Proposed sales tax hikes for Manatee officially on November ballot

Manatee County voters will officially be asked to extend the school sales tax and consider adding an infrastructure sales tax this November.

Manatee County Commission unanimously voted to put both referendums on the Nov. 8 ballot during Tuesday’s meeting. The commission also officially removed a caveat tying the collection of school impact fees to the extension of the school sales tax.

“This is about making an investment in our community and I am hoping all of the citizens will see it that way,” Commissioner Betsy Benac said. “I really think we need to go out of here and be positive and get this done because I think it is really going to make a difference for all of our residents.”

If both measures are approved — a half penny for the schools and a half penny for the county — it would raise the sales tax rate in the county from 6.5 percent to 7 percent. Each measure would be in effect 15 years.

“Today is a culmination of a number of steps,” County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said. “This is a very important issue because, over the next 15 years, millions of dollars will be reinvested in the community.”

The sales tax referendum will make the budget sustainable as the county faces a deficit in 2018, officials say.

“We realize the islands need help,” Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh said. “We realize there are issues. We are all in this together. This is a situation where I feel like we don’t have a choice. We need to move this forward. ... We need answers. We need solutions but we’ve all got to stand together to do it.”

Mayors from the six cities in Manatee County spoke during the commission meeting about whether revenue generated from the half-cent sales tax should be distributed by population as per state statute. The commission decided to schedule a joint workshop with island mayors to discuss barrier island needs.

“Distribution by population doesn’t make sense when one or more of the cities has a very large transient population as is the case here,” Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen said.

For Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, distribution based on population should be followed.

“I think we should have an united front that we support the Florida statute of the distribution,” she said. “I don’t think the public needs to see us on the disagreement on something that is so vital and important to this community. ... I would like to see us going out of here hand in hand and agreeing with this.”

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson