Manatee County Commission adopted a $579 million net budget for 2016-17 Thursday night.
During the second and final required public hearing, the commission unanimously adopted the budget with Commissioner Charles Smith absent. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The commission also unanimously approved the Capital Improvement Program as well as keeping the millage rate at 7.0435, which includes .6109 mills for the unincorporated municipal services tax.
“Tonight is the culmination of the process because county’s fiscal year will begin Oct. 1,” County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said.
Public safety makes up the largest percentage of the county’s budget at 28 percent, or $162 million. In August, the commission approved spending an additional $1.2 million for public safety, which includes additional personnel for both the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s public safety department.
Should the half-cent infrastructure sales tax pass in November, there are a number of public safety projects that could be advanced by taking out bonds, Hunzeker said.
“You have the ability and you have the credit rating that you can borrow the money to move some of these projects along sooner,” he said. “We can take care of those most critical public safety issues sooner rather than later.”
A handful of citizens spoke during Thursday’s public hearing.
Lakewood Ranch resident Kathleen Grant, who unsuccessfully challenged Commissioner Vanessa Baugh for the District 5 seat, said “the discussion with respect to the budget is more than a semantic one.”
“We do have deficit spending even if we have a balanced budget,” Grant said.
McArthur Sellers, president of the Eternity Temple Washington Park CDC, asked the commission to consider turning an 88-acre property in Washington Park into a park and business district.
“It is a fight,” he said. “If it is not in the plan, you aren’t going to get any action. Should the tax amendment be approved in November, I am hoping we will be considered for the project, the 88 acres.”
Commissioner Betsy Benac, who is also chairwoman of the Port Authority, said they discussed the Washington Park project at Thursday’s Port meeting.
“We are making good progress,” Benac said. “We are looking for a project manager so this project of record can continue to move forward.”