PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Bradenton Mayor Poston to county: Nix sheriff’s office tax in city

BRADENTON — If the Manatee County Commission levies a surtax to help fund the sheriff’s office, Mayor Wayne Poston wants commissioners to consider exempting Bradenton residents from having to pay.

Poston sent commission Chairwoman Donna Hayes a letter Wednesday outlining his reasons for asking the county to accommodate his constituents.

“As police commissioner for the city, I understand all too well the pressures that are on our public safety entities to provide superior service with very restricted resources,” he wrote.

But the mayor said he is concerned that a proposed tax rate increase — 10 cents on every $1,000 in assessed property value — to pay for a shortfall in the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office budget would be a burden on Bradenton residents.

“A county-wide millage rate increase would again force city residents to pay nearly $250,000 additional taxes for municipal-type service that the citizens continue to pay for, but reap only minimal benefit,” his letter states.

Last month, Sheriff Brad Steube asked the commission for the tax increase because he said he has pared his budget to the bone and it has affected his department’s efficiency.

The sheriff proposed a $92.2 million budget for the next fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2011, about $263,000 more than the current year, to pay mostly for three additional court bailiff positions.

The proposed surtax would raise about $1 million in revenue the sheriff said he would use to pay for a Florida Legislature-mandated increase in the state pension fund.

Reached at his office Wednesday, the mayor acknowledged property owners in Bradenton already get a discount on the county portion of their property taxes. But, he noted, they pay for county sheriff’s office services, such as the jail, so they should be exempt from the millage increase.

“I just thought I would ask,” Poston said.

He suggested the county either levy the higher millage only on property owners in the unincorporated portions of the county, or rebate the funds to the city to help close a gap in funding for the police department.

Hayes said she was disappointed in the mayor’s request.

“I respect he has to look after his city,” she said, “but we have to work together on this issue” of funding the sheriff’s office.

Hayes said the sheriff’s office serves Bradenton residents when they travel outside the city limits.

“Crime affects us all,” Hayes said, “and knows no jurisdictions.”

But the commission chairwoman is not necessarily in favor of increasing property taxes to pay for the sheriff’s office’s needs.

“I’m looking for an alternative means,” she said. “This is a bad time to be increasing anyone’s taxes.”

Just as county residents are dipping into their savings to cover the necessities of life, Hayes said, the county may have to make a similar move.

“That’s not my final decision yet,” she said, “but just a thought.”

Carl Mario Nudi, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7027.

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