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East County Wednesday, May 15, 2019 3 months ago

Manatee County flexes financial muscles

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Manatee's financial strength soars back to pre-recession levels.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Although national economists have warned of an impending housing slowdown, the number of construction permits issued in fiscal year 2018 along with the increase in property tax revenues in Manatee County indicate growth in the area isn’t slowing.

That was just one highlight of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report released to the public May 7 by the Manatee County Clerk of Court and Comptroller’s Office.

“We made it through the recession,” Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. “Our property values dropped, and they’ve slowly crept up. We’re almost leveled up. It allows us not to have to raise the millage. We’ve been able to keep the millage the same because our property values went up. Most of our revenue is from new homes.”

Dan Wolfson, the finance director for the Clerk of Court and Comptroller’s Office, said the report shows the county’s financial position keeps improving.

“We’ve been on an upward trend since the financial meltdown (of 2008),” Wolfson said. “What we’ve seen in the last three to four years is we’ve been recovering from that. It demonstrates the overall financial strength of Manatee County.”

Here are highlights from the report.

CONSTRUCTION PERMITS
2009 — 9,905
2017 — 21,774
2018 — 29,679
Manatee County issued 29,679 construction permits in fiscal year 2018, which is a 19.8% increase over the previous year. Lakewood Ranch has been a huge part of the growth as it is nationally the No. 2-selling community in June 2018 according to Maryland-based real estate consulting firm RCLCO.

POPULATION GROWTH
2009 — 330,201
2017 — 368,782
2018 — 377,826
While the average population growth of Manatee County is 1.44% over the past 10 years, the county grew in population at 2.4% in the last year. It shows the trend that should mean construction permits will continue to rise.

TOURISM TAX
2009 — $5.15 million
2017 — $13.4 million
2018 — $14.7 million
Tourism levels climbed to new records in 2018 with bed tax revenue topping $14.7 million during the year, despite the effects of coastal red tide over part of the summer. Tourism tax revenues are used for tourism-related expenses, such as marketing or improvements to facilities like Premier Sports Campus. Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the increase in tourism revenues shows Manatee County is becoming known for more than its beaches. Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the increase is the result of having a strong brand and diverse tourism markets. Falcione said sports tourism, like that seen at Premier Sports Campus and IMG Academy, brings in an estimated $160 million in economic revenues and the facilities are known internationally.

UNEMPLOYMENT
2009 — 12.7%
2017 — 3.3%
2018 — 2.9%
In fiscal year 2018, Manatee County’s unemployment rate hit a 10-year low at 2.9%. It dropped to 5% in 2016 and continues to drop as Manatee continues to be attractive to those who want to move to a county where they can find a job.

TOTAL NET TAXABLE ASSESSED VALUES
2009 — $33.5 billion
2017 — $30.5 billion
2018 — $33.3 billion
Commissioner Carole Whitmore noted property values have crept back to 2009 levels, as shown by the report. Property tax revenues are based off the assessed value. 

REVENUES FROM PROPERTY TAXES
2009 — $208.5 million
2017 — $202.5 million
2018 — $221.2 million
Property values and property tax revenue also are up to figures not seen for a decade. “The financial state of the county at this point is extremely good,” Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “We’ve been in a much better position than we’ve been in for several years, and I’m anxious to see what the new county administrator brings forward in the budget. We need some roads built. We need to look at the infrastructure in this county and start doing something about it.”

UNASSIGNED FUNDS
2017 — $83.9 million
2018 — $96.51 million
Wolfson explained from an accounting standpoint, the “unassigned balance” is like savings for a vacation. You know how much you have in your checking account and how much you anticipate spending on your trip, but you have not spent the money yet. From the county’s budgeting perspective, those dollars do have a purpose and projects are earmarked for their use.

DEBT
2017 — $305.2 million
2018 — $407.55 million
As of Sept. 30, 2018, Manatee County had a total bonded debt outstanding of $407.55 million, which is a $102.39 million increase from the prior year. Most of this increase was to pay for improvements at Manatee County’s water treatment plant. General obligation debt decreased by $635,000, but revenue bonds increased by $103.022 million. The increase in revenue bonds reflected the issuance of $129.77 million in Public Utilities Systems Bonds ($55 million bond the county secured to “lock in” a low rate and pay off existing bonds in October 2021, as well $74.6 million for improvements to the county’s water treatment plant. It retired $26.78 million in debt.)

IMPACT FEES 
2009 — $5.5 million
2017 — $24.1 million
2018 — $27.9 million
Impact fees are fees, such as for water and sewer, levied on new construction to pay for growth. They are one-time fees paid at the time of building construction. In 2018, impact fees funded the purchase of the $6.85 million Premier Sports Campus and $2.5 million for improvements on University Parkway. In 2009, the Manatee County Commission adopted a series of policies and initiatives aimed at spurring the local economy, which included the suspension of school-related impact fees and half of all transportation-related impact fees for two years. That lowered a new business’s overall impact fee bill by about two-thirds.

COUNTY LAND
ASSETS

2009 — $151.75 million
2017 — $185.28 million
2018 —$198.96 million
Manatee County’s land assets increased by $13.68 million in 2018. Most of that comes from land acquisition associated with the 44th Avenue East extension project and the acquisition of the property between River Club and Braden Woods for a future preserve.

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