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Manatee commission nixes business tax

BRADENTON — Manatee County businesses will not have to worry about a business tax any time soon.

The county commission voted unanimously Tuesday to table the business tax proposal indefinitely and suggested the business community work to develop a funding source for the outreach program of the Economic Development Council of Manatee County.

“I thought it would be appropriate to turn it over to the businesses,” Commissioner Ron Getman, who made the motion, said after the meeting. “They are the people most affected by the outreach program and how it will be funded.”

Last month, officials with the EDC and Manatee Chamber of Commerce had asked the commissioners to institute a business tax to fund a job-creation strategy program they developed.

Even after hearing from several small business owners who opposed the proposed $35 a year assessment, the commission at the March meeting voted to have county staff draft an ordinance that would levy the tax.

But the resistance in the business community has been building over the weeks, and Tuesday the business tax proposal was stripped from future agendas.

“I had many calls from business owners asking me not to support it,” Getman said. “I have to attribute the opposition to the lack of factual information and rumors filling the void.” Several other commissioners previously said they had received negative feedback from businesses.

Since the proposal was presented to the commission last month, the leadership of the EDC and Chamber faced criticism that they only sought support from their members and didn’t explain their program to the business community at-large.

Two weeks ago, commissioners approved a $400,000 grant to the EDC for the program, the estimated amount of funds a business tax would raise in a year.

The $400,000 was in addition to the $196,000 the county fronts the EDC to attract new businesses to the area.

On Tuesday, Getman reminded the commission that the county already has several job-creation programs, such as tax refunds.

“We already have incentives in the county and need to let the community know about them,” he said.

Commissioners created the Port Encouragement Zone and North County Gateway Overlay to attract businesses to develop near Port Manatee.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the commission should take similar actions for the industrial areas in the southern sections of the county.

“Seventy percent of the manufacturing in Manatee County is in Commissioner Getman’s district,” Whitmore said. “There are weeds growing in front of the former Wellcraft building.”

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said the county was aware of the situation in that area and commissioners have taken several steps already, such as modifying the boundaries of the community redevelopment district.