Vol 7 No. 25 - March 14, 2007

 

Building official resigns

Condo owners being left out in the storm

Potential tax losses enormous

Everything�s green on Saturday

Cities lose authority over anchored vessels

GSR drops request for auctioneer

Plant expert shows how things could be

Little �smart cars� draw big attention

 

 

 

Building official resigns

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – Two weeks after being placed on administrative leave due to a sexual harassment complaint from Code Enforcement Officer Gail M. Garneau, Bradenton Beach Building Official Ed McAdam has resigned.

In a five-paragraph letter of resignation, dated Thursday, March 8, McAdam, 68, did not mention the sexual complaint. The city commission voted unanimously to accept the resignation in an emergency meeting Thursday.

In an undated memo to Mayor John Chappie, Garneau, 51, wrote, "Please be advised that I am filing a formal complaint against the city of Bradenton Beach for sexual harassment by the Building Official, Ed McAdam." That memo was given to the mayor by Garneau on Thursday, Feb. 22, according to the city clerk’s office.

McAdam was placed on administrative leave Friday, Feb. 23. Garneau took administrative leave two days earlier, according to the City Clerk’s office.

The mayor turned the matter over to City Attorney Ricinda Perry. Her law firm, Lewis, Longman and Walker, has two labor attorneys in its Tallahassee office who helped investigate the claim.

Because McAdam resigned before the investigation was completed, there were no findings, which means the allegation remains confidential and not public record, according to Perry.

She said the city did the right thing when Garneau filed the complaint.

"I’m proud of the city because when this type of situation pops up, it can be hurtful," she said. "Everybody was told to keep it confidential and that’s what they did."

With McAdams’ resignation, the investigation by Perry’s office stops and the records, including what the allegations were, remain confidential.

Phone calls to Garneau and McAdam were no treturned as of press time.

During the meeting Thursday, Mayor John Chappie asked the city commission to authorize City Clerk Nora Idso to advertise for a new building official.

Chappie said the city would likely advertise in trade Web sites and newspapers in larger markets such as Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando and Miami. He said the ad would be about the same as the one they ran two years ago when they ended up hiring McAdam, although they might change the way they advertise the salary. Two years ago, they put in a starting salary, but this time, they will likely say that salary is negotiable, depending upon experience. McAdam made more than $83,000 per year.

Chappie said that the city would continue to use the services of M.T. Cauley to provide a building inspector to handle the duties that McAdam performed. In the past, the city used the services of an inspector from Holmes Beach.

"I will send a letter to M.T. Cauley telling them that we will need their services for a month or more," he said. "Hopefully it won’t take a year to find a building official like it did the last time."


Condo owners being left out in the storm

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Condominium owners along the coast are opening their mail and getting blown away by soaring wind premiums, despite the insurance reform law passed in January.

"There are 400 to 700 percent increases all over the place," said Tom Condron, of Holmes Beach Property Management, which manages 17 local condominiums.

"The publicity was all about refunds," said Jerry Lauer of the Longbeach Condo Association on Longboat Key, which got a bill quadrupling its previous wind insurance bill. "We were confused."

The explanation lies in the way condos are classified for insurance purposes and the fact that many condo owners pay for two types of insurance policies – one for personal interior coverage and one for commercial building coverage.

Condo owners pay premiums for personal coverage of the interior of their units directly to insurance companies, and those policies are covered by the new law, said Dilman Thomas, executive vice president of Fort Myers-based Oswald Trippe and Co., which has 11 offices in Florida, including one in Holmes Beach.

Coastal condo owners with personal policies through Citizens Property Insurance will get refunds under the new law just like single family homeowners, said Bob Fowinkle, president of Moore, Fowinkle & Shroer in Bradenton and president of the Professional Insurance Agents of Florida.

Those who paid January and March increases will receive refund checks, Citizens spokesman Rocky Scott confirmed.

But condo owners also pay indirectly for the master policy for the condo building’s exterior, through condo dues, maintenance fees or special assessments.

What they may not know is that condo buildings are considered commercial residential properties for insurance purposes, which are not subject to the new law.

"Personal condo insurance is not usually all that costly, but the building policy can be," Thomas said.

"What we’re going to start seeing now as condo building policies are being renewed from Jan. 1 to May 1 are increases that went into effect last year," Scott said, adding that those renewed after May 1 will have rates similar to last year’s.

