Manatee County: What sales tax will mean if approved – Sarasota Herald

MANATEE COUNTY — A new East County library and community center, sidewalks for neighborhoods where pedestrians now walk in the streets, replacements for aging playgrounds and athletic facilities and other line items are on a lengthy list of projects the Manatee County administration says could get funded if voters approve a half-cent sales tax.

Currently, Manatee consumers pay 6.5 percent in state and local taxes on non-exempted purchases. The renewal of a half-cent sales tax for the School Board will also be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The county says that, if the electorate approves a sales tax of a half-cent on each dollar for the county, an estimated $345 million would be available over the next 15 years for projects that are now unfunded. The revenue could free property taxes that are otherwise going to capital expenses, many of which cannot be legally paid with impact fees on new construction.

If the tax passes, the county says a typical household will pay about $50 to $70 more in sales taxes each year starting Jan. 1. The county could float bond issues financed by the future recurring income to get projects underway sooner. Impact fees, being one-time charges, cannot be bonded.

County Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh is urging voters to “do your homework” before deciding to support or reject the tax.

In that regard, the county has compiled a 15-page list of projects that could be funded with the new revenue stream that could bring in $23 million annually.

More than 70 percent of the money, nearly $244 million, would go toward transportation work — including more than 80 new or extended sidewalks in areas ranging from Parrish to Bayshore Gardens; traffic signals, turn lanes, mast-arm supports or other upgrades at 23 intersections; and repaving and the possible addition of lanes, sidewalks, lights or bike lanes on 25 existing roads.

More than 15 percent, more than $52 million, would go toward public safety and law enforcement — such as replacing a Sheriff’s Office helicopter, renovating buildings for the Sheriff’s Office, jail renovations, replacing seven lifeguard towers, a replacement ambulance, upgrades to the 911 system and renovations at the frequently overcrowded animal shelter.

More than 14 percent, or more than $48 million, would go toward parks and community amenities — including a new East County library and an expanded Braden River Library and Rocky Bluff Library; new restrooms, reconstructed boardwalks or other work at Kingfish Boat Ramp, the Braden River boat ramp, Leffis Key and Robinson Preserve; more amenities (including a dog park) at Braden River Park and replacement athletic courts or other upgrades at G. T Bray Park, Lakewood Ranch Park, Lincoln Park, Blackstone Park, Bennett Park, Myakka Park, the John H. Marble Recreation Center and Coquina Beach.

In December, the county assembled the 13-member Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board to address the issue of whether the county needs to diversify its revenue sources.

After more than four months of study, the committee concluded that the county is too dependent on property taxes, which are 18 percent below what was collected prior to the recession while during the same period the population grew by 40,000 to now exceed 363,000. Because of exemptions, roughly a third of property owners pay 67 percent of the county’s property taxes.

The county estimates that tourists would pay roughly a third of the sales tax.

Yet whether voters will endorse a tax hike is an uncertainty.

In 2013, the county asked the electorate to approve a half-cent sales tax to subsidize health care for the underinsured and uninsured. More than 60 percent of participating voters rejected the idea.


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