Thoughts on Reopening the Manatee County Economy

It was asked on Facebook about candidates and commissioners plans for getting us back open and toward economic recovery. Below are a few of my thoughts and proposals for immediate BOCC consideration.

I will post thoughts on long-term considerations at a later time.

1. Assist our small businesses and restaurants to increase capacity.

Phase 1 in Florida allows restaurants and retail storefronts to open to 25% capacity. It also allows outdoor seating with no specified capacity if it adheres to social distancing rules. At this capacity, I’m concerned that it will not be economically feasible for many of our small businesses to open profitably. We should immediately ease sidewalk dining and retail restrictions to allow these businesses to maximize their capacity allowance while social distancing. We can, and should, go so far as to accommodate space beyond their legal boundaries in various rights-of-way, street closures, parking lot reductions and wherever they can safely conduct business. The more we can support our local restaurants, the more we can help our overall economy, as their success further breeds success and sustainability across other industries, most notably our critical agricultural businesses that need this reliable demand source.

2. Adjust the near-term budget immediately.

We will not know the full extent of our potential revenue losses from taxes and fees for some time, but we know they will be substantially less than budgeted. We need to immediately look at our County budget to determine exactly what is a necessity for the safety and welfare of the community and cease all nonessential spending. If we wait for a clearer picture, we risk needlessly spending current dollars in the interim which could be used to offset necessary budget items later in the year. A clear understanding of what is considered a necessity should be made publicly available so the community knows what to expect regarding services and improvements.

3. Real estate tax adjustment.

Our property taxes are calculated based on the assessed value as of January 1. This assessment is already determined for 2020 and is based on pre-crisis values. Come November, you will be asked to pay taxes on some level of value that simply will not exist at that time. This will take further tax dollars out of our taxpayers’ pockets at a time when we, the individuals and families, need it the most. Ideally, we would reassess all values conservatively prior to November. This would adjust each basis going forward and provide a benefit for multiple years due to capped increases on homesteaded properties. As that may not be feasible due to both time and expense, a cleaner solution is to adjust the millage rate down to a level that supports, and doesn’t exceed, the essential-only budget from above and artificially accounts for the loss of value.

4. Government supporting local businesses.

Manatee County should immediately propose a spending policy which stipulates that all taxpayer-funded purchases and expenditures be spent locally on our local businesses and services as much as feasibly possible for the remainder of 2020 (and, ideally, on a more permanent basis). This will keep our tax dollars in Manatee County and assist our businesses in reopening and stabilizing.

5. Manatee County Task Force.

We have many great and knowledgeable professionals in Manatee County. The County should be working in conjunction with the EDC, the various Chambers, LWRBA, CareerSource and others to form a task force of these individuals from across all industries to begin shaping a plan for the community. This task force can provide reopening support and guidance to small businesses, mentoring and job placement for individuals and recommendations for future policies to support and encourage everyone in rebuilding our economy. We need to leverage the knowledge and experience of our private sector to fully assist our private employers and employees.

I would also propose that our local officials reach out to contacts at the state and federal levels with two additional suggestions.

1. Sales Tax Waiver.

The Sarasota/Manatee Resurrection Task Force recently sent a letter to Governor DeSantis with steps to open the economy. One of the proposals was a sales tax rebate for dine-in restaurants. I would go a step further. Manatee County should be actively petitioning the State to push for a complete sales tax waiver at the point-of-sale for all consumer products and services through the end of Phase 2. If we can do it for back to school shopping, we can do it for a pandemic. A sales tax waiver would provide an immediate discount and savings to everyone and encourage shopping and dining locally. The revenue “lost” from this tax waiver would be partially offset by savings in unemployment benefits by allowing people to get back to work and reopen their businesses.

2. Amend the unemployment benefits restrictions.

One of the unintended consequences of the recently imposed federal unemployment payment is that it discourages many from seeking re-employment. Between the state and federal payments, those who have been successful in filing are presently receiving $875/week, or over $20/hr at fulltime. Many businesses will find it difficult to reopen if they cannot persuade their employees, or new hires, from working at a rate less than what they are receiving for not working. This could significantly slow down the reopening of our (and every community’s) economy. We should present a recommendation to allow those collecting unemployment the ability to work a certain number of hours or collect a maximum amount of pay without losing their unemployment benefits. This would encourage people to get back into the workforce and assist those small businesses, already dealing with declining revenue, in recruiting workers rather than forcing them to compete directly with the government on pay.

If you have any additional thoughts or proposals, I’d love to hear them and I’m positive others would as well. You can leave them on my facebook page or email/call me directly.


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