Vol 7 No. 23 - February 28, 2007


Officials blast state tax reform plan

Horror flick to be shot in Cortez

City to seek cleanup costs

Mayor urges residents to oppose property tax proposal

Teens pitch in with Leffis cleanup

Soaring costs prompt site plan extension request

Commissioner introduces county administrator

Group favors expanding parking areas




Officials blast state tax reform plan

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

A proposal by Florida House Republican leaders to eliminate property taxes on homesteaded properties, reduce taxes except to the School Board on all properties and raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent has Island mayors seeing red.

"On the surface, it looks like mom and apple pie, but it’s a Trojan horse," Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger stressed at a meeting of Island mayors and AMI Chamber of Commerce officials Friday. "We would have to dismantle the cities. This is a big issue that needs to be addressed right now, today.

"The governor thinks we’re awash in money and we need to curb our spending. How can we curb our spending when we only have 20 percent that’s not dedicated to salaries and benefits? The way this is being proposed, we would be limited to a millage of .93."

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said he attended a tax seminar for elected officials and "everybody was complaining about local government, that they’re spending like crazy.

"They have no idea what cities are going through. Citizens are going to have to take a hard look at the services they want and now expect."

Bohnenberger urged the Chamber and the mayors to join together to fight the proposal and said that 60 days is not enough time for the legislature to resolve such a complex issue.

"What can we do to get our voice heard?" Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford asked.

Bohnenberger suggested that the mayors and the Chamber host an Island-wide town hall meeting on the issue. He said residents and business owners should e-mail their elected officials.

Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Mark Davis said they should invite an expert on the issue to be the moderator. He also suggested that the Chamber use its Web site to tell people where to get information on the issue.

In a meeting on Thursday with constituents of Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker expressed similar sentiments.

"Pay attention about this discussion the state’s having about reducing your property taxes," he cautioned. "What I’m talking about is what we’re going have to do when that happens.

"The state lives on sales tax; local government lives on property taxes. They’re appealing to the voters about a revenue that won’t impact their operations at all, but it will absolutely cripple local government."

He said the proposal could cut revenue to the county government by $50 to $90 million, and the first things that would get cut from the budget are the quality of life items such as the parks, the purchase of environmental lands, child care and elder care.

"We should be spending time on community issues, but we’re spending every day watching the legislature attack local government as if we’re criminals," he concluded. "How can reasonable human beings with three digits in their IQs come up with some of these ideas?"

Horror flick to be shot in Cortez

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ – If you see a giant horseshoe crab in Sarasota Bay that’s as big as the boat that’s towing it, don’t get the idea that crabber Mark Ibasfalean has found the mother lode.

It’s only the local fisherman/film producer’s latest project.

"It’s a documentary inside a horror movie," said Ibasfalean, whose recent credits include acting in the film “Vampire Biker Babes” and co-producing the cable television series “Captain Kim’s Adventures,” starring his wife, Kim, who worked on the 2003 movie “Out of Time,” filmed partly in Cortez.

The new project hasn’t been named yet, but Ibasfalean is thinking about something with “blue blood” in the title.

The prehistoric horseshoe crab has blue blood, you see, one of the many things that viewers of the film will learn about the lowly crab, which is really not a crab at all, but a member of the spider family.

For example, a special substance in horseshoe crab blood is used to test for bacterial contamination in drugs, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. And the material that makes up the animal’s exoskeleton is used to make contact lenses, skin cream and hair spray.


But not as scary as the film.

Without giving away the plot, an earthquake or similar natural disaster will be staged and the crabs will invade Cortez, or a village that looks uncannily like it.

While no horseshoe crabs will be harmed in the making of the film, dead ones may be piled on a dock with a few live ones to make the crab invasion look vast, Ibasfalean said.

In a close-up without stage makeup, the crabs can look pretty menacing, but in real life, they’re docile. Their tails, which are often mistaken as stingers similar to a stingray’s, are really only used to flip themselves over when they’re washed upside down.

Like all marine life, horseshoe crabs are threatened by natural occurrences such as red tide and by manmade threats, so much so that in an effort to preserve them, the state sponsors a toll free horseshoe crab hotline to call if you see them mating – 1-866-252-9326.

But if you see a 20-foot horseshoe crab in the bay that isn’t being towed by a film crew’s boat, better call the marine patrol.

City to seek cleanup costs

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – Construction Attorney Mark Nelson has been hired to represent the city as it seeks to recover expenses caused by leaks that occurred while a new roof was being installed.

Nelson will seek to recover the money the city will have to pay to remove mold caused by the leak, to remove asbestos discovered while the mold damage was being assessed, to pay for reconstruction costs after the mold and asbestos problems are fixed and to pay for the costs of relocating city hall operations to the Island Baptist Church while the whole project is taking place.

