Vol 7 No. 35 - May 23, 2007


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Lower bridge speed proposed

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper County reacts to protests over trees

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Center funding in jeopardy

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Siam Garden sues appraiser, tax collector

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Five charities recruit donors

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Center should be open by August

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper School to host Center summer camp

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Kids show physical talents on field day




Lower bridge speed proposed

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON – Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she is seeking a lower speed limit for the Anna Maria Island Bridge following the second fatal accident on the span within the past 13 months.

"A citizen wrote me a letter suggesting it and I forwarded it to the county transportation department. I added my own comments, saying that I supported a new bridge, but since we’re not getting one, there should be a lower speed on the one we have. Slower is safer."

Whitmore said she put the suggestion on the county commission agenda, at the recommendation of County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.

"I don’t know if they would go for 35 miles per hour," she said, "but maybe 40 or 45."

The speed limit is currently 50 mph.

Meanwhile, the Florida Highway Patrol has identified the man who died in the accident as 21-year-old Eudiel Gonzalez-Ortiz, of Wimauma. Charges against the driver, Gregorio Lopez-Chavarria, have been amended to DUI personal injury, DUI manslaughter, DUI property damage and driving while license is suspended or revoked.


County reacts to protests over trees

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – Manatee County Parks and Recreation (P&R) Director Cindy Turner has scheduled a public information session on Wednesday, May 23, at 5:30 p.m. at G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton to inform and take input on plans for the Coquina Beach parking lot following a tree protest there.

"We will be planting new trees to replace the Australian pines," she said. "We would like some input from people on what kind of trees to plant."

The protest was in reaction to a story in The Anna Maria Island Sun last week that P&R would fell as many as 80 Australian pine trees as it cleared out areas for reconfiguring the parking lot to give police more control over holiday crowds and to inhibit cruising by gang members.

The protest included a man tying his wife to an Australian pine as a bulldozer idled in the parking lot. The couple left the area after police asked them to clear out. There were protesters from Save Anna Maria (SAM) and Stop Taking Our Pines (STOP).

The heavy machinery moved in Wednesday after two days of surveying the lot and setting up markers by employees of Woodruff and Sons. By the end of the day Wednesday, a majority of the trees had been taken down and ground up into mulch to be used by P&R elsewhere. On Thursday, Turner visited the parking lot after receiving complaints about the pine removal.

"I went out to the site to see where we could shift the parking medians to avoid taking down some of the trees, especially ones with nests in them," she said.

By Friday morning, the majority of the work was done and the tree count was 63.

"Some of the 80 trees in the original estimate were stumps, plus we probably saved 10 trees Thursday," she said. "At this point, no more trees will be taken down."

During the protest Wednesday morning, police units from Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key were on the scene to keep protesters and curious members of the public away. A Longboat Key officer took protester and SAM member Billie Martini home Wednesday morning after she had trouble with her car.

STOP members scoured the tree line during the morning looking for nests in the trees. Some took pictures. Bradenton Beach resident and Realtor Mike Norman also took pictures of nests.

Turner, who grew up in Manatee County, said she was not happy to see the large number of pines go either.

"Personally, it’s been hard on me because I have childhood memories of going to the beach and enjoying the shade of the trees," she said. "We made every effort to save as many trees as we could and still accomplish what we needed to do to reconfigure the parking lot."

Center funding in jeopardy

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

In a letter to local social service agencies Friday, Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker warned of drastic funding cuts if property tax reforms require the county to slash its budget.

For the Community Center this could mean as much as a $140,000 loss of revenue, Executive Director Pierrette Kelly said. If the cities, in turn, are forced to slash their budgets and reduce their donations to the Center, it could mean the loss of another $40,000 in revenue. The Center’s total budget for the current fiscal year is $862,000.

"That money allows us to offer our after school, family therapy, teen and sports programs," Kelly said. "We’re working on our budget and trying to figure it all out. We’ve been brain storming all morning."

"To date, the worst-case scenario would require us to reduce our budget by $85.4 million," Hunzeker said in the letter. "Even under the most innocuous proposal, we would be required to reduce our budget by a minimum of approximately $14 million.

