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Half-cent sales tax fails at the polls

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

The proposed half-cent sales tax that would have helped pay for indigent health care while possibly relieving property owners’ burden with an estimated 26 percent property tax decrease died in a June 18 referendum.

According to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office, voter turnout was 15 percent.

About 39,000 registered voters cast their ballots. According to the supervisor’s website, 15,280 voters supported the sales tax increase while 23,710 voted no.

Holmes Beach Commission Chair Jean Peelen was a vocal proponent of the tax, as were many island officials. Peelen said June 19 she was disappointed in the outcome and surprised at the low voter turnout.

“I don’t think the message got out very well to voters,” she said. “And I was surprised at the level of opposition.”

Peelen said she received automated phone calls about the referendum. “I had about 12 calls and all but one were in opposition,” she said.

Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, who voted to put the issue on a referendum, said the people have spoken.

“Our job was to present a possible solution and send it to the voters and that’s what we did,” he said. “Now we have to put this behind us and look for another solution to pay for indigent health care.”

Voters did support the second referendum item that will give authority to county commissioners to provide 10 years of property tax exemption to qualified incoming businesses and existing businesses wanting to expand.

The business tax exemption passed with 52.53 percent of the vote among 20,396 voters. More than 18,400 voters voted no.

In order for a business to qualify for the incentive it must meet continuing criteria, including providing jobs, investments and wages above average for the area.

If the business fails the qualifications in a 10-year period, commissioners can revoke the incentive.

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