Vol 7 No. 24 - March 7, 2007


Tax reform group disbanded

Insurance rate cuts announced

Baseball players needed

George makes murder plea

Asbestos bids in, city hall repairs next

Tax rage building among home, business owners

Tickets available for Tour of Homes

Insurance cancellation rules clarified




Tax reform group disbanded

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The Florida Property Tax Reform Committee will not be adding its two cents to the raging debate on tax reform.

The 15-member committee, created in June, 2006 by former Gov. Jeb Bush, was abolished by Gov. Charlie Crist before the March 1 deadline for its mid-term report, committee member and Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner said.

At the request of state Senate Finance and Tax Chairman Mike Haridopolos, the committee will be replaced with a new committee of property appraisers scheduled to meet later this month, said Turner, who has been invited to join the new group.

The disbanded committee’s initial recommendations were released in December. Its main suggestion echoed the battle cry of the Citizens Against Runaway Taxation (CART) group on Anna Maria Island - changing county property appraisers’ emphasis on the highest and best use standard of appraisal to the income standard on the theory that the income approach reflects the actual use of the property, not its potential use, and therefore is more accurate.

Another proposal the committee had planned to study this year was replacing the property tax in whole or in part with other forms of taxation, such as sales tax, which is the chief idea in the controversial proposals being debated in the Legislature by Haridopolos and others.

"After looking at the recommendations, we made a short list to review and study, including some form of increasing the sales tax, but many of us had concerns about the possibility that Florida would have the highest sales tax in the nation," Turner said, adding that the implications for tourism and retailers "may put us in a very difficult competitive situation."

In addition, the proposal seemed inequitable for small business owners, who would be collecting the sales tax, and people who do not own homes, who would receive no benefit while shouldering increased costs, he said.

If the proposal to replace property taxes with sales taxes winds up on a constitutional amendment ballot, Turner worries that Floridians who will benefit from it will vote for it without considering the long-term implications and unintended consequences.

"What if most of our employers had to close down in Florida?" he asked. "Would you still feel good about saving money?"

The former committee was "trying to find a formula that all property owners would gain some benefit from, while not putting another group of property owners at risk," Turner said.

In contrast, the new committee will likely be asked for its advice on whether tax reform proposals are practical from an administrative and implementation standpoint, he said.

Insurance rate cuts announced

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

It’s a question insurance customers have been asking ever since the state Legislature passed the new insurance law in January – "How much will we save?"

And while the new figures for the region including Anna Maria Island are encouraging - from 28.5 percent to 41.1 percent – state regulators warn that savings for coastal residents could be lower.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty released the property insurance rate reductions last week on windstorm premiums. In coastal areas, the windstorm portion of the premium can amount to a substantial part of the total.

But the reductions, calculated regionally, can vary greatly depending on a policyholder’s zip code within the region, McCarty warned.

Insurers also are allowed to make adjustments based on their last rate filings. If an insurer increased rates within the year prior to the policyholder’s renewal, the policyholder will still see the effects of the rate increase, possibly reducing the premium savings.

Rate reductions range from 10.2 percent in Florida’s panhandle to 52.8 percent in the Miami area.

In region 15, which includes Anna Maria Island, average savings are consistently higher than the average statewide savings for all types of property.

The rate reductions were determined by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation in consultation with the director of the Consumer Federation of America and former Texas insurance commissioner J. Robert Hunter.

The new law mandated that the savings from the expansion of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which offers lower-cost reinsurance to insurance companies doing business in Florida, be passed on to insurance customers.

All residential insurers must make new rate filings to reflect the savings by Mar. 15, and new rates become effective for new or renewal policies beginning June 1.

Critics of the law have warned that it is a short-term solution that shifts more of the burden of major storm losses to Floridians and could discourage insurance companies from doing business in Florida.

Average insurance savings for this region
Type of insured Region 15 Statewide
property average savings average savings
Personal dwellings 33.4 percent 23.9 percent
Tenants 33.6 percent 20.3 percent
Personal condos 28.5 percent 25 percent
Mobile homes 41.1 percent 26.9 percent
Commercial dwellings 33.5 percent 28.7 percent

Baseball players needed

Registration for Little League baseball on the Island has been extended another week. Boys and girls in all divisions can register through Friday, March 9, and will still be placed on a team.

Cost will be $65 per player for AAA (ages 9-12) and AA (ages 7-11), and $55 per player for tee ball (ages 5-7). There will be a $5 discount for each additional sibling. Sign up at the Center’s temporary office located behind St. Bernard Church in Holmes Beach.

George makes murder plea

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ – Tammy Lynn George, 45, pleaded guilty Thursday to second degree murder in the stabbing death of Mimi Marie Pace, 42, at their home in Sunny Shores Mobile Home Park on Jan. 2, 2006.

