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County moves forward on new tax

MANATEE — Before a group of business leaders even presented their case for a new tax to the Manatee County Commission, people were lined up at the speakers podium first thing Tuesday morning to voice their opposition.

It was a good thing they got their voices heard then, because Chairwoman Donna Hayes adjourned for lunch after hearing from representatives from a coalition of businesses.

John Rice, president of Rice’s Appliance & TV and chair of the business coalition, told the commissioners the idea of a $35-year-tax on each business in Manatee County was supported by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, the Anna Maria Chamber of Commerce, the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce and the Manatee Economic Development Council.

Rice talked about the need for a funding source to attract businesses with quality jobs to the county.

With the tax the county could use “the revenue to contract with the Economic Development Council to develop a job-creation strategy,” he said.

But the eight small business people who spoke at the beginning of the meeting said they were taxed too much already and even $35 a year would be a burden.

Mike Rappaport, owner of Banana Cabana restaurant on Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach, was one of the first to speak in the morning and said he pays a tax for the music coming over the radio, a tax for each of his employees and even a tax for every chair in his establishment.

Because of the economic downturn his revenues are down and there are weeks he does not even take a pay check, Rappaport said.

With the meeting reconvening at 1:30 p.m., and many of the more than 50 small businesses having to return to their shops, only a handful came back to address their concerns.

Gerri Holmes, who with her husband, Alvin, owns Landlords Online, said rental property owners pay the highest property taxes in the county as it is, because they do not qualify for the homestead exemption which caps increases at 3 percent a year.

“Taxes have not dropped the same as the budget,” Holmes said. “We’re experiencing the highest vacancy right now.”

Eric Basinger, executive director of the Economic Development Council, said a plan to create jobs was developed over a six-month period, with the help of consultants and community and business leader input.

But Manatee Chamber of Commerce President Bob Bartz admitted the task force did not do a good job of communication, and presented the commission with a copy of the strategic plan that was not part of their agenda information.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the biggest concern with the property investment business owners was that they would have to pay $35 for each of their properties, and some own hundreds of pieces of property.

The commission spent a long time working out how to proceed, but eventually voted 5-1, with Commissioner Joe McClash voting in the minority, to proceed to public hearings for an ordinance instituting a business tax and to have a workshop on the issue.

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