MANATEE — A coalition of business leaders today plans to propose a $35-per-year tax that would apply to every business in the county, with proceeds to be used exclusively for an outreach program designed to create new jobs, officials said.
The plan, which is expected to raise about $400,000 per year, is designed to put people back to work, according to Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, a supporter of the plan.
A draft ordinance featuring the proposal is listed on the Manatee County Commission schedule for today’s meeting at the Manatee County Administrative Center. If commissioners proceed with the business tax plan, the first of two public hearings would likely be set for April 13, according to Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator.
“People now realize that we can’t solely rely on construction and real estate,” said Bartz Monday. “It’s a difficult decision, and an unpopular one, but you have to try to turn the community’s economy around. Doing nothing gives us the same results we have now.”
Manatee’s unemployment rate spiked at an estimated 13.2 percent in January, the county’s highest jobless rate in at least four decades, and possibly since the Great Depression.
The news was worse in 20 Florida counties whose jobless rates exceeded Manatee’s — including Sarasota, where it stood at an estimated 13.4 percent.
And Florida’s estimated unemployment rate of 11.9 percent, up from December’s revised 11.7 percent, matched the highest rate recorded since the state began keeping track, it said. Bartz contended that Manatee is at an economic disadvantage when it tries to lure new businesses; it must compete against 50 of the state’s 67 counties that already have some form of such a tax, which was once known as an occupational license. Among those is Sarasota County.
“The flat $35 fee idea was to make it simple and affordable, as much as possible without hurting the business,” Bartz said.
Representatives of the Economic Development Council, affiliated with the Manatee Chamber, would finance an outreach program to recruit new businesses domestically as well as internationally, according to John L. Rice, Sr., who chaired a task force that authored the draft ordinance.
Rice, president of Rice’s Appliance & TV, 6430 14th St. W., said the most likely argument others might use against the plan is the fact that it is a tax.
“No one, including myself, wants to see more taxes, but everyone wants to see a robust economy,” he said.
“It’s important for us to explain: Our community has been so reliant on construction and real estate over the years, an outreach such as this would help to diversify our economy for years and years,” he said, adding that it may be three to five years before its effectiveness becomes obvious.
Asked what the chances are for approval, Manatee County Commissioner Gwen Brown did not want to guess the odds.
“It’s good the businesses are requesting it, and from their standpoint, we do need to recruit businesses in Manatee County,” she said. “The issue is of concern: You’ve got small businesses out there, they’re hurting. When you add another dollar, when you’re hurting, a dollar is a lot to come up with.”
Small businessman Edward Hayward, owner of K&J Cleaners, 6224 31st St. E., #5, has operated his business cleaning draperies and area rugs for 35 years, 17 of them in Bradenton, he said.
When asked his opinion about the tax proposal, a note of resignation crept into his voice.
“They come and they go, whatever they want, you have to more-or-less give,” he said. “I’m a one-man shop, I don’t have employees because I don’t want the paperwork.”
“Well, I feel they’ll do what the heck they want to get the money out of us little guys,” he said. “I’ll just cut back two cases of beer, that’ll pay my $35.”