Mayor Fran Barford has asked the church for an extension of the seven weeks that the city originally planned to occupy temporary quarters there.

"It’s just going to take longer, now that we know there’s asbestos there as well as mold," Barford said. "In some places, there’s mold growing on the asbestos. Can you imagine? You would think the asbestos would kill the mold."

While the mold removal protocol and survey was being done, asbestos was discovered in the building.

"We have to deal with the asbestos before we can deal with the mold," Barford said.

Late last week, the city received the asbestos survey. The next step is to go out for bids so a contract can be signed with an asbestos removal company.

Once that step is accomplished, the asbestos that will be disturbed during mold clean up will be removed. Asbestos that won’t be disturbed can be left in place without health consequences to people who use the building.

Then the mold will be removed. Following that, reconstruction of all the areas destroyed by the mold removal will be done. New carpeting and some new furniture will have to be installed as well.

The mold damage was the result of a flood in the building last August while Roof USA was installing a new roof. Several other leaks occurred both during and after the re-roofing project.

"We have to get it right this time," Barford said. "We just have to get it right."

Mayor urges residents to oppose property tax proposal

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — Calling it a "train wreck," Mayor Rich Bohnenberger blasted the property tax proposal being touted by Florida House Republican leaders (See related story on Page 1) at Saturday’s civic association meeting.

"If this proposal becomes law, our milage would go from 1.8 to .93, we could pay only 50 percent of our employees, we’d have to change from a 10-year to a 20- or 25-year paving program and there would be no money to support the Community Center or for beautification or drainage projects."

Bohnenberger said the property tax crisis was created by the constitutional amendment that capped the yearly increase for homesteaded properties to 3 percent.

"We have a gross inequity in the taxing structure in the state of Florida," he explained. "What causes it is Amendment 10, which put a cap on our properties. It created a total imbalance, and the taxes on commercial, rental and part-time residents have shot up dramatically.

He said if the proposal were enacted, the state would have the highest sales tax in the nation, which would discourage tourism because tourists would also have to pay the hotel tax, which could be 20 percent in some areas of the state.

He made a four-part suggestion for state legislators to consider:

• Place a 3 percent cap on all property taxes to "stop the bleeding" and give them time to study the issue;

• Look at a proposal by former Sen. John McKay, which would require legislators to review the state’s sales tax exemptions every five years;

• Change the law allowing people who move in to a home after the first of January to be exempt from property taxes until the following January;

• Review the requirements for appraising property.

"The state government can’t run local government," he stressed. "You elect the people you want to represent you and if you don’t trust them, get rid of them. People in Tallahassee are too far removed from reality as far as what we have to deal with day to day."

He urged people to contact their local legislative delegation about the issue.



Teens pitch in with Leffis cleanup

By Hannah Eddy
special to the sun

Last Monday, Feb.19, many teens thought to spend their day sitting around the television. However, a select few, working with the Anna Maria Island Community Center’s Teen Program, decided to help the Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Department (CLM) clean up the mangroves at Leffis Key. Under the guidance of the department’s education coordinator, Melissa Cain, and two interns, Amanda Croteau and Charissa Jones, the teens, along with Center Teen Director Jeff Darwin, cleaned up the litter that had washed up along the shore from the bay.

The teens who decided that it was a good idea to help clean the mangroves were Rainia Lardas, Chelsea Crowton, Joey Tilelli, Mackenzie Kosfeld, Christopher Mundell, Katie Hunt, Allison Luktisch and Sage Geeraerts. All of the teens were interested in why we should protect our environment and enthusiastically asked a lot of questions.

"It was pretty cool," Tilelli said, after the cleanup. "We learned a lot about protecting the environment."

The Teen Program and CLM are looking forward to cleaning up another one of Manatee’s many mangrove habitats. The next date is set for March 17.

If you are a teen and are interested in helping clean up the environment, or just want to know what the teens are doing any night of the week, call Jeff Darwin at the Anna Maria Island Community Center at 778-1908. At the Teen Program, something is always going on.

Soaring costs prompt site plan extension request

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — The owners of a property on Pine Avenue have been granted a three-month extension to their site plan.

Robert and Nicky Hunt, the owners of the property at 303 Pine Avenue, will have at least three months more to apply for permits to build the three-story structure they plan.

The property was embroiled in a court case for several months when the city commission turned down their initial application. The commission ruled that there could not be three occupied floors.

The Hunts appealed the city commission ruling and prevailed. The Circuit Court judge found that three usable floors are allowed in the ROR (residential/office/retail) district under the city’s land use codes.

Hunt now wants to extend the time limits on the final site plan, citing the property market, construction costs and the expense and difficulty of getting insurance.

