MANATEE COUNTY — With the adoption of Manatee County’s $564 million budget for fiscal 2016 on Sept. 22, commissioners will change the way the county pays for indigent health care.
For 30 years, the county has paid for indigent health care by using money set aside mostly from the 1984 sale of what is now Manatee Memorial Hospital. But the fund is depleted, with only $700,000 left, said Jan Brewer, county budget division manager.
So this fiscal year, the county will go from using about $7 million from the trust fund and $1.3 million from property tax revenue to paying nearly all indigent health care needs from the general fund.
District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who cast one of two dissenting votes against passing the budget, sees the solution as a temporary fix for a larger issue.
“The health care situation has been discussed for three years and even longer,” Baugh said. “Money can’t keep coming out of reserves; it will be gone in 2018.”
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said residents need to share the burden of paying for indigent health care now that the trust money has been depleted.
“Taxpayers in Manatee County haven’t had to pay for it,” Hunzeker said. “But now, it’s time to step up. We’ve exhausted our previous source, and we need to move forward to fund that health care in a new way.”
He said using general reserves will buy the county time, but ultimately, it needs to find alternative methods to generate revenue other than relying heavily on property taxes, which fluctuate with the economy. Franchise fees on gas, electric, water and sewer services could generate millions of dollars each year. Stormwater fees, business taxes and an infrastructure sales tax could provide additional revenue.
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected].