Vol 7 No. 47 - August 15, 2007

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper AMI Fitness closes doors

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Waterspout tosses Waterfront tables

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper New Tropical depression forms

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Cities scramble as FEMA changes the rules

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Erik recovers as community unites to help

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper O’Connor Bowling Challenge began as a baseball game

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper New names, hours as school opens

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Only fine tuning remains for budget




AMI Fitness closes doors

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – The two signs taped to the front window of AMI Fitness, at 5317 Gulf Drive, say the same thing.

"The gym is closing for re-organization as of 8/9 at 11:30 a.m. If you have a contract with Fusion Fitness, please feel free to go to the Manatee Avenue location.

"All automatic payments to AMI Fitness have been stopped. If your payment was taken out the last week of July, you will be reimbursed for time not used."

That’s a small part of the story of the fitness center that may or may not reopen.

"I have no answer right now," said owner John Belsito, who has spent the last six months trying to make ends meet after a short-lived association with Fusion Fitness in Bradenton.

According to Belsito, it all began when Fusion Fitness bought the Island-based business and made it a part of its own.

"When we merged with Fusion, they sold a bunch of long-term, prepaid memberships," he said. "When I took the business back, those people who had those memberships expected to be able to use them at this facility, even though they signed with Fusion, which had taken its business to the mainland."

Belsito said he tried to honor the memberships, even though Fusion never paid him any of the money it had collected from those members.

"I told some of the people to talk with Fusion," he said. "They did and got their money back because Fusion had essentially moved off the Island."

Others, he said, demanded that they still be able to use the facility on the Island.

Belsito said it costs a lot of money to rent the space they have and part of the reason he had to close was the fact that the state legislature never did anything to lower property taxes for businesses.

"It costs me $25,000 a year for property tax," he said. "You need to sell a lot of memberships to make that money back."

Belsito said he is trying to find somebody who will start a new fitness center at the location. He has appointments with several parties who have expressed an interest. He said he is still allowing trainers to use the facility and equipment. One of those, Jeff Levine, said he hopes somebody will be able to reopen the location as a fitness center.

"A lot of those people who signed the long-term leases with Fusion insisted on using this facility, even though Fusion was no longer involved," he said. "It’s a shame because I think the Island needs this facility and I think people who live out here should support Island businesses.”

Meanwhile, there are some people who are here on vacation and expecting AMI Fitness to be open.

"We have had some inquiries," said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Administrative Assistant Trish Paliscak. "We tell them we don’t know if they are going to reopen and send them to Beach Fitness Center (9908 Gulf Drive in Anna Maria)."

Waterspout tosses Waterfront tables

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — No one was injured Saturday night when a waterspout spun into the Waterfront restaurant tossing tables and chairs around, lifting umbrellas onto the roof and shredding an awning.

"It just came out of nowhere," said A.J. Laterricaster, a floor manager at the restaurant. "Tables and chairs lifted right off the ground, the umbrellas from the outdoor dining area were blown to the roof and an awning got ruined."

Laterricaster said there was just some rain coming down at about 8:30 p.m. when the wind swung around the building and enveloped it in a waterspout.
"Thank God, no one was hurt, and there were people dining outside" she said. "It went around the building and then we heard this va-voom. Everything went flying. I even saw it lift my scooter off the ground."

Laterricaster said a couple of tables and chairs were broken. She said things were a little more exciting than restaurant employees would like to see again any time soon.

According to Leah Suzor, one of the Waterfront owners, damages are still being calculated. A total was not available at press time.

No other damage was reported on the Island. However, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was closed for a time due to high winds.

Earlier this summer, a waterspout hit the bait shop at The City Pier Restaurant, which is about 1,000 feet northeast of the restaurant. No one was injured that time, either, though there was some damage to a computer. No one remembers a bayside waterspout coming ashore off the bay in years.

New Tropical depression forms

It’s too soon to tell exactly where it will go, but a tropical depression has formed in the far east Atlantic and is moving west at more than 20 mph.

