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Date of Issue: September 07, 2006

County gets gold mine, Islanders get shaft

To paraphrase the old Jerry Reed song that "she got the gold mine, I got the shaft," the mainland may have found a gold mine on Anna Maria Island, while the Island could be getting the shaft — at least when it comes to paying a proportionate share of the budgets for Manatee County and the county school district.

Some Island elected officials say it's a case of the few paying for the many.

With just about 9,000 residents (2.7 percent) of the county's estimated 330,000 people living on the Island and the Manatee County side of Longboat Key, property owners here will pay enough in ad valorem taxes to account for almost 16.2 percent of the property tax revenues the county proposes to collect for the 2006-07 budget cycle.

Manatee County commissioners recently adopted a record $582 million budget with 7.5063 millage rate for residents living in incorporated areas of the county. At that figure, Island and Longboat Key taxpayers will cough up approximately $37 million of the $228 million total ad valorem tax revenues in the county's upcoming budget.

Despite the fact that only about 1 percent of the county's 43,414 public school students live on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, Islanders and LBK residents are also doing their fair share — maybe even more than their fair share — to support public education in the county, paying an additional $37.2 million in property taxes to support the Manatee County School District. That's an astounding 16.7 percent of the school board's budgeted $222.3 million in ad valorem tax revenues for 2006-07.

County commissioners and Manatee County School Board members should be beaming messages to their constituents that millage rates were actually lowered this year, due largely to the dramatic rise in property values in the Island cities. The school board was able to decrease its millage rate from 7.933 to 7.614, thanks to a $15 million increase in anticipated property tax revenues, largely from escalating real estate values in the Island cities.

In a city-by-city breakdown of the county budget, Anna Maria, with about 1,500 residents (less than .5 percent of the county population) will fork over $5.9 million, or 2.6 percent of the county's projected $228 million in property tax revenues.

Holmes Beach (5,000 residents, 1.5 percent of the county population) will pay $12.2 million (5.3 percent of the property taxes); and tiny Bradenton Beach, with just 1,000 residents (about .3 percent of the population), will do its fair share to support Manatee County government by paying $4.9 million (2.2 percent) of budgeted property taxes.

Longboat Key will chime in with $13.6 million for the county budget (6 percent of the total) and another $13.8 million to the school board, accounting for 6.2 percent of estimated property tax revenues in the school budget this year.

"Wonderful," said Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore with just a hint of sarcasm. "Except it's not really equitable. Less than 3 percent of the people in the county pay 16 percent of the property taxes."

Anna Maria City Commissioner Duke Miller said he has long considered the amount of taxes Islanders pay compared to the return as unequal.

"I don't mind paying taxes if we get a proportionate share of the benefits, but we don't," he said. "Right now, it's the few paying for the many."

Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Bill Shearon agreed taxes for the Island and mainland aren't the same and the Island doesn't get a decent return on what the county spends.

 "It's inequitable. We are not getting back a fair share of what we pay in. The tax base is not proportioned."

The Island, he observed, is the "recreational heart" of Manatee County. Every weekend, people "out east" come to the beaches and the three Island cities have to provide services and infrastructure for those people.

But Islanders aren't heading east every weekend, he noted dryly.

Former Holmes Beach City Commissioner Don Maloney believes that rising property values and accompanying taxation on the Island will gradually compel Island families to sell out to developers and part-time residents, eventually turning the Island into a giant condominium or rental unit.

"I hope the county at least sends us a nice Christmas present for us doing our part to support education and the budget for the people who don't live here," he quipped.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn added that increased taxes are "driving all our small businesses to sell out."

She reminded Island residents who complain about their municipal taxes that less than 10 percent of their total tax bill from the county goes to fund city government. The remainder goes to the county government, the school board, and as revenue for a variety of other governmental bodies, agencies, services and budgets.

County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, whose district includes Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island, said the current effort by the county commission to establish a cap and a rollback rate on rising property values is a step in the right direction. She anticipates that the Florida Legislature will deal with the issue at its next session when it holds committee hearings on all taxation issues in Florida, including property values and how property appraisers determine fair market value.

"While property values are market driven, they are not something we are ignoring," von Hahmann said.

State Rep. Bill Galvano has pledged to spearhead an effort to have the Florida Legislature revise the methods that property appraisers use to determine "fair market value."