Half-cent sales tax will fund new Manatee animal shelter, Lincoln Park Pool

Commissioner makes plea for funding Animal Services facility

Among other items on the agenda, county commissioners discussed funding for a new Animal Services facility in the meeting on April 23, 2019.
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Among other items on the agenda, county commissioners discussed funding for a new Animal Services facility in the meeting on April 23, 2019.

A suggestion to rearrange funding uses in the voter-approved infrastructure sales tax prompted passionate debate between residents and the Board of County Commissioners.

The debate boiled down to whether board members should uphold the categorical distribution of that money or make changes to adapt to the county’s needs. Jan Brewer, the county’s director of financial management, walked commissioners through the proposed tweaks.

By dipping into the infrastructure sales tax fund, the county would have more wiggle room to fund a host of upcoming projects, including the Lincoln Park Pool, the East County library and pickleball courts at G.T. Bray Park, Brewer said.

But the biggest winner — and the most pressing issue for much of Tuesday’s audience — was the allocation of $8 million from the IST fund toward a new animal shelter. Animal Network also agreed to launch a campaign to raise $2 million for the new building, as well. More than 30 animal lovers attended the meeting, urging commissioners to move ahead with the plan.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, however, took issue with those changes, arguing that the board should stick to what voters thought they were approving in 2016 when they voted for a half-cent increase in the sales tax rate.

“Citizens voted for us to have the infrastructure sales tax and we told them the items we were going to do with that money. We talked then about the importance of following through to have the trust of the citizens,” Baugh said.

That referendum reserved the right for commissioners to adjust the funding as they saw fit, Brewer noted. Some of the increased funding comes from a decrease in scheduled funding from other categories, like athletic fields and recreational parks.

The updated budget designates an additional $2 million to the Lincoln Park Pool for a total of $5 million, which was good news for Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, who has long rallied his fellow commissioners to complete the project.

“These numbers are encouraging to me when it comes time to get the pool done,” he said. “I know there’s a pot of money to get that done.”

Residents spoke largely in favor of designating more money for the new animal services shelter, which would be a marked improvement over the current building.

There are issues with the air conditioning, mold is growing in the ceiling and the shelter’s surgeon has been forced to begin operating in the board room, volunteers said.

“You can’t fix a bad location,” said Cathy Bridwell, who often works with the shelter. “It’s hidden and virtually unknown to most residents. I’ve lived in the Sarasota-Bradenton are since I was 4 and I didn’t know the shelter was there until I saw a plea for help on Facebook.”

Others called the current state of the animal services building at 305 25th St. W., Palmetto an “embarrassment.”

“I don’t think we don’t need it. The question is how we pay for it,” said Baugh. “I don’t think the money should come from our parks.”

Staff confirmed that while some of the money was taken from parks, there aren’t any planned projects that would be adversely affected. On top of that, Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace pointed out that budget rearrangements are a key part of providing for residents.

“Not changing a plan is poor sense,” she said. “Long-term plans have to be flexible, and we’re being transparent.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the budget amendment.