The plea included a sentencing agreement to serve 22 years in a state Department of Corrections facility, according to her attorney, Steven Schaefer.

Pace, who had moved into George’s home at 3707 115th St. Court W. with her boyfriend a day earlier, was found with at least 75 stab wounds and fatal head injuries.

Neighbors at the park heard screams from the trailer and called Pace’s boyfriend, who discovered the body. They said they were not surprised to see police at the home the day of the murder.

"We knew it was coming," said Sunny Shores Neighborhood Watch Captain Charles Councilman, who lives nearby with his wife, and had previously called the police about suspected criminal activity at the home.

Investigators found a kitchen knife and a bat near the body, and George smoking a cigarette nearby.

George, who has a history of mental health problems according to her attorney, also was sentenced to pay court costs and more than $2,000 in restitution to Pace's family for funeral expenses.



Asbestos bids in, city hall repairs next

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — Asbestos removal and then mold removal may begin soon at city hall. Mayor Fran Barford said the bids are in now on getting the asbestos removed.

"It looks like it’ll be about $14,600, which is about the same range as what the mold removal will cost," she said. "We have to do the asbestos removal first, before we do the mold."

Barford said she’d sit down with the staff this week and make a recommendation on which bid to accept at the city commission’s work session on Thursday, March 8.

The problems grew out of a bad leak that occurred while the city hall building was getting a new roof. Workers from Roof USA apparently failed to secure the tarp covering the top of the building when they left the job site for the weekend in the first week of August.

A sheriff’s deputy found the building flooded during a rainstorm and city staff came in to help do the initial cleanup.

There was water in several of the offices and in the commission chambers. Carpets were flooded, as were walls and ceiling tiles.

Since then mold has been growing in the walls, the carpeting, ceiling tiles and attic. Mold can cause health problems for people occupying a mold-contaminated building. The problem is serious enough that a special mold cleanup company had to be hired. City hall operations were then moved into two rooms at the Island Baptist Church.

Asbestos was then discovered in several areas where the mold was growing.

"In some cases, the mold is actually growing on top of the asbestos," Barford said. "Can you believe that?"

After the asbestos is removed, the mold remediation work will be done. Following that, the damage to the building will have to be repaired. New drywall, new ceiling tiles, new carpet and in some cases new furniture will have to be installed.

The city has hired an attorney specializing in construction litigation to help them recover the costs of removing the asbestos and mold and reconstruction as well as the costs of relocating operations to the church.

Barford said there have been some initial conversations with the attorney.

"We have to do a lot of documentation, but it’s mostly the same things we have to document for the mold, so we know how to do that," she said. "We’re photographing everything."

Tax rage building among home, business owners

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

One by one, they told their tax horror stories and begged for relief at a forum last week sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, of Bradenton, and Sen. Mike Haridopolos, chairman of the state Senate Finance and Tax Committee.

Panel members also included Sen. Aretha Joyner and Reps. Bill Galvano, Nicholas Thompson, Doug Holder and Keith Fitzgerald.

At the forum’s opening, Bennett said they would not take comments from local elected officials because, "They have wonderful access to us and our purpose today is to listen to the people."

Haridopolos said the group was seeking ideas to take back to Tallahassee and stressed, "The American Dream is under assault. Owning your own home, owning your own business is in jeopardy.

"By the time we get out of our legislative session in May, we want to have something that we can bring back to you. It will be across the board and it will be relief."

One man, who said he owns a condo in the county, said his property taxes have increased 101 percent in the past two years and blamed uncontrolled spending by county commissioners.

"They spend money like drunken sailors on shore leave," he said. "The increases get passed along to non-homesteaded taxpayers like us who have no say in their actions."

Emery Jack Moss, of Martinique North, told the panel that non-homesteaded owners in his building are paying $10,000 on their units, while homesteaded owners are paying $2,000 on their units, which are valued equally. He said a suggestion to increase the homestead exemption by $25,00 would cause greater inequity.

"I don’t believe you can ever have an equitable tax as long as you base it on property values," Ron Robinson, of Holmes Beach, pointed out. "Anybody that has filed an appeal on their taxes knows there’s nothing scientific about the way the county values property. They try to get as much as they can. They act like a majority partner without any investment in my property."

He said if he died, his children would have to sell the property because they couldn’t afford the taxes.

Barry Gould, of Island Vacation Properties, said for the past four years he has specialized in helping Island motels and small resorts find buyers for their properties because of high taxes and insurance expenses. However, due to a lack of buyers, they were faced with the choice of tearing down the motels and rebuilding luxury condos or converting the units to resort condos.

