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Confusion on Healthcare Referendum Dominates BOCC Meeting


BRADENTON -- Have you ever felt that something is going on, but you don't know what it is? If not, go to downtown Bradenton, sit in on one of the Manatee Board of County Commission meetings, and just wait for discussion about the Special Referendum Election that is scheduled for June 18, 2013 to come up. I'm reminded of the Joe Pesci scene in JFK, where Pesci says, "It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma." The quote was actually a retelling of a Winston Churchill line regarding trying to predict Russian actions in the World War II era. 

Nontheless, it seems to fit the BOCC just as well. Few things are as they appear. At Tuesday's BOCC meeting during commissioner comments, Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said, "I have people calling me, wondering what is going on."

DiSabatino is talking about the brainteasing information on the county's website that fails to describe just what the 26/13 valorem tax exemption and the one-half cent health care surtax have in common.

It appears they are connected at the hip; one is said to help create revenue for the other by taking the burden of indigent health care off the back of property tax payers and getting a pinch from everyone's wallet; residents and tourist alike.

But the proposed "revenue neutral" plan, really has no plan at all. We are finding out it is basically an idea that is sitting on a "build it and they will come" piece of ground. As Commissioner Benac says, "We don't know, there are no guarantees, this is a budget strategy."

But not everyone sees it as something so complex. The political action group "Healthy Manatee" chaired by retired Manatee County Commissioner Patricia Glass, is placing TV commercials and printed literature that simply say "the sales tax promises property tax relief." Only according to the referendum, it doesn't. 

In a letter to Manatee County Administrator, Ed Hunzeker, Commissioner Michael Gallen wrote: "I'm concerned the Healthy Manatee 1/2 penny sales tax is making promises of tax relief."

Although Hunzeker has announced both the 1/2 penny sales tax and the property tax relief as two of the legs in his three legged stool called "How Will We Grow," he states quite clearly, they are independent of each other and are not exclusive.

What Hunzeker doesn't mind though, is Pat Glass and her crew defining the referendum under false pretenses. Gallen wrote, "The commissioners are being painted into a corner without any input. How can we rectify this?"

DiSabatino questioned the misinformation on the county's website, Glass's campaign, the commercials and also a rumor being circulated that, "if county employees vote for the referendum, they will soon get a raise in salary."

DiSabatino said, the "Vote for Jobs signs I am seeing, I'll tell you, I have not slept for a week or two. This Healthy Manatee PAC, I can't even find where it is registered." 

Commissioners Benac, Chappie and Whitmore, just kept repeating how they had no control over what PACs do, and Hunzeker took the same stand. 

Benac admitted there was not a plan or guarantee what would happen, and that she believed in the strategy to do something to get the cost of health care off the backs of property owners. 

I can't count the times Benac has set aside proposals for one simple reason, saying, "I won't vote for something that doesn't have a plan." The canning of the plan to repair the deteriorating 301 (DeSoto) bridge comes to mind.

Well the heated snippets of discourse and the moments of emotional spate started to settle after some tears from Whitmore rose when she scolded past commission candidate Corie Holmes for shouting out that Whitmore's husband was a key figure in Glass's political PAC. Whitmore's husband is not, however, listed on any of the paperwork regarding Healthy Manatee or otherwise known to be involved with the group, though he's listed as an endorser on their website. 

Commissioner Chappie caught himself swinging his arms around DiSabatino, badgering her over not specifying "what group" she was referring to when speaking of the Healthy Manatee PAC.

A motion was put forth to try and curtail the confusion to what and how much the two referendum votes had to do with each other, but it failed, and it seems so did the clarification to their intent.

editor's note: this article was updated to reflect that Commissioner Whitmore's husband is not a registered officer or agent of Healthy Manatee PC.


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