The title of Manatee County’s referendum on the November ballot is straightforward: “Half Cent Sales Surtax For Public Infrastructure.”
The ballot language offers details:
“To provide for safer neighborhoods, reduce traffic congestion, and improve roadways and public facilities, shall Manatee County levy a half cent sales surtax for a period of fifteen years to fund roadways, sidewalks, intersections, street lights, infrastructure for law enforcement, emergency response, libraries, parks, waterways, public buildings and stormwater, all projects located exclusively in Manatee County, with citizen oversight?”
Some of the points in favor of this essential revenue source, in no particular order of importance, follow:
▪ The county needs to create a new revenue stream to reduce the vast reliance on property taxes to fund projects and programs — that benefit the public. Our infrastructure is crumbling and current revenue will not supply the needed funds. Some vital maintenance projects continue to be postponed.
▪ Surtax critics rely on the argument that the county has enough money if the fat is cut out of the budget. As the recession crippled the economy, the county’s property tax revenue plummeted and deep budget cuts were made because of steep revenue losses. The county now has 300 fewer employees than before the recession. The county faces a potential budget deficit in 2018 when the general portion of the budget stabilization fund will be depleted. The county has been spending down those reserves for several years in order to maintain services and programs deemed essential.
▪ The county established a Manatee County Citizens Financial Advisory Board to study the issue of revenue streams and propose options. That board spent four months combing through more than 150 county sub budgets. After that a deep review, the panel recommended the surtax as the best avenue for saving the county from falling into further disrepair. They did the hard work analyzing county spending and found no fat.
▪ Seventy percent of ad valorem revenue falls on 30 percent of the landowners. With the half-cent sales tax, visitors, who utilize our roads, parks, libraries and services, would pay roughly a third of the revenue — their fair share.
▪ Public accountability and transparency are a vital. A citizens oversight committee will be seated to ensure diligence is performed, and an annual audit will be conducted to present to the public to further inform residents about the credibility of the expenditures and projects.
▪ On the issue of transparency, detailed information about countywide improvement projects that would be funded with the projected $345 million in revenue over 15 years can be found via an internet link on the county website, www.mymanatee.org. This map pinpoints the locations of the public works, and a simple computer click on each will reveal information about the project.
▪ The county’s project list is split into three components. Transportation infrastructure improvements consume the largest share of the projected sales tax revenue, at almost 71 percent, or $16 million a year. The public safety and law enforcement project list focuses on the replacement and expansion of aging facilities and equipment, be that law enforcement, criminal justice, 911 and public safety, at almost $3.5 million annually. The parks and community amenities agenda also focuses on replacing and upgrading aging facilities, including parks and aquatic assets, athletic fields, playgrounds, boat ramps, nature preserves and libraries; that budget calls for $3.2 million a year.
▪ Deficient roadways and other infrastructure are disincentives for companies looking to relocate, showing those businesses that a community cannot keep its house in order.
▪ One important consideration is the economic development benefits as Manatee County becomes a more livable and attractive place with all these projects.
▪ Cities will get their share of the revenue and can improve their communities.
▪ Perhaps the key question here is: What kind of future do you want for this community? County commissioners approved placing the half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot unanimously, illustrating the importance of this vote for our future quality of life.
▪ A typical household would spend about $5 a month in county sales taxes while gaining major returns on that small investment.
For improvements in the quality of life here, the Herald Editorial Board recommends a yes vote on the county’s request for a half-cent infrastructure sales tax.