Manatee County commissioners will move forward with placing an infrastructure sales tax referendum on the November ballot.
On Tuesday, the commission spoke favorably of advertising an ordinance for the 15-year sales tax referendum, which would become effective Jan. 1 if approved by voters. The commission will formally vote on whether to place the referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot at the June 21 commission meeting. No vote was required to advertise the ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting
“This is going to be a way for us to maintain what we have and improve it,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said.
County staff presented a $345 million list of projects that would be funded with the half-cent infrastructure sales tax. Approximately 70 percent, or almost $244 million, generated over 15 years would go to fund transportation, including sidewalks, intersection improvements and major road improvements. A citizens oversight committee will also be established to make sure funds are spent in project categories stated in the ballot language.
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“We want to move as quickly as possible to put these projects in place,” County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said.
A Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board has recommended to the commission a half-cent infrastructure sales tax is the best way to make the budget sustainable as the county faces a deficit in 2018.
“Last July we started on a journey,” Hunzeker said. “Today is another step along that journey. We aren’t quite to the finish line yet. ... The problem we face in 2018 only gets worse as the years go by absence a solution.”
While revenue generated from the sales tax would be also be distributed to the cities within Manatee County, the island cities are asking the commission to consider using the Tourist Development Tax numbers to distribute 10 percent of the surtax.
“It does recognize the impact of tourism,” Dave Bullock, Longboat Key town manager, said Tuesday. “It will allow us to recover some of our capital project costs from people other than our property taxpayers.”
The Manatee County School Board is also expected to ask voters to renew the existing sales tax, which sunsets in 2017, this November. There was previously some discussion for the two entities to jointly ask voters.
Hunzeker said Tuesday he is recommending to the commission, and Superintendent Diana Greene will recommend to the school board, to each put a half-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot.
“We would have one campaign to support both initiatives,” Hunzeker said. “We only think it is fair for the public to vote for each, not bundle.”
It is unclear which referendum question will be higher up on the ballot if the commission and school board elect to place a referendum on the ballot.
“There is nothing in the election law that dictates who would go first on the ballot,” Karen Jones, with the Supervisor of Elections Office, said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “We would have to seek guidance from the Division of Elections when the time comes.”
The commission also approved:
- Renovating the former Natural Resources Building, 202 Sixth Ave. E., Bradenton, to house the county medical examiner and an emergency medical services station. Renovation cost estimated at $1.7 million.
- An ordinance to allow golf cart use within Heather Hills Estates and the Village of Cortez.
- A lease agreement with the Rubonia Community Association for June 1 through Aug. 5 for the summer program at the Rubonia Community Center.
- Having one sign at where the proposed Tara Bridge would be built, instructing county staff to remove any additional signs.
Proposed ballot language included in draft ordinance
Half cent sales surtax for public infrastructure
To provide for safer neighborhoods, reduce traffic congestion, and improve roadways and public facilities, shall Manatee County levy a half cent sales surtax for a period of fifteen years to fund roadways, sidewalks, intersections, infrastructure for law enforcement, emergency response, libraries, parks, waterways, public buildings and stormwater, all located exclusively in Manatee County, with citizen oversight.