"We purchased the property in October 2003 to be our home and run our business from," Hunt said. "At that time we should have been able to apply for a permit and begin construction of our home. Most unfortunately, within three weeks of purchasing the land, a moratorium had been placed on all commercial building, which was not lifted for several months."

Hunt reminded commissioners that when the moratorium was lifted, there was a lengthy site plan procedure in place.

"In line with this procedure, we submitted a plan that was checked to be in code by outside consultants, the building inspector and further confirmed by the city attorney," Hunt said. "Unfortunately, the commission voted not to take the advice of the professionals that had been employed and voted against the application."

In court, the Hunts prevailed.

During the ensuing years, circumstances have changed to the extent that the Hunts feel they must delay construction.

‘This process took two years during which building costs soared, insurance coverage stopped and ultimately the real estate market went over the top," he said. It would not be an understatement to say that the decision taken by the commission to turn down our application cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the enormous stress and worry."

The real estate market is still depressed, building costs are high but coming down and the insurance market is still an unknown, according to Hunt.

He asked commissioners to extend his site plan for a year to give the market a chance to settle out. There was some question of whether or not the code would allow it, so in the interim, Hunt has been granted a three-month extension while the city explores ways to work with him on getting the extension he needs.


Commissioner introduces county administrator

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann brought a special guest to her monthly district meeting to meet her constituents — new County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.

"He actually came to work for us in October of last year without pay for three months," von Hahmann explained. "Then he came on board full time the second week of January."

Hunzeker showed his sense of humor when he told the group that his name was Ed and that "Mr. Hunzeker" was his 97-year old father.

"He’s still Big Ed, no matter how old and frail he gets and I’m still Little Ed, no matter how big and fat I get," he said to the delight of the group.

Hunzeker said he has been in the business for 39 years and first started in the health department in St. Louis County, Mo., while in college. After graduation, he worked as a health department accountant, a county auditor, a hospital administrator and a chief financial officer.

"Then I got tired of winter," he said. "I was down here visiting and got the typical Yankee sunburn. I went back and there was one of those freak late March snowstorms, and I was shoveling snow with a sunburn and I said, ‘That’s it.’"

He worked in Tampa for 15 years and Osceola County for three years, Then he heard that County Administrator Ernie Padgett was going to retire and applied for the job.

"In my experience with government, we are truly a fountain of worthless information — everything from how to run a dog pound to trimming trees to building roads and water and sewer plants," he said. "I know enough about any one of those things to be dangerous. It’s interesting and it’s challenging."

He said he is hired by the county commission, the legislative branch of government, to run the administrative branch and is in charge of a half-billion dollar budget and 1,900 employees.

When asked what point should constituents call his office to resolve a problem, he replied, "Anytime, but you’re better off calling the person in charge of that department or your county commissioner."

The phone number of the county administrator’s office is 745-3798.



Group favors expanding parking areas

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – Short term solutions to the parking shortage in the city were the subject of the latest town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, and the best solutions appeared to be already available.

A group of nearly two dozen residents, business leaders and elected officials showed up to formulate a list of short-term fixes. The three most popular were putting a two-hour limit on parking in the city’s lot behind BridgeWalk, reserving spaces along the beach south of the southernmost residence for employees of businesses in the city and turning the area next to the BeachHouse volleyball courts into a parking lot.

The fact that the city needs to let people know where to park with better signage was also mentioned.

The Island trolley played a prominent part of the discussion with somebody suggesting they work on getting people to "trolley up," or make more use of the free service. Meeting facilitator Alan Garrett said the city’s businesses and resorts need to better publicize the fact that it is free.

"Information on the trolley should be in every resort room," he said. "They need to use that magic word, free, liberally."

Garrett asked Building Official Ed McAdam if Manatee County Area Transit had decided to run a trolley down Bridge Street and McAdam said they had, but it would not start until after construction on the pier ended.

Other suggestions included turning side streets adjacent to Bridge Street into a one-way street with parking along one side or leaving them two-way but allowing parking on one side after hours when the restaurant traffic is highest.

BeachHouse owner Ed Chiles suggested back-in parking to shorten the requirement for space to pull out, allowing employees-only parking south of the last residence along the beach and building the parking lot next to his volleyball courts on the beach. He said they could get as many as 40 parking spaces in that lot, if they allow double rows and the city allows it to be built into beach access right-of-way south of his land.

Another way to save spaces would be to allow more than one motorcycle to park in a space.

Chiles mentioned the park and ride facility the city wants to build on bayfront land near the northernmost boat launch ramp at Coquina Bayside Park. Mayor John Chappie said that those plans are still intact, but the city can’t do anything until they figure out if the spoil taken from a canal dredging project in the city is clean enough to go there. The city needs a low cost way of getting rid of the spoil and if it is clean enough, it would be used as a base for the parking lot. He said that it could add 200 parking spaces.


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