In the Longbeach Condo Association’s case, its commercial residential wind policy with Citizens was set to renew this month, but a rate increase was approved and took effect last August, after the May cutoff date set by the January insurance reform law, Lauer said, so the condo association didn’t get the benefit of the law’s rate reductions.

Owners are now facing an $800 assessment per unit, or more, he said.

How to lower condo rates
Condo associations can qualify for mitigation credits by installing shutters on all windows or replacing all windows with hurricane resistant glass, Thomas said, an expensive proposition that must be weighed against the potential savings.

For many small condo associations, it’s not cost effective to make major improvements on windows and roofs simply to decrease premiums, Condron said.

Condo associations also can choose to increase their deductibles, Thomas said, adding that he doesn’t recommend increasing them much above 10 percent, as the savings would not be worth the added risk.

Lowering limits on a condo building policy would be an especially problematic way to lower rates, since unit owners with mortgages are subject to the requirements of their mortgage holders regarding coverage limits for the building, Scott said.

Cancellation threat
Rates aren’t the only problem that condo associations face – cancellation is a threat, too.

Commercial residential policies are not subject to Gov. Charlie Crist’s freeze on insurance companies canceling policies, and some building policies are being canceled, Thomas said.

Canceled condo associations can apply with Citizens, he said, adding, "Even if your carrier renews you and there’s a 25 percent or more difference between the insurer’s rates and Citizens rates, you can still go to Citizens."

Citizens expects an increase in policyholders from 1.3 million to 2 million by the end of the year, Scott said.

For condo owners with personal interior policies, "It appears that the governor’s order requires all companies to submit rate filings by March 30, and nobody can cancel before then," Fowinkle said. "But on April 1, they can start canceling if they have filed their rates."

Potential tax losses enormous

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – The city would lose nearly 50 percent of the money it got last year from ad valorem taxes if the state’s tax reform plan is enacted, Mayor Fran Barford said.

Barford told city commissioners last week that if the legislature rolls back the property tax to its 2001 level, the loss to the city will be enormous, even with a 3 percent inflation factor increase built in each year.

"There’s a projected loss of $836,6089," she said. "If they increase the sales tax the way they are proposing, we’d get $404,510 back from that, but that’s a big difference in revenue for a small city like ours."

Barford said that the legislature could act early in the session on the question of changing the property taxes.

"They could move very quickly," she said. "We really need to think this through thoroughly."

Deputy Clerk Diane Percycoe said the information she’s seen from the Florida League of Cities indicates that Anna Maria might see a 55 percent reduction in revenue.

"It’s hard to tell. We’re not getting anything specific out there, but it looks like we’ll see a big reduction, and the ad valorem is more than half of our revenue each year," she said.

Commissioner Duke Miller took exception to Percycoe’s statement. He questioned whether the inflation factor was built into her numbers.

"There’s stuff lying out there everywhere put out by these tax groups that is no where accurate," he said. "The information is knee jerky. They’re not considering why this might be good. They’re just headline grabbing. It’s to our benefit to lay low and see how things are going to roll."

Percycoe said later in the week that she had checked with the Florida League of Cities and they assured her that the inflation factor is in the figures she reported to the commission at its preliminary budget session on March 5.

Barford had a slightly different take.

"Because the legislature is meeting Friday, I’m scared," she said. "I’ve seen too many referendums pass that are scary."

What remains clear, Barford said, is that the budget will be very, very tight this year.

One suggestion that came from Commissioner Dale Woodland was to have employees pay a portion of their benefits package.

"I’d like to see an effort on the city’s part to take a look at the city’s benefits package," he said. "I feel like the city employees are going to have to start sharing in the expenses and that the city should look at where to start. This is happening throughout the country."

Commissioner Chris Tollette said she’d be happy to look into that. She'll work with the mayor and staff to research the possibility of getting the cost of the benefits package down.

"I just cut my insurance premium substantially by raising my deductible," she said.
City Clerk Alice Baird pointed out that she had been diligent in shopping around every year at budget time to get the best price for benefits.

"We have assumed the cost for a lot of our benefits," she said. "We pay for our own long and short term disability, because the city can’t afford it."

"Whatever the tax situation turns out to be, it’s clear we have to cut costs," Woodland said.

Commissioners agreed to begin the process of building the budget for 2007-08.

Everything�s green on Saturday

It’s that wearin’ o’ the green time of year again, which means Sean Murphy’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, co-sponsored this year by the Tidemark Resort, will march again on the Island this Saturday.