The storm, Tropical Depression Four, has sustained winds of 35 mph and is expected to strengthen over the next few days, according to the National Weather Service. Check out the latest weather updates on our website at www.AMISUN.com.


Cities scramble as FEMA changes the rules

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Island officials are frustrated by a recent rule change by the Federal Emergency Management Agency requiring every city to individually bid its debris removal contract.

In the past, the Island cities have piggybacked on Manatee County’s contracts with companies that remove debris following a storm.

According to Bradenton Beach police Lt. John Cosby, the city’s emergency manager, "FEMA wants every contract of every city and county in the country competitively bid as soon as possible."

Cosby said current contracts would remain in place until new contracts are bid. In addition to going to bid, each city and county must develop a debris management plan, which must be approved by both the state and FEMA.

"None of us are happy about it, but we’re working on it" Cosby said. "We’re right in the middle of hurricane season."

In Holmes Beach, City Treasurer Rick Ashley said planning consultant Bill Brisson is working on a debris management plan. Public Works Supervisor Joe Duennes said he would develop a bid proposal.

"I don’t know why they want to change the game in the middle of hurricane season," Duennes said.

Anna Maria’s Finance Director Diane Percycoe said she is working on both the debris management plan and the bid proposal.

"It’s so frustrating because we thought we were all ready," Percycoe said.


Erik recovers as community unites to help

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – The heat of late summer saps the strength of most everyone who lives here, even the natives. Things just seem to move more slowly in August.

The slow pace is frustrating for Erik Stahr, a Holmes Beach resident who is recovering from a heart transplant at All Children’s Hospital in June.

Born without a pulmonary valve in his heart, Erik’s time ran short when his heart started to fail him earlier this summer and after a relatively short wait for a donor, he was given a new one.

"My energy level is still down," Erik said recently at home. "I have started riding my bike again and actually, it’s easier than walking, but I have to watch out for the deep vein thrombosis in my leg that came from the operation and anti coagulant drugs. It burns when I get muscle fatigue."

While Erik was in the hospital for 59 days waiting for the new organ and then going through the transplant, his parents made use of Ronald McDonald House in Tampa, which gives parents of seriously ill children a place to stay.

"It was wonderful," said Erik’s mother, Mary Ellen. "The only problem was there was too much food there and we gained some weight, but everything about it was positive."

Erik is hoping to get his energy and strength back to where he can become physically active again. He likes bike riding and skim boarding and wants to get back on a board as soon as doctors say he can go back in the water. He is trying to jog, but his legs aren’t used to it yet.

He has started taking classes at Manatee Community College to help ease the boredom of not being outdoors and active.

"I signed up for summer sessions, but the transplant came along," he said. "I’m supposed to limit my exposure to other people in closed areas because of what the anti-rejection drugs do to my immune system."

He travels to the doctor’s offices in Tampa to keep track of whether his body is rejecting the new heart.

"There is a risk of rejection for the rest of his life," said Mary Ellen. "He will continue to take anti rejection medicines and is on 12 of them right now."

"I was told I would drop down to three, eventually," Erik added.

Asked if he is aware of the stronger heart that beats in his chest, Erik said not really, because his body has not gotten up to speed yet. Mary Ellen said that he still needs to gain back 30 pounds he lost since his original heart started to fail.

Meanwhile, he expects to go back to work soon. He works at Watrous Video Productions in Sarasota, transferring film to DVDs. He also films Booker High School football games for the coaches.

What did he miss the most during his ordeal?

"Sleeping at home in my bed, going outside when I want to, my BMW and my dog, Casey."

While Erik’s life slowly returns to normal, his parents are trying to recover financially. Their plight caught the attention of Anna Maria Elementary School Counselor Cindi Harrison, who has set up a fund for the family with help from Susan Timmons and Nancy Boltwood, both parents of children with heart defects. You can give to the Stahr Heart Fund, acct. number 229005711191, at any Bank of America branch by filling out a generic deposit slip.

Also working to help out is West Coast Surf Shop owner Ronee Brady. She knows Erik from his days as a skimboarder, and Harrison approached her about having a raffle during Skim Bash 2007, on Sunday, Aug. 26, at the BeachHouse restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach.

