On July 29th, 2021, Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse took an opportunity to start something to be voted on Tuesday, August 17th that previous boards haven’t been able to accomplish since 2008. He proposed a revision to the budget that would lower taxes. Kruse reminded the public that the millage is going up .15 based on vote passing in the previous election. It’s his position “that the poorly worded ballot language will result in yet another grossly overfunded bucket of cash and we could have used existing funds to accomplish the same land purchases without the new tax.” It is Kruse’s belief that his proposal would achieve the goal of that tax while essentially returning this increase back to the taxpayers. Kruse added, “We’ve heard them through the 70% vote and will honor it, but we don’t need to take even more taxes from them to do so.”
Kruse made the suggestion to lower millage by at least .15 to offset the increase to get the reserves going forward more inline and balance out the increase. “We are allowed to have up to 20% reserves. Previous administrations started putting money into stabilization accounts and holding on to money to get around state laws limiting the amount of reserves,” said Kruse. He continued by sharing that Manatee County currently has effectively over $108.2 million in stabilization accounts that should be spent as if it was reserves.
Kruse explained the excessive stabilization account balance in this way, “Two ways to look at it, from a conservative view, this implies the government has taken $108.2 million more than they needed to take to run your government. If you have a tax and spend view, means you have $108.2 million lower quality of life than what the government promised you when they took your money.”
Kruse also stated that “Even with lowering .15, we will still deliver everything we are trying to accomplish by working within our means.” He would like to see all the funds in the stabilization account start going to good use as soon as possible. A change of .15 millage would only result a flat budget percentage, not a reduction. Things have continued to develop since his original position.
In a recent Facebook post, Kruse commented about this reduction and assured citizens that a reduction in tax rate will not result in a lower quality of life or services provided. “I’m a loud voice on many quality of life improvements. I pushed for the bonding of our infrastructure. I’m the loudest voice for workforce housing and acquiring land for a Land Trust. I’ve brought up finalizing our Environmental Land plans more than anyone else. I advocate for expanded library systems and homeless outreach. I’ve brought up a third lane on new beach bridges for a park & ride. I’m actively working on a Countywide greenway trail and expanded bike path access. I’m leading the push for broadband in areas where it’s lacking. I’m trying to get some of our reserves allocated to a dedicated stormwater fund to end the problem with our flooded roadways. I have advocated, and will continue to advocate, for fully funding the quality of life everyone in Manatee County wants and deserves.”
Since the July 29th meeting, Kruse has improved his position on the budget. He shared the following image on social media and made the bold statement, “Next Tuesday, August 17, I will again be making a motion to lower Manatee County tax millage for the first time since 2008!”. The chart below shows a net decrease in our tax rate while not compromising services even with the voters tax increase.
Kruse also shared, “Our tax policies and our reserves in Manatee County have created bloated cash accounts and operating budgets for far too long.”
At the time of Kruse’s proposal during the July 29th meeting, he only had Commissioner Vanessa Baugh ready to vote on an offsetting reduction in millage to create a net 0% increase in the tax rate. Some commissioners were generally on board with this change but wanted to see the impact to the budget before casting their votes. As it turns out, this may have led to even more savings.
Commissioner James Satcher told Manatee Herald, “I think George and I were on the same page but didn’t know it. I had mentioned cutting taxes in session before but didn’t realize I had the support of the room. Now it’s clear we have the will, so of course, I am excited. I did feel bad for staff during our first meeting because I had been pushing for important road projects to make it into the existing budget assuming the support for tax relief wasn’t there yet, but I believe our staff and the Conservative coalition on this board is creative and determined enough to do both.”
The BOCC is expected to vote on this budget change to reduce taxes during their meeting Tuesday, August 17th, 2021.