Manatee Commissioner Smith proposes tax hike to pay for public safety

MANATEE -- To address Manatee County's public safety needs, Commissioner Charles Smith said Tuesday he will propose increasing the millage rate by up to one mill over the next 10 years.

Since Tuesday was the Manatee County Commission's last meeting before a month-long summer recess, Smith will bring the proposal up July 30 when a tentative maximum millage rate will be set for the property appraiser.

Smith said the new funds could provide street lighting for every neighborhood in unincorporated Manatee County.

In County Administrator Ed Hunzeker's $550 million budget proposal for 2015-16, he recommended no tax increases for an eighth consecutive year.

During budget workshops, commissioners flagged items Hunzeker didn't recommend for funding totaling about $5 million. The items included an additional ambulance for the Parrish area and 12 more deputies for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said they want to hear what residents think about a possible property tax rate increase.

"If that is the desire of the public, we want to hear from them," Benac said.

The commission also unanimously approved the final step necessary for the new P25 public safety radio system with Sarasota County. The Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved the radio system earlier this month.

The recommended Manatee County budget includes debt service payments for its $15 million share of the radio project. There is also an estimated $6 million for maintenance and support from year two through the 12th year.

The P25 radio, which will improve radio coverage along University Parkway and the barrier islands, replaces obsolete systems, which are at "end of life," said Paul Alexander, Manatee County Information Technology Department director.

"Public safety is improved for citizens of both Manatee and Sarasota counties," Alexander said. "It is going to have substantial improvement on that coverage. When you look at the coverage maps be

fore and after, they are quite profound."

The commission also adopted a resolution to accept a $3.2 million grant from Southwest Florida Water Management District for the Robinson Preserve expansion. The county is providing a $3.2 million land match for the grant.

The land was donated to the county by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which purchased it with a $3.2 million donation from the Mosaic Foundation.

The commission also approved an amended Fill Removal Agreement for the Robinson Preserve expansion. According to county documents, construction on the 150-acre expansion is expected to being in the fall.

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at caronson@bradenton.com.