He gave the example of Siam Garden Resort, whose owners renovated it and turned it into a popular resort in 2000, when the taxes were $10,107. In 2005, the taxes increased 65 percent and the owners were told the calculation was made based on the highest and best use of the property, which was to be converted to condos. They converted to condos and last year, the taxes increased 320 percent.

Don Schroder, president of CART (Coalition Against Runaway Taxes), said the problem is how the business properties are being taxed — on highest and best use and not current use. He said the Island has lost 50 percent of its rooms in the past few years.

Ken Gerry, of the White Sands Resort, said that the resort’s taxes have increased from $9,000 to $70,000 since 2000, plus insurance has doubled.

Some suggestions people made include the following:
• Provide tax relief, but be equitable;
• Control government spending;
• Roll back taxes to 2001 numbers;
• Change the method of assessment;
• Tax businesses on current use rather than highest and best use;
• Make the 3 percent cap portable;
• Cap future tax increases;
• Establish a cap for all property owners, not just those who are homesteaded.

Haridopolos asked that people e-mail their ideas and comments to their state senators at flsenate.gov.

Holder said people could contact him at (941) 918-4028 or doug.holder@myfloridahouse.gov


Tickets available for Tour of Homes

It’s that time of the year when select homeowners open up their abodes for the amusement and admiration of those who spend the money.

It’s not the money or prestige the homeowners are after, however. They’re in it for the Anna Maria Island Community Center.

Tickets for the 14th Annual Tour of Homes will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, featuring six homes in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria. Proceeds go to the Community Center.

The homeowners and the homes on the tour: John & Penny Reinholz, 6503 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach; Ken & Clif Venters, 6805 Holmes Boulevard, Holmes Beach; Mark Kimball, 6405 Gulf Drive. Holmes Beach; Donald & Anna Rully, 103 75th Street, Holmes Beach; Jim & Gail DePorre, 801 North Shore Drive. Anna Maria; and Dennis & Frances Bello, 809 North Shore Drive, Anna Maria.

Complete the tour with visits to the boutique and food pantry, offering original arts and crafts, and the wine tasting and delicious bites at the Beach Bistro for a $10 donation.

A quilt, handmade by the Eyeland Needlers knitting group, will be raffled on the day of the tour.

Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 on the day of the tour. All proceeds benefit the Anna Maria Island Community Center, which serves more than 5,000 children, families and seniors of the community with programs and services that otherwise would not be available.

Tickets are available at the following:
• Publix in Holmes Beach from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7, Friday, March 9, and Wednesday, March 14;
• Anna Maria Island Sun, 202 Palm Ave., Anna Maria;
• Lor-Ell’s Hair Design, 401 Pine Ave., Anna Maria;
• Ginny’s & Jane E’s, 9807 Gulf Dr., Anna Maria;
• Two Scoops Ice Cream Parlor, 101 South Bay Blvd., Anna Maria;
• Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key;
• AMI Chamber of Commerce, 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach;
• Ace Hardware, 3352 East Bay Drive, Holmes Beach;
• Ginny’s Antiques and Art, 5602 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach;
• LaPensee Plumbing, 5348 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach;
• Islander newspaper, 5404 Marina Drive;
• Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware, 5409 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton;
• Fusion Fitness, 6500 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton;
• Robyn’s Nest, 7459 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

For more information, call the Center at 778-1908.


Insurance cancellation rules clarified

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

To clear up confusion about the new rules prohibiting insurance companies from canceling and not renewing policies, the state insurance commissioner has issued a clarification.

The state issued an emergency rule to keep insurance companies from dropping policies after a new insurance law was passed by the Florida Legislature in January.

The rule prohibits insurance companies from not renewing personal residential policies until they make new rate filings with the Office of Insurance Regulation that take into account mathematical calculations announced on Mar. 1, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said in a press release. The new rate filings are due by Mar. 15, after which date insurers will be allowed to non-renew policies.

McCarty had previously explained in a Feb. 7 letter to Gov. Charlie Crist that cancellations and non-renewals scheduled to take effect after the emergency rule became effective were prohibited, regardless of whether customers had been notified of the cancellations or non-renewals before or after the rule became effective.

Contrary to misunderstandings, the emergency rule did not say that non-renewals were prohibited for 90 days or prohibited for the 2007 hurricane season, he said.

An order released on Feb. 19 and mandated by the new insurance law contained time frames adequate to allow insurers to produce rate filings that take into account the new calculations, to allow the Office of Financial Regulation to review the more than 200 new rate filings expected to be submitted by insurers and to allow insurers time to configure their systems to send notices containing new rates to policyholders by an April 15 deadline, according to McCarty.

The new insurance rates will become effective June 1.


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