Proposed consolidation study concerns city officials

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BRADENTON BEACH – City commissioners continue to express concerns about legislative actions recently proposed by State Rep. Will Robinson Jr. and other state legislators.

On Jan. 12, Robinson (R-Bradenton) and his fellow Republican members of the Manatee County legislative delegation announced their intent to pursue state legislation that could potentially allow Manatee County to preempt the city of Holmes Beach’s land development code in order to build a multi-story parking garage on county property to provide more parking for beachgoers and other visitors. Robinson and his fellow state legislators also announced their desire for a state-funded study regarding the possible consolidation or elimination of the three Island cities and city governments.

Led by Sen. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton), the Manatee County legislative delegation also includes Sen. Joe Gruters, Rep. Tommy Gregory and Rep. Mike Beltran. State legislators began a special 12-day legislative session on Monday, and their regular annual 60-day legislative session begins on March 7.

Bradenton Beach concerns

On Feb. 2, the Bradenton Beach Commission again discussed these legislative matters. Mayor John Chappie noted that City Attorney Ricinda Perry referenced the state legislators’ efforts in a letter she sent to the accounting firm that annually audits the city’s finances. In that letter, Perry identified current or potential legal actions or litigation that could impact the city’s finances.

“The city of Bradenton Beach has been placed on notice that Representative Robinson may propose a study funded by the Florida Legislature to determine if the three Anna Maria Island Cities – Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria – should be consolidated or dissolved,” Perry stated in her Jan. 31 letter.

“The impacts of this would impair all existing contracts, leases, franchise agreements, employment agreements, endowments and retirement accounts. There has been real property gifted to the city that may have reverter clauses. The city would cease to exist if the special act creating the municipality would be repealed and the city was dissolved by the Florida Legislature,” Perry’s letter said.

“To date, the city has not received notice that the study has been authorized, nor has the city received notice that Representative Robinson has filed a local house bill to dissolve the city,” Perry’s letter said in closing.

Perry noted eliminating the city would also eliminate the city charter. Among other things, the city charter includes height restrictions that prohibit the construction of high-rise structures.

Perry receives legislative updates from the city’s contracted lobbyist, Dave Ramba. Ramba believes Robinson will push for the consolidation study during this year’s legislative session and wait until the 2024 session to decide what to do with the recommendations made in the study. Perry said the study is one of Robinson’s top legislative priorities.

Perry also spoke with Florida League of Cities attorney David Cruz and was told the League will be part of the efforts to defeat the legislative actions sought by the Manatee County delegation.

“This is a new attack on home rule,” Perry said.

Perry said she spoke with Robinson, too. She said he’s concerned about the tax burdens placed on the Island’s taxpayers and wants to know whether consolidating some or all of the services provided by each of the Island cities would reduce those tax burdens.

After noting that people voluntarily chose to live and own property on Anna Maria Island, Perry said, “If the extra (property) tax is the concern, then by virtue of his claim every municipality in the state is an overtax on people and every county should be a county with no municipalities in it.”

Chappie noted the city only receives a small percentage of the tax revenues Manatee County collects in Bradenton Beach.

Perry said Robinson also feels the three Island cities, in general, need to find or create more parking for beachgoers and visitors, but one city in particular (Holmes Beach) is the state legislators’ main concern.

On Jan. 30, Chappie, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth and Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy met with Robinson and Boyd at Anna Maria City Hall in a private meeting arranged by Murphy.

During Thursday’s commission meeting, Chappie shared some of what was discussed during that meeting, and also during his previous meetings with Titsworth and Murphy. Chappie said the three mayors have had some preliminary discussion about possibly consolidating some of the services provided by each of the three cities, including flood plain management, the flood insurance-related Community Rating System, code enforcement and things of that nature.

“We’re looking at that and that was part of the request from our legislators,” Chappie said.

Commissioner Ralph Cole addressed the potential consolidation or elimination of the city’s police department.

“It’s good to have your own police department. They know the people, how the area works and what’s going on in each neighborhood,” he said.

“Look at the amount of crime out here on the Island and tell us we haven’t done a good job,” Cole said in comparison to crime rates experienced elsewhere in the county.

Regarding consolidation in general, Chappie said, “I don’t think the numbers actually work. We’re going to look at all that.”

“It would be a disaster for this area,” Cole said.