BRADENTON – The Manatee County Commission voted 4-3 to instruct staff to draft a new ordinance that would change the date of the previously approved Health Care Sales Tax Referendum from June to August of this year. Three of the commissioners preferred waiting until August of 2014, when the county would be spared the considerable expense of conducting a special election, arguing that it would also give citizens more time to understand what is being proposed.
Commissioner Michael Gallen, who had ultimately voted for the measure earlier this month after voicing considerable concern, raised the issue near the top of Tuesday's BOCC meeting, motioning for reconsideration of the previously passed ordinance. After a lengthy discussion on process with county legal staff, the debate switched to whether or not more time was needed.
Gallen said that while he supported a county-funded indigent health care plan, he was concerned that the board would be spending several hundred thousand dollars on something likely to fail, when it could better use that money hiring consultants to construct a more detailed plan and then allow a better-informed public to vote on it during August 2014's scheduled primaries, when it would not require additional electoral funding.
Commissioner Betsy Benac, who voted against the measure at the March 12 meeting, reiterated her concerns about the specificity of the plan and said that the feedback she's received since has indicated to her that support in the community is minimal.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, the architect of the plan (which seeks to impose a half-cent sales tax to fund indigent health care, while reducing property taxes), reminded commissioners that any plans regarding the implementation of the health care plan could be modified infinitely, and said that this measure was simply a matter of changing the funding source.
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, who also voted against the measure previously, said that she didn't like the idea of asking citizens to vote on a tax when the plan it would purportedly support was not only vague, but open to such continuous change. She noted that the board had just had a workshop with the Sheriff in which he'd asked for considerable budget increases and feared that by imposing a sales tax, when there was nothing preventing this or a future board from then raising the millage for another purpose, the board could be seen as having pulled a “bait and switch.”
Commissioners Chappie, Bustle and Whitmore remained resolute that it was essential to have the tax approved in time to begin collecting revenue in January of 2014. Perhaps considering Commissioner Benac's stated openness to at least waiting until August rather than rushing it through in June, Whitmore called the question. The measure passed 4-3 with Benac joining Chappie, Bustle and Whitmore, while Gallen, DiSabatino and Baugh dissented. A new ordinance will now be advertised and come before the board at its next meeting on April 9 when a final vote will be taken to move the referendum to an August date that can be accommodated by the supervisor of elections office.
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