The parade will begin at 5 p.m. at Holmes Beach City Hall and will go north along Marina and Palm avenues, ending at the Island Baptist Church. Parade participants should assemble at 3 p.m. behind city hall.

The 10th annual installment of the parade will be led this year by the Dunedin Pipe Band. It will also include bands from Manatee, Southeast and Braden River high schools and local musical talents Jimmy Gee, Howie Banfield and the young Island Hobbits. The animal kingdom will be represented by a contingent of horses manned by the East Manatee Riding Club.

All groups are welcome to march in the parade and questions can be directed to the Beach Bistro at (941) 778-6444.

 

 

Cities lose authority over anchored vessels

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH —Commissioners learned recently that they would have to revise their ordinance regarding mooring of watercraft in light of a new state law.

According to the law, except in designated mooring fields, municipalities have no authority to regulate where a typical cruising vessel anchors, unless they can prove that the vessel is being used as a residence or a place of business.

"It was brought to our attention by a police officer," Chairman Sandy Haas-Martens. "It could be significant because I don’t think we want to go into mooring fields. We’re waiting to see what is going to happen with the state."

The Florida Attorney General has issued the opinion that "if you use your boat for transportation or any number of recreational purposes, regardless of how long you stay aboard, it’s not a live-aboard vessel, unless you represent it as such."

He concluded that "a municipality is prohibited from regulating the anchorage of non-live aboard vessels when such anchorage is incident to the exercise of rights of navigation."

"Eventually, we’ll have to repeal our ordinance and revise it," City Attorney Patricia Petruff said "We have very little authority at this moment. The only authority we have for vessels that are anchored off in transit is the authority to enforce environmental regulations. A boat that never leaves its anchorage is polluting the water."

"We have an ordinance we can’t enforce," Mayor Rich Bohnenberger agreed.

Commissioners directed Petruff to research the issue.



GSR drops request for auctioneer

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

GSR Development has dropped its request for a Tampa federal bankruptcy court to approve an international auctioneering firm to sell Villa Rosa in Anna Maria and Rosa del Mar in Bradenton Beach.

William Maloney, chief restructuring manager for GSR, had requested that the international auctioneering firm GoIndustry sell the unfinished properties, which are the two largest assets being liquidated to pay GSR’s creditors under chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.

GSR also dropped a request to allow Bradenton-based RoseBay Real Estate to sell Villa Rosa. The court previously approved the company as sales agent for Rosa del Mar.

In other developments, GSR principal Robert Byrne is claiming that he is a creditor in the bankruptcy proceeding.

Individually, he is claiming $4.86 million, and with his wife, Arlene Byrne, he is claiming another $917,331 as reimbursement for previous GSR debts they paid. Arlene Byrne is claiming $99,172 individually.

Another claim against the company also was filed by Sarasota-based Bon Eau Enterprises in the amount of $8.38 million.

Other creditors have claimed $35,402,552, including about $10 million in unsecured creditors’ claims, according to bankruptcy records.


 

Plant expert shows how things could be

BRADENTON BEACH – They call Mike Miller the Island’s native plant expert, although the Anna Maria resident called himself "the designated representative of Mother Nature."

Miller came to the latest Scenic Highway meeting after reading in The Anna Maria Island Sun that the group would begin discussion of replacement trees for the Australian pines that were cut down recently to make room for the Coquina Beach Trail.

There was some uproar when workers on the joint Bradenton Beach/Manatee County project cut down the pines, although the state calls them invasive and non-native. Miller sided with the state.

"Whoever took out those pines, here’s a guy who appreciates you," he said. "Keep on going all the way down the Island."

Miller produced two photos of a stretch of the parking lot where the trees were cut down. One showed the area as it now stands and the second one was an enhanced photo showing what it would look like in 20 years if they planted native trees.

Miller said he would produce a list of native trees that could thrive there, and in the meantime, he brought the group a present.

Slipping out into the parking lot, he returned with a gumbo limbo tree that measured about 10 to 12 feet tall. He told them how one tree can generate many more due to the fact that you can take a branch from a tree and plant it in the ground and it will become a new tree.

