Manatee commission candidates disagree on special tax

MANATEE — Public safety was a top priority for the two Democrats seeking Manatee County Commission District 2 seat but they disagreed on Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube’s request for a special tax to pay for law enforcement activities.

Incumbent Gwen Brown and challenger Michael Gallen answered several questions on this issue and others posed to them during a candidate forum sponsored Tuesday by the Herald, METV and the League of Women Voters.

Brown said she did not think it was necessary to have an overall tax increase, but the public’s safety should be the No. 1 issue for the commission and one way to pay for it would be with a special tax.

For Gallen, a tax increase is not necessary. He said the commission should find more spending cuts to pay for any increase the sheriff would need.

“I want my children to be safe,” Gallen said. “That being said, we need to find and cut waste in the budget.”

The attorney and Lakewood Ranch High School history teacher said the commission should look into cost savings, such as privatizing some services, running smaller transit buses and consolidating buildings.

Brown, a professor of early childhood development at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, said the commission goes through the budget line by line and has reduced spending.

“What seems like a simple answer to cut here you find out you can’t because by law you can’t make that cut,” she said.

The two seemed to disagree on their support for Amendment 4 which would allow the public a vote on comprehensive plan changes.

Brown said she did not support the Florida Constitution amendment.

“If it passes, it will be a very big disappointment for those who support it,” she said. “Manatee County needs growth. That’s what keeps the economy working.”

Gallen said the amendment proposition is on ballot because “people don’t feel the current system is working.”

He said the constitutional change would not be on the ballot if the commission would follow the comprehensive plan instead of agreeing to all the changes the developers want.

Both said the county needs to attract new businesses to the county.

Brown said the commission has been working with the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council of Manatee County to offer incentives.

Gallen said the state has already developed a road map for future growth in Florida and the county should concentrate on helping established business in the urban core.

Brown and Gallen are running in the Democratic primary election and whoever wins will take the District 2 seat since no Republican qualified for the general election.

METV will be broadcasting the forum several times during the week until the Aug. 24 primary election.