Use of county concession funds up for debate

holmes beach concession funds
Commissioners discuss whether or not beach concession funds could be used to help fund The Center of Anna Maria Island. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners have more discussion to do before they come to an agreement on how they would like to apply beach concession funds in the city.

The three Island cities have access to a percentage of funds that Manatee County collects from beach concessionaires. The account totals more than $1,144,000 and is growing. In order to access the funds, the commissions of all three Island cities must approve a project benefiting the public before it is presented to county commissioners for approval and release of the funds. Holmes Beach commissioners are working on their wish list to see which project they’ll propose for funding.

Some of the ideas floated on the dais include supporting the Anna Maria City Commission if it should ask for funds to help rebuild the city pier, recreating a dune system along the Island’s beaches and purchasing mats to make the beach sand more accessible by people with physical limitations.

Commissioner Jim Kihm said he would support a dune restoration project if Manatee County approved the project.

“I think that would be a great benefit to the three Island cities,” he said, adding that a dune line down the Island beaches would help protect property during storm events.

Because the beaches belong primarily to Manatee County, the county would have to be on board with the project for it to move forward. Other considerations include the cultivation and maintenance of dunes if established, along with how the project could potentially impact ongoing beach renourishment efforts.

Picking up where discussions left off in 2017, Commissioner Judy Titsworth said she was most interested in obtaining funds for improvements at the city’s skate park. Because it is the only skate park on Anna Maria Island, and, according to Police Chief Bill Tokajer, visitors account for a large percentage of the applications the HBPD receives to use the skate park, Titsworth said it would be a project benefiting all three communities.

Because visitors used the skate park before it was closed for repairs, Titsworth said she’d like to find out if the Manatee County Tourist Development Council would be willing to put forward some funds for the park.

“I don’t want to use concession funds on something the TDC will fund,” she said.

Commissioners agreed to approach the TDC for skate park funds before moving forward with a request for concession funds for the project.

Titsworth had another idea for use of concession funds, one that City Attorney Patricia Petruff wasn’t sure is allowed under the terms of the fund use agreement.

With ongoing financial recovery moving in a positive direction, Titsworth said she’d like commissioners to consider requesting some of the concession funds monies for The Center of Anna Maria Island. Her argument is that the nonprofit’s facilities are used by residents from all three Island cities and she received verbal confirmation the use of funds would be allowed from an attorney representing the county.

Petruff said she doesn’t think that use of the monies toward the Center would be an accurate interpretation of the agreement governing the fund. Mayor Bob Johnson agreed, stating that funding the Center wouldn’t be a one-time project, which is what the fund was set up to help with.

“I think it’s a convenient interpretation,” he said.

Without receiving that legal opinion in writing, Petruff said she would be hesitant to move forward with such a request. She added that there is $25,000 in the city’s current fiscal year budget which could be given to the Center if commissioners decide to help fund the nonprofit.

Commissioner Rick Hurst, liaison to the Center and a soccer coach at the nonprofit, said he’d like to readdress the potential for city funding once leadership at the organization produces a revised budget for the current fiscal year.

After a rough start to the year in July, Hurst said he’d received word that the Center was finally operating in the black as of December due to the receipt of large private donations. Financial documents obtained from Center Executive Director Kristen Lessig show the nonprofit ending the first half of its fiscal year $6,023 in the black, $19,481 better than forecast in the current budget. The financials show the Center benefitted from lowered program costs, higher program revenue, and a leap in donations that put the organization $99,580 better than budget in that area with a total of $266,330 in donations, sponsorships and ticket sales from July 1 through the end of December.

“I’m glad to hear they’re doing better, but I think it’s still early in the process with them,” Kihm said.

Commissioners agreed to move the conversations concerning TDC and concession funds to a future work session agenda. Discussions on whether or not the city will donate to the Center remain on hold.

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