Vol 6 No. 47 - August 16, 2006


Insurance crises blows away businesses

One lane closed as work begins on Key Royale Bridge

AMI West up for sale

Bridge weight loads tracked

Storms soak 'roofless' city hall

Funding request stirs more controversy

State approves emergency measure to ease insurance crisis for business owners

Commission may replace code board




Insurance crises blows away businesses

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - How would you like to see your insurance premiums increase from $52 to $588 a year?

How about from $52,000 to $588,000? For half the coverage?

That's what happened to the Doubletree Beach Resort in Pinellas County this year. Owner Carl Hall was one of dozens of people who attended a public forum on insurance last week in Holmes Beach, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Galvano.

The resort may not survive, Hall said, adding that without Gulf-front hotels, the state's largest industry, tourism, may be next.

"We need to find a solution now. Tomorrow is too late," he said. "The future of our state is at stake here."

An insurance increase from $35,000 to $350,000 has made insurance premiums more costly than mortgage payments for Carola Fleener, a Sarasota pediatrician who is president of her medical office condominium association.

"This is legalized robbery," she said, criticizing a letter from the insurance company that used what she called "hardball tactics," requiring a response by a 5 p.m. deadline to avoid cancellation.

Galvano and Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty invited business owners to testify about their experiences on Friday at the Anna Maria Elementary School. They intend to present the testimony to the state Cabinet this week as they consider reactivating the defunct Commercial Property Joint Underwriting Association.

The JUA could either provide reinsurance to insurance carriers, enabling them to write more policies, or it could write insurance policies directly, according to the Office of Insurance Regulation, which drafted the plan to help commercial property owners get insurance coverage.

"Ultimately, the JUA may be at the reinsurance level," Galvano said.

The Cabinet voted earlier this month to have the insurance office begin the rulemaking process that would reactivate the JUA after hearing the results of a survey of 1,900 businesses in the state conducted by the insurance office. Seventeen percent of respondents could not find any insurance coverage for their businesses at any price, according to the survey.

Critics of the plan fear the JUA will become another Citizens Property Insurance Co., the floundering agency created to assist homeowners and businesses that could not obtain insurance.

"We're looking at this JUA as a temporary fix," Galvano said. "What we've done in the past doesn't work."

The fix needs to be fast, say business owners, including insurance agents.

"We can't get insurance on our own building," said Marilyn Williams of BB&T Insurance in Pinellas County.


One lane closed as work begins on Key Royale Bridge

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - Work on the Key Royale Bridge replacement has begun, and traffic has been reduced to one lane.

A temporary signal has been installed to control traffic during the project, which is expected to last nine months. The bridge will remain one lane during that period.

The good news for boaters is that although the channel was slated to be closed for nine months, it will now remain open, said Florida Department of Transportation Public Information Specialist William Thomas.

"The Army Corps of Engineers, which issues the permit, said no (to closing the channel)," Thomas explained.

Thomas said workers would begin driving pilings on Aug. 21.

The $3.4 million project includes replacing the existing bridge with a 153-foot, two-lane, low-level bridge with two 12-foot lanes and 1.5-foot shoulders. The new structure will feature 6.5-foot sidewalks on both sides.

The roadway approaches to the bridge will be improved with 12-foot lanes and a 5-foot sidewalk. It will be a minimum of 10.3 feet above the water with a horizontal clearance of 32 feet.

For information, call Debbie Tower, DOT public information director, at (239) 461-4300.

AMI West up for sale

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA - AMI West is for sale along with sister stores Sea Stable and Susan Striblings, both on Longboat Key.

Owner Art Falls said he's turning 80 in a few weeks, and he wants to concentrate on other things.

"It's just too much to do," he said. "It's time for someone else to do it."

Falls and his late wife, Nancy, purchased Sea Stable in 1978. They eventually purchased the building that houses the swimsuit shop on Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Susan Striblings came next in 1990, followed shortly thereafter by AMI West, which is located in The Sun Plaza at the corner of Gulf Drive and Palm Avenue in Anna Maria.

