Manatee County resident Mike Meehan says based on Manatee County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Manatee’s financial picture is sound — “perhaps too sound.”
“My conclusion is you either need to spend more money … or cut the millage,” Meehan told Manatee County commissioners April 23. “In my opinion, there’s plenty of room for a millage tax cut.”
Meehan isn’t the only one with the idea.
Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh is advocating for such a tax reduction, first bringing it up during a workshop about implementing a dedicated stormwater fee April 16 and then again at the county commission’s April 23 meeting.
Baugh said she believes the county may not be living within its means and departments are holding more in reserves than the 20% needed.
She has requested a report showing each of the county’s departments and how much they have in reserves compared to the 20%.
“In my opinion, there’s no time like the present,” Baugh said. “Government is not supposed to be the answer to everything. The citizens are supposed to make their decisions on where their money goes.”
Baugh said such a tax reduction is especially important as the county considers implementing a designated stormwater fee, which if approved, could add to a property owner’s future property assessment bill.
Baugh said the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller Office also invests the county’s dollars each year, and revenues from interest are already at more than $10 million for the year. In half a year, that figure rivals what was collected for all of fiscal year 2018 — $13.3 million.
Kathy Cremaschi, deputy director of finance for the Manatee County clerk of court, said interest rates have nearly doubled from two years ago, contributing to much of the increase in interest earnings. Although all of the county’s funds are pooled together, the interest earned is allocated to the specific funds contributing to it in keeping with their respective contributions. Only the general fund dollars are not earmarked for a specific purpose. Cremaschi said that figure is about $2 million.
“It’s extra money,” Baugh said. “Why would you not give the citizens a break? They deserve it.”
Manatee County Financial Director Jan Brewer said interest income is estimated each year and incorporated into the county budget recommended each summer by the county administrator. Interim Administrator Cheri Coryea is expected to deliver her recommended budget to the County Commission May 28.
During the April 23 meeting, Brewer said the revenue surplus is all about perspective. According to retired County Administrator Ed Hunzeker’s 2019 budget message, property tax revenues in fiscal year 2019 were just reaching levels seen in 2007.
Baugh said she is looking forward to seeing the information she has requested on reserves so she and fellow board members can better evaluate the county’s financial condition. She said she does not expect the board to support a millage reduction, but she will lobby for it.
“It’s easy to talk about the budget and how we need to be fiscally responsible, but part of that is making sure each commissioner understands the budget and where we are,” Baugh said. “I think the budget this year is going to be very interesting.”