Baugh, Grant Bring Different Budget Perspectives

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY AUG 4, 2016

A decision by Manatee County Commissioners to dip further into reserves to fund more law enforcement positions could loom as a major issue in a primary this month. Kathleen Grant, the Republican challenger to incumbent County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, criticized the decision as fiscally irresponsible. “The county commission congratulated themselves and patted themselves on the the back for not having a millage increase for the last 10 years, but they increased deficit spending,” Grant says.

Baugh, who this year chairs the county commission, says focusing on the use of reserves was deceiving, and noted the county had an increase of $15 million in revenues. The board did budget $4 million from reserves in a budget passed Tuesday, and Baugh says long-term the county must stop doing that, but she says public safety needs had to be addressed.

Baugh did suggest Manatee follow the example of surrounding counties, including Sarasota County, by working to ensure a smaller percentage of revenues available come from property taxes. She notes a half-penny sales tax under consideration in Manatee that would draw more revenues from visiting snowbirds and tourists. “A sales tax wouldn’t just hit property owners,” Baugh says.

Grant has a problem with that approach in part because that tax would only go toward infrastructure. She would prefer the use of more user fees, like a stormwater fee, that would raise revenue from developers and those putting added stress on public resources. “We are one of the few jurisdictions that doesn’t have user fees,” she says. “We should look at that. Those are possible revenue sources.” Baugh, though, says such fees would again disproportionately impact property owners without raising enough funding to cover the needs in the budget. “We wouldn’t collect anywhere near the funds it would take to care for our road infrastructure, parks—things that deal with quality of life,” she says. “I realize my opponent is not as involved in budget projections and needs as a commissioner would be, but user fees would not be enough to make a difference.”

The candidates have also butted heads over issues of growth, with Grant critiquing votes by Baugh to increase zoning densities on projects in Lakewood Ranch and elsewhere. Baugh notes other jurisdictions have paid in legal settlements for wrongfully turning down similar zoning changes, and says the county needs to manage growth by improving road infrastructure.

Baugh and Grant are running in the Republican primary for Manatee County Commission District 5. The primary election is scheduled for August 30.

Picture: Kathleen Grant (left); Vanessa Baugh (right).

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