"Each store is unique, and each store has it's own feel and look," Falls said. "I hope whoever buys the stores will keep that."

The stores are for sale individually, Falls said.

"I think it'd be too much for one buyer," he said. "It's a lot to do to handle three stores."

The almost octogenarian said several buyers have shown interest in the stores. He had scheduled appointments to discuss the purchase with several prospective buyers this week. He's offering special incentives to anyone who purchases a store during August.

"I'll offer to stay on and help get things started," he said. "If they want that. That's the way Nancy and I started at Sea Stable. The former owners helped us get going."

Falls said he'll miss the stores, but it's time to move on.

"I'll miss going to market," he said. "When you go, you buy for individual customers. You know what they like. You see a swim suit and think to yourself that Mrs. Jones would like this or Mrs. Smith would like that. That I'll miss."

Falls plans to just relax for a while. What he'd especially like to do is go to all his grandsons' football games. Or just go to football games all over the country, maybe seeing family and friends along the way.

Bridge weight loads tracked

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

In an attempt to extend the life of the Island's three drawbridges and other small bridges in the area, the Florida Department of Transportation has installed signs at the bridge approaches.

The temporary signs instruct drivers carrying loads over 80,000 pounds to call a toll free number that is posted on the sign to receive instructions on crossing the bridge.

"The only thing that's changed is instead of a blanket permit, we want to track what's going over the bridges in order to extend the life of the bridges," William Thomas, DOT public information specialist explained. "The signs are temporary now, but we will replace them with permanent signs."

The restriction only applies to vehicles such as cement trucks and those carrying heavy construction equipment.


Storms soak 'roofless' city hall

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA - City hall got more than a new roof last week. It also got some serious water damage and in the midst of that, it got a new state of the art sound system.

Everyone knew there would be some disruption because of the re-roofing job, but no one was expecting that the staff would have to contend with two floods.

They knew there would be pounding and hammering and fumes from the sealant used on the flat part of the roof.

"This is awful," said City Clerk Alice Baird from her office, which didn't sustain too much damage.

A couple of ceiling tiles were down, but the area was cleaned up and she was able to work.

The administrative assistant's area in the clerk's office was a mess.

"Water poured down the walls and just soaked the insulation in the ceiling," said Administrative Assistant AnnMarie Thorpe.

"You could see the water bulging out the ceiling tiles. The carpets were soaked."

A deputy sheriff on duty that weekend discovered the damage Sunday afternoon after 1.5 inches of rain fell on the city. He called in whatever staff he could find.

After clean up, everyone went home to enjoy what was left of his or her weekend.

Then on Tuesday of last week, city hall was flooded a second time.

"They (the roofers) were told to remove a pipe, but they obviously didn't check to see if it was empty," said Mayor SueLynn.

Water from the second flood followed the same route as the water from the first flood. The administrative offices and the city hall chambers were flooded. Water poured out of the ceiling and traveled down the walls.

There was also some damage in the workroom at that end of the building. There was some damage in the part of the building that houses the sheriff's department.

The building department and the break room remained unscathed.

The public works director was unable to assist with the second cleanup as he was at a meeting for Keep Manatee Beautiful.

The mayor said she has contracted with a company that specializes in cleaning up water damage. That company was reportedly at work within 24 hours of the first flood.

The mayor also said there is insurance to cover the damage and the cleanup.

"There is ample insurance built into the contract with Roof USA," she said.

Meanwhile, technicians were installing a new city hall sound system that was ordered earlier.

Was there a problem with installing the system in the midst of drying out the room on a dais under a ceiling devoid of tiles and open to the beams with the light fixtures loosely overhead?

"No problem - as long as it doesn't rain," he said.


Funding request stirs more controversy

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - A request by Commissioner David Zaccagnino last week to put $7,500 in the budget for a consolidation study drew strong opposition from Chairman Rich Bohnenberger.

"I read it in the paper that Anna Maria budgeted $2,500," Zaccagnino said.

"The commission decided that they are not interested," Bohnenberger protested. "Anna Maria doesn't want to consolidate; they only want to get into our public works department."

