Vol 7 No. 13 - December 20, 2006


Unlikely pair shares season�s joy with others

Tax reform report outlines possibilities

Tourism soft; Florida stale?

Money-making venture tries to use fire district name

Driver sentenced to seven years

Officer Pete returns for visit

Pelican Man closes, still hoping for Santa

Renourishment pushed back to 2008




Unlikely pair shares season�s joy with others

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - They are an unlikely pair who have become fast friends - a 51-year-old woman and a 9-year-old who have both endured tragedy.

To celebrate their good fortune and special friendship, they are spreading joy this Christmas season. But let's back up to three years ago.

Janice Sardegna was numb. Her world was crumbling around her. She was in the midst of a painful divorce and her sister and her mother-in law had both died.

"It left a big hole in my heart," she said.

Now fast forward to a year ago. Joely Hernandez, a second-grader at Anna Maria Elementary School, was in a horrific automobile accident in which her mother, aunt and grandmother were killed. Joely suffered a broken pelvis and other injuries.

Joely's grandfather, Joe Paldolph, of Anna Maria, took over her care, and but he needed occasional help with babysitting.

"A friend who cleans for Joe called me and asked if I could help," Sardegna recalled. "How could I say no?"

"That first night, we became friends," Joely recalled. "We played card games and I showed her how to play games on my computer."

As the two got to know each other, they began to expand their visits to include shopping and fun trips and a special friendship began to grow.

"She's a really nice person and very funny," Joely said of Janice. "We play with her dog and watch TV and pick oranges and go shopping."

"She brings such overwhelming joy into my life and has filled such a big void," Sardegna said of Joely. "I can't believe it. She's given me my life back. I hope I can bring a lot of joy and happiness into her life."

During her recuperation, Sardegna began to visit the Goodwill on Manatee Avenue. She not only shopped but also volunteered on occasion and became friends with the employees.

";A couple of weeks ago, I took Joely there to shop and the employees recognized her," she said. "Her mother and grandmother had taken her there to shop and some of them had even attended her mother's funeral. Joely and I wanted to do something for them. They are all so kind."

Janice ordered platters of sandwiches and cookies, salads, chips and drinks and served the Goodwill employees a Christmas luncheon on Saturday, Dec. 2.

"It was very fun," Joely said about the luncheon. "I really had a nice time."

"Because of Joely, this the first Christmas I've felt like celebrating," Sardegna acknowledged. "You get so much back when you give. I just wish I could do more. Remember to be kind to those who give you a helping hand and make your life little easier."

Tax reform report outlines possibilities

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The Florida Property Tax Reform Committee made its first report last week listing several ideas for tax reform that it plans to study next year.

"The committee recognizes that there is a very significant tax burden on our businesses, small businesses in particular, and on second homeowners," committee member and state Sen. Burt Saunders said. "We're committed to solving those problems."

But it will take time, he cautioned. The tax dilemma is even more complicated than the insurance issue that the Legislature plans to address in the January special session, Saunders said, because it involves the state constitution, local government finance laws and the Florida Supreme Court.

The committee's main idea echoes the battle cry of the Citizens Against Runaway Taxation (CART) group on Anna Maria Island - changing the county property appraiser's emphasis on the "highest and best use" standard of appraisal.

"We're looking at requiring appraisers to assess based on an income approach," Saunders said, adding that the Florida Supreme Court has defined the constitutional term "just valuation" as the highest and best use of the property.

But the Legislature can redefine the term as the actual use of the property, he said.

Another idea is providing portability for the homestead exemption to assist homeowners who feel trapped in their homes because they can't afford property taxes on a new property.

But the report also points out a concern that homestead property owners may have an unfair advantage.

"The constitutional protections granted to homesteaded properties have shifted the overall burden of taxes to other property types, such as those used by businesses, renters, and part-time residents," the report states.

Among the ideas listed in the report for further study, some of which are diametrically opposed, are the following:

• Assess business property based on current use only, instead of the "highest and best use" value.

• Assess properties using a moving average value of several years' assessments instead of using just the current year's value.

• Make the Save Our Homes exemption portable.

• Increase the Save Our Homes exemption.

• Phase out the Save Our Homes exemption.

• Cap tax growth for individual properties.

• Replace the property tax in whole or part with other forms of taxation.

• Simplify the Truth in Millage notice to be more easily understood by taxpayers.

The committee was formed in June to make recommendations on improving property taxation to the governor, the Legislature, and the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which will be formed next year, and will have authority to place constitutional amendments regarding taxation on the 2008 general election ballot.

Florida property taxes are the single largest tax source used to fund local governments, school districts and special districts such as water management districts, fire control districts, port authorities and community redevelopment areas, according to the report.

Tourism soft; Florida stale?

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - Tourism is down, and officials speculate that visitors may be frustrated with security delays at airports, or are simply seeking new frontiers.

"Part of the problem is ‘been there, done that,' " according to Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, who addressed the Manatee County Tourist Development Council last week.

"Florida is a destination people feel they have to do at least once," CVB marketing director Susan Estler said. But many U.K. travelers who have "done" Florida are now heading for Dubai, she added.

