BRADENTON – County Administrator Ed Hunzeker went before the BOCC at Thursday's meeting with his 2014-15 Budget Proposal. After months of wonder and curiosity about just how he was going to connect all of the dots, Hunzeker and Manatee County Financial Management Director, Jim Seuffert, put it all on the table.
The team reconstructed the numbers for how their "three-legged-stool" of Property Tax reduction, Sales Tax increase, and Utility Franchise fee would walk the county into a bigger and better future – that is of course, if the June 18 referendum passes.
Hunzeker says, he didn't do the math for FY 2015 that takes in account a "no" vote on the half-cent sales tax referendum. He says, although some things will change, most will stay the same if in fact the referendum fails.
Hunzeker says there will be no reduction in the county millage rate of 6.2993 for city owned property and 6.9102 for unincorporated Manatee County property, if the referendum doesn't pass. He added that if the measure fails, the generated revenue that would come from the sales tax increasing to 7.0 percent from its current 6.5 percent, would not be there to assist in indigent health care either.
The county is facing additional revenue shortfalls with its obligation to assist those who can't afford healthcare when the corpus fund – set-up from the sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital almost 30 years ago to handle such expenses – expires in 2015. County commissioners say they are now faced with a $19 million annual expense to pay for that care. The proposed half-cent sales tax increase is designed to compensate the cost.
Critics claim that the Affordable Care Act will cover most of the indigent care cost and that the proposed half-cent sales tax increase will be used for not-so-noble purposes; citing Hunzeker's master plan: How will we grow/How will we pay for it.
But the county faces many more challenges than just the indigent care. It suffers disgruntled employees who've gone years without any salary raise, a Sheriff's department still fighting to get to 2010 pay standards, and in need of more deputies to do the job. Critics claim there is not enough in the budget, even if the referendum passes.
Oddly, Hunzeker agrees, saying that the revenue generated by a sales tax will not be the only revenue it will take for his proposed budget. He also addresses, in a fragmented design, how county employees and the Manatee Sheriff Department will get much of their request as well.
The Recommended Net Budget for FY-2014 is $517,782,312, which is $65,311,370 more than FY-2013. But even with the proposed increase, over the last eight years the county budget has declined by $70 million.
Some of the needed additional revenue will come from the implementation of a utility Franchise Fee, which is expected to raise $15.8 million. With an improved economy, property valuation is expected to go upward of 3 percent, which will also generate more capital.
They say that the capital that comes from moving indigent health care to clinics instead of hospital emergency rooms will provide additional savings. But growth in construction is expected to broaden the tax base, and the plan is to stimulate more development.
Hunzeker's budget includes a four percent employee raise, which is contingent to constitutional officer stipulations -- that consider market equivalence and performance base ramifications -- and the two year long $3 million request by Sheriff Steube, to get his department and the much needed additional officers up to current pay scale.
Much of the plan relies on a stimulated economy, which has some people worried. These major changes are expected to rely heavily on reserve funds and debt for a period of four years, and if the economy struggles, which many economists predict will be the case, the county could be in for a troubled future.
The increased development and population also comes with increased demands for things like law enforcement. The budget speaks little to the thousands of homes in blighted areas, the decaying infrastructure they sit on and dollars to remedy inner-city needs.
In four BOCC workshops (June 5, 10, 11 and 13) prior to the referendum vote, citizens will have more time to figure out whether the three-legged stool is likely to stand or fall.