Bohnenberger said the money should come out of the city's donation to the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce. He was referring to an offer last month by the Chamber to study consolidating services among the three Island cities.

The Chamber formed a study committee consisting of the commission liaisons from the three Island cities - Commissioners Duke Miller in Anna Maria, Bill Shearon in Bradenton Beach and Zaccagnino. Bohnenberger also had protested the Chamber's plan.

Commissioner Roger Lutz said his position has been that "if the other two (cities) are going to be that hard-headed and dragging their feet, there's no point in going forward.

"And I'm not interested in working with them and do all their public works and police and all that stuff just so they can keep jobs."

Mayor Carol Whitmore said she has never had a commissioner make a budget request and recommended approval.

"I make a recommendation that I would add the $7,500 to the Chamber funding only to be used for this and if we don't use it, it goes back to the general fund," Whitmore said.

Lutz pointed out that the request should be brought forward during a budget session, and the others agreed.


State approves emergency measure to ease insurance crisis for business owners

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Cabinet reactivated the defunct Commercial Property and Casualty Joint Underwriting Association on Tuesday to assist business owners in finding insurance.

Under existing law the state can form an association to help provide commercial property coverage if enough businesses appeal to the state because they cannot access adequate insurance. The Office of Insurance Regulation (Office) has received numerous requests for assistance over the internet, by phone, through emails and in person from those who have had their coverage reduced and/or seen their premiums dramatically increase. The Office has also heard from many businesses that cannot locate coverage at any price.

Based in part on the testimony of business owners who attended a public forum last week in Holmes Beach, the Office of Insurance Regulation's Financial Services Commission presented the emergency request to reestablish the plan to Gov. Jeb Bush, Attorney General Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson.

The JUA will provide commercial property insurance to those unable to buy adequate coverage in the marketplace.

The Cabinet had requested earlier this month that the commission act quickly to reactivate the JUA after a survey of 1,900 businesses in the state indicated a crisis in both the cost and availability of insurance.

Bush praised Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty for pushing the plan through before Sept. 1.

"That was NASCAR-like speed," he said.

"I have heard from too many Florida business owners who are facing losing their insurance in the middle of hurricane season," said McCarty. "If left unchecked, this problem will have a negative affect on our state's economy, as we have already heard from businesses that may have to move out of Florida ."The Cabinet also applauded a plan to issue credits on homeowners insurance for homeowners who take steps to mitigate damage that could result from windstorms.

The My Safe Florida Home program will offer $250 million in mitigation credits to more than 50,000 homeowners over the next year, according to Gallagher.

"This is something we can do," Bush said. "I think we need to think big and think forever."


Commission may replace code board

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - Commissioners recently asked City Attorney Patricia Petruff to draft an RFP (request for proposals) for a hearing officer to replace the code enforcement board.

In June, Commission Chairman Rich Bohnenberger had asked commissioners to consider the change. A hearing officer, also called a special magistrate, is a professional who acts in a manner similar to a judge and conducts hearings on code enforcement issues and violations.

"The biggest issue that we have right now is to make sure the special magistrate is in place prior to the termination of the code enforcement board," Petruff told the board. "Are we looking at doing this as expeditiously as possible? We brought this up a couple of years ago and it didn't go anywhere."

She also pointed out that because the city's population has reached 5,000, two more members are required on the code enforcement board, according to state statute.

"Will this affect any of the (current code board) cases?" Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens asked.

Petruff said the board would have to complete any pending cases.

"Can we have both of them going at the same time?" Haas-Martens asked.

Petruff said yes and asked if the commission wants to advertise for the position.

Bohnenberger asked if the city had to issue an RFP, and Petruff said if the city plans to spend $10,000 or less on the position, an RFP is not required.

"You can look at the last year of code enforcement board meetings and determine how many hours they met and make that calculation," she suggested. "I'm not sure it would go over that $10,000 limit, so I would say that you don't necessarily need to go to an RFP."

However, commissioners said they want to advertise for the position, and Petruff said she would draft the RFP for discussion at a future work session.


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