enormous amount of due diligence went into this," Carraway said.
"This isn't a cooked outcome," he said. "We have reached a conclusion that is responsive to the need that we've identified. I think that's the overwhelming point that needs to be made."
After the committee made its choice to recommend the half-cent sales tax, it is now the time for the commission to make its choice, Moschella said.
"We can lead a horse to water," he said. "We can't make them drink. Here's the water. Now they need to drink."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.