NAPLES — A bill moving through the Florida Legislature is meant to help Collier County kids by allowing voters to set up a property taxing district that would raise $31.4 million its first year.
But in order for it to make it to the next stages of discussion, state legislators need the go-ahead from local elected leaders.
Collier County commissioners will be asked Tuesday to support the bill that would pave the way to create a children’s services trust in the county.
The bill that is co-sponsored by Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, would create a mechanism for Collier County taxpayers to establish a trust through an independent special taxing district.
The trust would be similar to the children services councils allowed by Florida law, and would provide millions of dollars annually to children’s services in Collier County.
The commissioners need to send legislators a letter to show the bill is consistent with local government plans, said Richard Grant, a local attorney and member of the Collier Children’s Trust Proponents political committee.
Mike Reagen, executive director of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and a committee board member, said the hope is a trust would “be used to try to enhance services across the board.”
Hudson said the bill would provide an extra cushion of financial stability to children’s services in Collier County.
“Children services are basically funded by the (Naples) Winter Wine Festival,” he said. “Imagine a scenario where the Winter Wine Festival didn’t exist. How would services be facilitated?”
The Naples Winter Wine Festival raised about $8 million for children’s charities in 2010. That’s about $3 million more than in 2009.
“The concern is with the wine festival, great as it may have been, it may not be a sustainable model,” Grant said. “It’s had some dips. And the idea is, in all honesty and fairness, to pick up on what has been achieved and make sure it’s more sustainable.”
Reagen said he doesn’t see the children’s service trust as competing with the annual event.
Instead, he said “it would be complementary.”
Officials of the Naples Winter Wine Festival and its parent group, the Naples Children and Education Foundation, were unavailable to comment on the bill Thursday, spokeswoman Andrea Steffy said.
But even if commissioners support moving forward — and the bill passes through the state House and Senate — Hudson said Collier County taxpayers likely will see no immediate changes.
“Should this pass, no there’s not a tax increase. No the sky isn’t falling. It provides a tool in the toolbox,” he said. “It’s kind of that plan B.”
A Collier County children’s service trust would need voter approval before it is created, and the agency could levy up to a half-mill (50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value) in property taxes to support its cause.
That would equal about $31.4 million in fiscal 2011 if an agency is created.
Grant said the bill, which passed through the House’s military and local affairs policy committee Thursday, is an enabling law that, unless approved by voters, could have no lasting effect on county taxpayers.
“It’s going to sit on the books unless, and until, someone goes to the County Commission and asks to approve a public referendum,” he said.
Grant said his group isn’t prepared to say whether they plan to ask that the trust be placed on a ballot, but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of requesting a ballot measure later this year.
Some Collier commissioners said they were just receiving information about the proposal Thursday and weren’t prepared yet to comment.
_ The Collier children’s services trust is scheduled to be discussed by commissioners at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in commission chambers at the government complex at 3301 U.S. 41 East.