School tax election underway

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Island voters will help determine whether the Manatee County School District is the beneficiary of a one-mill property tax increase.

The decision will be made during the countywide referendum election that concludes on Tuesday, March 20.

The School Board is asking county voters to impose a new tax that would result in residential and commercial property owners paying an additional $1 of ad valorem taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The referendum fact sheet posted at the school district website estimates the new tax would generate $33 million annually for the next four years. If approved, the one-mill tax would be up for renewal in four years, as is the case this month for the one-mill school tax Sarasota County voters adopted 16 years ago.

“Manatee County schools are losing teachers and support staff to districts that pay more. The number of job vacancies keeps growing and often exceeds 100 positions, causing excessive use of substitutes. By extending the school day by 30 minutes and offering reasonable pay, schools will be able to improve academic achievement and keep their best teachers while also expanding career, technical and science/engineering programs. Sarasota students get one full year of additional instructional time over Manatee students during a K-12 career,” according to the fact sheet.

The assumption is that pay raises made possible by additional tax revenues would prevent teachers and other staff members from leaving to take higher paying jobs in neighboring Sarasota County. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, guidance counselors and other support staff also receive raises, and charter schools would receive a share of the tax revenues.

The fact sheet says the extra mill would cost the owner of a $225,000 home about $200 a year. One mill assessed to property with a taxable value of $225,000 would result in a $225 annual tax increase.

A property with a $500,000 taxable value would experience a $500 increase and a property with $1 million taxable value would see a $1,000 increase.

It’s possible that landlords and vacation rental owners could increase their rates to offset the new tax.

According to Sharon Stief at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office, the special election will cost approximately $300,000.

“The cost of the special election will be paid by parent fees for after-school care, not tax dollars, and amounts to less than one percent of the money that will be raised,” according to the district’s fact sheet.

In September, the divided school board voted 3-2 in favor of placing the tax referendum on a special election ballot. Dave Miner, Charlie Kennedy and Gina Messenger supported it. John Colon and Scott Hopes opposed it.

The Republican Party of Manatee County and the Common Sense Manatee political action committee oppose the tax. Common Sense Manatee claims the additional tax would not improve education and would hurt working families, blue collar workers, single mothers and seniors.

Island impact

According to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s website, one Bradenton Beach homeowner whose property in 2017 had a total just value of $721,397 and a total assessed value of $515,592 after applying the Save Our Homes discount paid $7,545 in ad valorem taxes, including the city tax. Of that, $3,239 went to the school district. This equated to 43 percent of the property owner’s ad valorem taxes. The additional one-mill tax would increase ad valorem property taxes Island-wide by slightly more than 6 percent.

Voting information

On Tuesday, March 20, polling locations in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Anna Maria residents will vote at Roser Memorial Community Church. Bradenton Beach voters will vote at the former fire station on Second Street North. Holmes Beach voters will vote at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church or St. Bernard Catholic Church.

Early voting will continue through Saturday, March 17, at Longboat Key Town Hall and at the Supervisor of Elections Office in Bradenton.

Mail voting is already underway. According to Stief, 318 vote by mail ballots were mailed to Anna Maria voters, 227 to Bradenton Beach voters and 781 to Holmes Beach voters. Sample ballots were mailed out last week.