Manatee County 1/2 cent sale tax referendun

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Bradenton---Manatee County want to increase the sale tax from 6 and half cents to 7 cents.  The idea for the half-cent increase came about after officials realized the fund used to pay for healthcare for the uninsured is almost empty.

"It's basically for the working poor who don't have their own health care insurance but they end up in emergency rooms for treatment that they don't have insurance to pay for it, so someone's got to pay," said Nick Azzara from Manatee County.

That bill is split between the hospital, the federal government and the county. The county's portion amounts to about 9 million dollars.  Up until now has been paid for with property taxes and the money from the 1984 sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital.  But, that fund is running dry and come 2015 that 9 million dollars will become a budget deceit.

"The $40 million fund lasted for about 30 years and it went for what it was intended for which was to pay for community health care cost for the people who couldn't afford it," said Azzara.

So with the fund set to expire the county has proposed a 1/2 cent sale tax increase for all items under $5,000. It's expected to generate about $23 million.  And, officials say the additional money will not just subsidize the expiring health care fund but also reduce the amount of property taxes used to foot the bill.

"If voters approve the 1/2 cent sales tax it would give the county a new set of options to reduce property taxes that are now being spent on health care," said Azarra

But not everyone agrees.

"I don't feel like we need a an extra 1/2 cent tax.  I know they say that we're going to save money in property taxes but I doubt that very seriously because once they get the money, it keeps on going up and up," said Ed a Manatee County voter.

In addition those against the half-cent sales tax say the money is not needed because the expense will be covered under Obama Care. But county officials say they don't have time to wait for state and federal lawmakers to hammer out those details.

"The federal health care overhaul is going to address all these concerns and in a perfect world they would but right now its a great unknown."

  In addition officials say the half cents sales tax can only be spent on indigent health care. So, if health care reform moves forward they will no longer need the money and will stop collecting it.