"Florida needs a facelift as far as image is concerned," Estler said.

Council member David Teitelbaum agreed, suggesting that the state tourism agency overemphasizes Orlando theme parks.

Another factor is security delays at U.S. airports since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, White said, adding that tourists are offended by being photographed, fingerprinted or retina-scanned.

At the Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport, every effort is being made to cut debarking time in half, Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority Commissioner Jack Rynerson told the council.

Visitors are mobile, and are only staying on the Island for a day or two before going elsewhere, said Mary Ann Brockman, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

If it keeps up, smaller resorts and shops will suffer, she predicts.

"There are a lot of vacancies," she said, adding that accommodations owners are anxiously awaiting the height of the season in February.

A year-long streak of declining hotel and motel occupancy rates on Anna Maria Island resumed in October after a brief reversal in September, according to the latest CVB statistics.

October 2006 occupancy on Anna Maria Island was 35.6 percent, down from 39.8 percent in October 2005, while September showed a small increase with 31.8 percent, up from 29.2 percent in September 2005. In the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key, October occupancy was 44.8 percent, down a fraction from 44.9 percent last October.

Room rates were higher this October than last year on both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Average daily room rates on Anna Maria Island in October were $150.19, up considerably from $129.50 in October 2005. On Longboat Key, average daily room rates in October were $134.43, up from $125.50 last October.

Money-making venture tries to use fire district name

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - Officials at the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District say they have no knowledge of a money-making venture that's trying to involve the fire district without its permission.

The vending machine venture came to The Sun in the form of a press release claiming, "A national vending machine company is offering a novel fund-raising program to support local fire departments, including those in Anna Maria and surrounding communities."

According to the program, a fire district is asked to recruit local businesses to install the company's snack and soda vending machines. The company then splits the profits, estimated to be $1,200 per year, with the fire district.

"I know nothing about this; I never heard of them," West Manatee Fire Chief Andy Price said. "We have a $5 million budget, so $1,200 per year would be of no benefit to us."

According to the press release, "Many firefighters can't get life insurance because of the dangers of their jobs. They rely on the hopes their fellow firefighters will raise money to support their families if they don't survive a fire or other disaster."

Price said the state of Florida requires that firefighters have life insurance and the district provides excellent accident, death and disability insurance for all its employees.

"These companies are in business to make money and they often play on people's sympathies for firefighters and law enforcement officers," Price explained. "If you want to donate to the fire district, bring it to our administrative office in Holmes Beach.

"We don't solicit by phone. Once a year our volunteers send out a mail-out to raise funds for the volunteers, who use it to purchase equipment to supplement the fire district."

The Sun's phone calls to the vending machine company were not returned.



Driver sentenced to seven years

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

BRADENTON - The driver of a car that killed the daughter of a woman with strong Island ties has been sentenced to seven years in prison in connection with the accident.

Christine Olson, who works at the Rod&Reel Pier, was at the sentencing hearing of 38-year old Angel Figueroa Muriel. Circuit Judge Ed Nicholas sentenced Muriel to seven years for driving with no valid driver's license causing serious bodily harm or death, a third-degree felony. Muriel was in the country illegally.

"That was the first time I saw the man who killed my daughter, and I was so mad," Olson said. "I looked at this man. I expected to hate him. Then I saw that his hands and his feet were shackled. He just looked like a regular man."

Olson said she remembers her daughter every day, often with tears.

"I looked at him in the courtroom," she said. "I was crying. And then I remembered that I'm a Christian and I'm supposed to forgive."

Olson said she began to feel sorry for this man. He didn't intentionally kill her daughter. ";Maybe God had a purpose here."

Tiffany Olson and her boyfriend, Dustin Wilder, were killed just over a year ago when Muriel stopped at a stop sign and then made a left turn in front of their motorcycle at U.S. 19 and 49th Street West in Palmetto.

Tiffany was killed almost instantly at the scene; Wilder was airlifted to the hospital where he died a short time later.

Olson didn't learn of her daughter's death until hours later.

"Someone told me Tiffany was in an accident," she said. "I called every hospital and couldn't find her."

When she finally learned that her daughter had been taken to Manatee Memorial Hospital, Olson said an officer met her in the parking lot and informed her that Tiffany's body had been taken to the morgue.

Olson said when she asked to see her daughter, she was told the morgue was closed and she'd have to wait until morning.

"I was devastated," she said.

As the months passed, Olson decided to do something to make sure families and loved ones of accident victims are notified immediately.

She worked with Rep. Bill Galvano to create a website for emergency contact information. Any Florida driver can enter the names and phone numbers of people they want contacted in case of an accident. The officer at the scene of a traffic accident can enter the driver's license number of the accident victim at the scene and have instant access to whoever that person would like to have notified.

In October, Olson became the first person to enter her name in the DAVID system - driver and vehicle identification database.

"I feel good about that," she said. "Last time I checked, there were over 600,000 people registered on the site. That's wonderful, and we'll keep working to get the word out."