"I planted some in Anna Maria and every year when they trim them back, I come out and get the branches they cut off," he said. "Every year, it’s like getting free trees."
M
iller suggested that the county invest in a water line along where it plants the trees to provide drip irrigation.
"
If you keep them watered, it will triple their growth rate," he said.
M
iller expressed disdain that the new trail would be made of asphalt, saying crushed shell would have been more natural. He was also unhappy to hear that the county had found some benches made of recycled plastic to put along the trail. He said wood would have been better.
M
iller said the three fastest growing native trees he knows of are cabbage palm, live oak and gumbo limbo.
M
iller talked with Tom Yarger and Mike Sosadeeter, two Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department employees who are involved with the trail, and discussed tentative plans to redesign the parking areas at Cortez and Coquina beaches.

 

Little �smart cars� draw big attention

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – A group of Canadians from Quebec recently caught the attention of a lot of people by driving vehicles that were about one-third the size of a regular sedan.

The visitors, who rented a house in Bradenton Beach near Gulf Drive and Avenue C at the S curve, were able to park more than eight of the smartfortwo cars in the home’s driveway – a driveway that was designed for no more than four regular vehicles.

The cars are called smartfortwo and are spelled without the use of capital letters for marketing purposes. Their efficient, comfortable and safe design, however, along with their unusual looks, might make the use of a marketing gimmick unnecessary.

Produced in Germany by Daimler Chrysler, maker of the Mercedes Benz, the tiny two-seaters are taller than a typical sports car so that passengers sit upright. There is room behind the seats for enough luggage to accommodate two people on a two-week vacation, obviously, because that’s what many of the Canadian visitors brought.

The rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicles are not currently sold in the United States, although there are plans to import them next year, according to the Club smart members who stayed on the Island. The cars they drive have 4.2-liter diesel engines, and they report their fuel consumption to be 100 kilometers to the liter, or 67 miles per gallon. The models that will be imported to the U.S. will have gasoline engines that will also get incredible mileage, according to the visitors.

The smartfortwo cars sold in Canada have a base price of nearly $17,000 and that price can increase by another $10,000 with most of the options. Air conditioning is not standard. There are two body styles, a two-door and a convertible. The website smartcarofamerica.com predicts the base price of a smartfortwo in the U.S. might start at around $15,000. The website says dealerships are being chosen at this time.

The smartfortwo owners who visited the Island had nothing but praise for their vehicles. One owner said he paid $62 for fuel to come here from 120 miles northeast of Detroit. Another said she had a bad back and driving her car on long trips made it feel better.

Even though it is small, the smartfortwo is safe. The body shell is a trident design made of metal and very rigid. The hood, doors and fenders are made of composite material with the color dyed into them and can be replaced easily to change the color of the car.

One owner showed photos of smartfortwos that had been in accidents. Damage to the vehicles appeared to be minimal, thanks to the design.

Inside, you have as much space as you would in a regular compact vehicle with plenty of headroom. There are three pods on the dashboard housing the speedometer, fuel gauge and tachometer. There are storage areas around the interior for cell phones and beverages.

Island had nothing but praise for their vehicles. One owner said he paid $62 for fuel to come here from 120 miles northeast of Detroit. Another said she had a bad back and driving her car on long trips made it feel better.

Even though it is small, the smartfortwo is safe. The body shell is a trident design made of metal and very rigid. The hood, doors and fenders are made of composite material with the color dyed into them and can be replaced easily to change the color of the car.

One owner showed photos of smartfortwos that had been in accidents. Damage to the vehicles appeared to be minimal, thanks to the design.

Inside, you have as much space as you would in a regular compact vehicle with plenty of headroom. There are three pods on the dashboard housing the speedometer, fuel gauge and tachometer. There are storage areas around the interior for cell phones and beverages.

The diesel engines put out a great deal of torque, as most diesels do, and revved eagerly. There was very little noise to tell you that it was not a gasoline engine. The automatic transmission offers six forward speeds with the option of either letting it shift itself or shifting manually by flicking the lever forward to shift into higher gears and backward to downshift.

As for the "wow" factor, Julie Fortin took me for a ride in her convertible and we pulled over in front of Skinny’s so that I could drive. People sitting outside made comments on the sporty vehicle.

Fortin said her smartfortwo is her only car and that it performs great in the summer and during the cold and sometimes slippery Canadian winters. She has owned it since last July, and she couldn’t imagine owning anything else.

Fortin said the group initially wanted to vacation in Key West, but decided against driving that far and started researching the east and west coasts of Florida and somebody knew about Anna Maria Island.

Other group members said they hope to come back for another stay next year. Hopefully, by then, there will be some American version smartfortwos in the area. One thing is for sure, if they rent another house, it won’t have to have a large driveway.

 

"Write a letter to the editor about a story."

 

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