Manatee Chamber of Commerce pushes support for half-cent sales tax proposals

Mac Carraway, former chair of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce board of directors speaks to chamber members in support of November’s half-cent sales tax referendums.
Mac Carraway, former chair of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce board of directors speaks to chamber members in support of November’s half-cent sales tax referendums. myoung@bradenton.com

The Manatee Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday reiterated its support of the half-cent sales tax referendums on the November ballot that includes a new tax revenue for Manatee County and a renewal of the Manatee County School District’s sales tax.

Chamber Executive Vice President Jacki Dezelski said the chamber dedicated a tremendous amount of resources “to look at what issues we think are important to the chamber’s success and ultimately the success of our community. We don’t endorse candidates, but we do take a stand on issues.”

Speakers from Forward Manatee, a political action committee formed in support of the sales tax referendums, addressed chamber members on Tuesday in Lakewood Ranch. Mac Carraway and Chuck Slater tag teamed the effort in support of Manatee County’s half-cent sales tax hike while Anna Maria Oyster Bar owner John Horne spoke in favor of renewing the Manatee County School District’s half-cent sales tax.

Horne said it may come as a surprise that he and so many other business owners are supporting a tax, “but the bottom line, it will impact business in a positive aspect because it will create a better quality of life.”

Horne said like many others, he never thought he should have to pay school district taxes when he doesn’t have children in school. But he changed his mind when he realized how much he was paying and understood that he has a stake in keeping property taxes low and helping the future of Manatee County by ensuring county graduates have the best possible advantages in education.

If the referendum passes, the average family will pay about $5 a month more. Horne said if it doesn’t pass, “That same family will save $60 a year, but the school district will take a $60 million hit.”

The tax generates about $30 million a year in revenue for the school district. Mike Barber, director of communications, said the district needs to be positioned for future growth.

“In the 2000s we were growing by 1,200 students a year, or about a high school a year,” said Barber. “When the recession hit, we had zero growth, and we are back up to about 800-900 new students a year.”

The message from those supporting the district’s sales tax renewal is to acknowledge that the district had financial issues under past leadership.

“They had a mess to clean up, but they did,” said Horne. “They increased their credit rating from a Triple B to an A minus and have had a balanced budget the past three years. Their financial house is in order.”

Carraway said Forward Manatee members dove deep into the county’s budget process and were skeptical that the county needed additional revenue sources. But that changed as they realized the half-cent sales tax is a “quality of life issue. It will allow Manatee County to compete with our neighbors, and we made sure that it meets the criteria of being an investment.”

Carraway said he understands that any tax is dipping into the pockets of citizens and removing “hard-earned dollars and that’s not to be trifled with.”

But the committee came away unanimously with the understanding that the county simply does not have enough funding to sustain basic needs but agreed the county has done a “very good job with less,” over the past few years.