Olson said the family, friends and her church have helped her cope with the absence of Tiffany and Dustin, but she knows things will never be the same.

"The holidays are especially hard," she noted. "Last year, I think I was still in shock, so I didn't even realize it was Christmas. This year, I really know she's gone."

As for her feelings for Muriel and his sentence, Olson said she feels no sense of closure.

"Tiffany's gone, no matter what sentence he serves," she said. "I'm trying to remember that he has a family, too. I don't know that I'll ever try to contact him or see him."

Olson said she'll just concentrate on getting through the holidays and then kick up the work she does on the DAVID system.

To find out more, or to find out how to register your contact information, log onto www.toinformfamiliesfirst.com.

Officer Pete returns for visit

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - Police officer Pete Lannon, who serves as the Anna Maria Elementary School Resource Officer, returned to the school on Wednesday, Dec. 13, to tape a holiday greeting to the students that was played on the Morning Show.

Lannon, who is battling cancer, said he was feeling better, now that they have changed his chemotherapy and pain medicine. He said he has more energy now and has regained his appetite.

"I could use more weight," he said, "but I feel good."

When the community found out about Lannon's illness, which has set him back financially, it responded with a pasta dinner, a walkathon and other fund raisers. Most recently, the merchants at Bridge Street raised $2,000 through gift basket sales the weekend before at its Holiday Prelude.

"I want to thank everybody for their support, cards and e-mails," he said. "I also want to thank the PTO, Chuck Webb and the Chamber of Commerce for setting up the Bay of Dreams."

He also thanked Mike Schenk, who got him pit row seats at a NASCAR race recently. Lannon, who can't be around a lot of people for long due to the effect the chemotherapy has on his immune system, said he and his family recently got the holiday decorations up at home. As for future plans, he said he wants to get better.

"I can't wait to get back to work," he said.


Pelican Man closes, still hoping for Santa

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CITY ISLAND - The Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary closed Thursday after 25 years of rescuing and rehabilitating injured birds, but its director is still hoping for a miracle donation over the holidays.

The closure comes after months of declining revenues and the gradual discontinuation of rescue services and hospital intake, Executive Director Jeffrey Dering said.

"For about six weeks we appealed to members and the public for $200,000," he said. "After 25 years, my question to the community is, ‘If we're not doing it, who will?' "

About 200 birds that are permanent residents at the sanctuary are being sent to zoos and wildlife centers all over the country, he said, while the staff will continue to care for the remaining injured birds for another month or so until they can be released.

To offset those continuing expenses, the sanctuary is still actively seeking donations, said Dering, who holds out hope that a holiday miracle donor will appear and save the not-for-profit sanctuary at 1708 Ken Thompson Parkway.

"They would have to come now," he said.

Meanwhile, the Pelican Man's store at Westfield Sarasota Square Mall will remain open until the end of December. The organization's thrift stores closed last year.

The sanctuary was founded in 1981 by Dale Shields, who secured a $1-a-year lease with the City of Sarasota for three acres on City Island in 1988, and built the facility the following year. Before his death in 2003, he was honored with the 184th Point of Light Award.

The sanctuary has treated an average of 5,000 sick, injured and orphaned birds each year, Dering said.

To report an injured bird or wildlife in Manatee County, call the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center in Bradenton Beach at 778-6324, or falconer Justin Matthews at 447-5369. In Sarasota County, call the Wildlife Center of Venice at 941-484-9657 or 941-416-4967.

To donate to the sanctuary, call 388-4444 or visit www.pelicanman.org.



Renourishment pushed back to 2008

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

Barring any great amount of erosion from the impending hurricane season, the next renourishment project on Anna Maria Island won't come until 2008.

That's the word from Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Administrator Charlie Hunsicker.

The last renourishment project on the Island was aborted earlier this year when the contractor ran into delays because of weather to the point where it would have interfered with a second sea turtle season. It began shortly after July 5, 2005, and was an emergency project to fix the damage that storms from the 2004 hurricane season did to the beach from just north of Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach to just north of the Sandbar restaurant in Anna Maria.

That area of beach was initially renourished in 1992 and again in 2002 under a contract with the federal government, which funded the majority of the work. It is due to be renourished again on or after 2010.

Hunsicker, however, wants to spend county tourist tax money on projects to renourish Coquina Beach to the south and Anna Maria north of the Sandbar to Bean Point.

He initially thought the county could extend some of the federal and state permitting from the aborted project, but he told The Sun last week that those permits have expired.

"Those projects would be totally tied to dredging the IntraCoastal Waterway and Longboat Pass for use at Coquina," he said. "Longboat Key would also like to provide the sand for beaches on the northern end of Anna Maria."

Hunsicker said the quality of the sand from the upcoming dredging is good enough for placement on the beach, but the county still has a lot of paperwork to do.

"These projects will be driven by Longboat's need to place the sand from its projects somewhere," he said. "We won't be anywhere near finished with the permitting process before 2008."

If the 2007 hurricane season produces extraordinary erosion or perhaps a direct hit, there is a chance the federal government would step in with an emergency renourishment, which it could do in a hurry.


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