"Therefore I would like to provide notice that funding available through the Children’s Services Tax revenues and general revenue supported by ad valorem taxes may be severely reduced or even eliminated. Realizing this would impact your agencies, clients and employees, I would recommend taking this time to establish contingency plans should such financial reductions be made."

Kelly said adding programs and increasing program and rental fees would be options.

"We have a whole new facility, and it’s a whole new day," Kelly said. "People have already been calling for information about renting it. We have to look at new ways to raise money. We may have to drop some programs, but we’ll try to keep the ones most critical to the community."

Hunzeker said specific reductions cannot be identified until county officials know what the exact impact will be, but they are holding discussions with legislators.

"We ask for your patience during this time and your assistance in educating our legislators on the detrimental impacts that the proposed revenue caps would have on you and your program based upon the worst case scenario," he concluded.

"Right now it’s all hypothetical, but we’re doing our due diligence," Kelly said. "We’re trying to be proactive by contacting our legislators. We suggest more people do that because it will drastically change the quality of life for everybody who lives in Florida."


Siam Garden sues appraiser, tax collector

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – The owners of Siam Garden Resort are suing the Manatee County property appraiser and tax collector and the Florida Department of Revenue on grounds that they overvalued the property.

In the lawsuit, Siam Retreat Partners LLC, which owns Siam Garden Resort Condominium, 512 Spring Ave., alleges that Manatee County Property Appraiser Charles Hackney was arbitrary in his assessment of the property’s value.

"They’re claiming their assessments are too high," Hackney said. "They contested their value and lost at the value adjustment board."

In 2005, the property was valued at $1,945,986, Hackney said, adding that the value rose after renovations were completed and a new owner converted the motel into condominiums. The 2006 value was set at $3.5 million.

"We changed our assessment consistent with condos," Hackney said.

Due to a drop in the real estate market, today’s value would be lower, he said, but the office will not have exact numbers for 2007 assessments until July.

Proponents of tax reform, including the Anna Maria Island-based Coalition Against Runaway Taxation, have criticized Hackney for using the "highest and best use" standard to value property rather than the "income" standard.

While the lawsuit did not specifically name the "highest and best use" standard, Hackney said, it alleges that he used appraisal practices different from those "generally applied to comparable property within Manatee County."

Critics have charged that the "highest and best use" standard is discretionary, while Hackney contends that it is mandatory.

"Under both the Florida Statutes and standard appraisal practices, you have to start with highest and best use," he said.

Neither the owner nor the attorney for Siam Retreat Partners returned telephone calls seeking comment.



Five charities recruit donors

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

Florida Blood Services will be making a big push on the Island to get donations the weekend of June 9 and 10 that will benefit more than someone in need of a transfusion.

It’s time for the Island Blood Drive and there will be bloodmobiles set up at three locations: The BeachHouse restaurant at 200 Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach, Publix supermarket at 3900 East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach and the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce at 5313 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach.

As in years past, an anonymous donor has offered to make a $100 donation in each blood donor’s name to one or a combination of select charities. This year, the five charities are the Anna Maria Island Community Center, the Anna Maria Island Privateers, the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island, Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, Inc., and West Manatee Fire Rescue Volunteers.

The Community Center will use the money raised through the blood drive for its new building fund and for program scholarships to ensure that no child is turned away for lack of money. The Privateers will use their money for their scholarship fund for high school graduates, as well as renewal scholarships for previous winners. The Rotary Club will use the money for local charities, its projects at Anna Maria Elementary School, hands-on projects and Rotary humanitarian projects worldwide. Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation will use the money to maintain its facilities and continue service and treatment of wildlife. West Manatee Fire Rescue Volunteers will use their share for non-budgeted necessities for the district’s firefighters to improve their life-saving abilities.

Each of those charities is asking that donors pre-register at (800) 682-5663 or at their website, www.fbsdonor.org. Use the code MTFFO. You should eat, drink plenty of liquids and bring a photo ID with you when you donate. The first 250 donors get a free event T-shirt. Each donor will also get a buy-one, get-up to six-tickets-free discount to Silver Springs Nature Park and Wild Waters, in Ocala.

Blood drive sponsors include The Anna Maria Island Sun, The city of Holmes Beach, Domino’s Pizza, Pepsi, The Bradenton Herald, the BeachHouse restaurant and Tropicana.


Center should be open by August

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — Work on the Community Center is progressing rapidly and the building should be officially open by the time school starts again in August.

"We hope to have all the construction equipment and trailers off the field by the first week of June," Assistant Director Scott Dell said last week. "Then we can grade, level and sod the field.

"We’ll begin moving into the building’s storage areas in June and move the construction offices into the building. We’re hoping for our CO (certificate of occupancy) the first week of July, and we’ll move in from mid-July to mid-August."

The interior walls are up and painted and doors and windows were installed. The privacy wall between Magnolia Avenue and central courtyard was being installed Thursday and workers were painting the exterior of the building.

Workers began tiling the floors on Monday and the elevator will be installed this week. Ceilings also will be installed this week, and landscaping will begin soon.

"The building has power," Dell explained, "and we should have the AC by Wednesday (May 23). That’s vital because we can’t install any of the sports flooring until we get the moisture out of the building. There’s a lot of moisture because FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) made us pour a 12-inch slab."

When board members were trying to cut costs on the building, they removed some items from the construction contract. The Community Center will be responsible for these items, which include the flooring and molding, room partitions, computers for the learning center, kitchen equipment, furniture and phone and security systems.

Outside responsibilities are landscaping and irrigation, pavers and shell, bicycle racks, trash receptacles, press box, stadium bleachers and shade covers and playground equipment. The Center also is responsible for resurfacing the tennis courts.

The first floor includes the entrance with the lobby, control room and boutique; a gymnasium with a stage; a learning center that can be closed off the make two smaller ones; the Center Café, which will be a Bright House WiFi hot spot; the culinary arts center; a fitness room with lockers; offices, bathrooms and storage areas.

Upstairs the teens will find a haven in the teen activity lounge. There also will be a reception area, a computer learning center, a technology center, a performing arts studio, bathrooms, a conference room and the administrative offices. There will be two rooms for individual and family therapy with a private entrance and exit.



School to host Center summer camp

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

The Anna Maria Island Community Center Summer Camp will be held in the auditorium at Anna Maria Elementary School from May 29 through Aug17.

This year’s theme is Community Heroes, which will highlight the heroes in our community such as fire, police and military personnel, veterans, park rangers, family members and doctors. Each week there will be a guest speaker, and there will be at least one field trip daily.

Special field trips include Adventure Island, MOSI, Florida Aquarium, G-WIZ, an airboat ride at Myakka State Park, bowling, swimming at GT Bray pool and movies. The ratio of youths to counselors will be between one and seven and one and 10.

Forms are available at the Community Center’s temporary location in a trailer behind St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach, or in the cafeteria at the elementary school between 3 and 6 p.m. daily. Forms will be available on site after camp starts.

Camp hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. A pre and post camp is available from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. at no additional charge. It is recommended that youths plan to attend during regular camp hours.

Payment options vary. The fee is $95 per week if paid weekly, $90 per week if paid for three weeks or $85 per week if paid for six weeks. If paid for the full summer of 12 weeks, the fee is $80 per week. Scholarships are available to those that qualify and are only available to those that pay $95 per week.

An Adventure Island/ Busch Gardens pass is available for $100 if paid prior to June 1. Campers will go to Adventure Island three times and without a pass the ticket price is $35 per trip.

For information, contact April Jonatzke at 778-1908.


Kids show physical talents on field day

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – After months of exercising their minds, it was time for student at Anna Maria Elementary School students to exercise their bodies on Friday, May 11. Parent Kelly Thiel is the acting PE teacher following the resignation of Barry Borell, and she led the proceedings like a veteran.

This was the first year for the students in the new school’s completed playground. Also new was a performance by the regional soccer champions for age 17 and under from IMG Sports, coached by AME parent John Hackworth.

The events included the sack race, the tug of war, the fire drill, where students go from station to station putting on a firefighter’s outfit from the boots to the helmet. There was also the water race, where teams of students try to get containers of water from a full container to an empty one without spilling too much.

It’s all part of the varied activities at the school in the two weeks preceding summer vacation. The last day for school is Thursday, May 24.



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