"We normally donate proceeds from this to red tide," Brady said, "but when Cindi told me about Erik, I said sure, go ahead."

Harrison is trying to get as many local restaurants as possible to donate $25 gift certificates that she can raffle. If you own a restaurant and would like to donate, call the West Coast Surf Shop at 778-1001.

You can purchase raffle tickets at the shop, 3902 Gulf Drive, just south of Manatee County Beach in Holmes Beach. Ticket holders do not have to be present at Skim Bash to win.


O’Connor Bowling Challenge
began as a baseball game

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

According to Billy O’Connor, what has become the Island’s fun event of the year, the O’Connor Bowling Challenge, began as a baseball game.

"When I came to the Island, George (Billy’s twin brother) was already here," Billy recalled. "I worked at Turtles (now Da Giorgio Ristorante), and we had different sets of friends. We started with a baseball game with his friends against my friends at the Community Center and had a great time.

George was a board member of the Community Center and Billy learned that the Center was in dire need of funds, so the pair replaced the baseball game with a bowling tournament to raise funds for youth sports equipment.
"The first year, we had 100 people," Billy said. "Everybody that went had so much fun and the word spread. The next year, we had 200 people. After that, we really started to promote it and everybody wanted to be a part of it. Now we take over the whole bowling alley."

The Challenge, sponsored by The Sun, is set for Saturday, Aug. 25, at AMF Bowling Lanes, 4208 Cortez Road, Bradenton. Pre-registration is required. Registration forms are available at Duffy’s Tavern, 5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, or by calling Billy at 650-5488.

The donation is $25 per person, which includes shoes and three games. Bowling starts promptly at 6 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m. If you don’t want to bowl, but want to participate in the fun and make a donation to the Community Center, you can pay not to play.

This year’s after party will be held at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, 6696 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. Oyster bar owner John Horne has promised beer and margarita stations, a full bar and a limited menu for revelers.

Raffle tickets for a big screen television, donated by The Sun, and hundreds of prizes from local merchants and restaurants will be available at the bowling alley. Tickets are six for $5.

In addition to the raffle, trophies will be awarded at the after party. Trophies include high and low game male and female, high series male and female and the Chuck Stearns Memorial High Game Trophy, The trophy is in honor of Holmes Beach Police Officer Charles "Chuck" Stearns, who passed away in 2005.

For information, call Billy O’Connor at 650-5488.



New names, hours as school opens

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – The big news this year at Anna Maria Elementary and all the other school in the Manatee County District is the Wednesday early outs.

The district has adopted earlier release times on Wednesdays to accommodate teachers’ planning. That may require working parents to make arrangements for child care on Wednesdays, but the Anna Maria Island Community Center, which runs an after-school program for AME, will be able to provide care for students who need it only on that day.

The school hours are: 8:30 a.m. to 3:05 p.m., with a 1:15 p.m. release on Wednesday for elementary school students; 9:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m., with a 2:10 p.m. release on Wednesday for middle school students; and 7:45 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., with a 12:30 p.m. release on Wednesday for high school students.

As students progress from one year to another, the number of enrollees in one grade sometimes requires an extra classroom. As last year’s students return to AME this year, fourth grade will get a third classroom and fifth grade will lose one, according to Principal Tom Levengood. To accommodate the bulge in class size, Jackie Goens will move from fifth grade to fourth.

There is a new music teacher at the school and she’s ready to begin.

"Her name is Kristen Constantino and she’s excited and exuberant about starting a music program," Levengood said. "She’s a sixth generation teacher from the University of Florida."

Brett Meckley, a former teacher in the Manatee County District, will be the part-time physical education teacher.

"He moved to Iowa and taught basketball at a nearby college in Nebraska," Levengood said. "He will teach here on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and he will be an adjunct professor in Hillsborough County on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

The final teaching change involves the principal’s wife. Becky Levengood was the reading coach last year, but she could not stay under the supervision of her husband according to district rules, so she will move to Blackburn Elementary School.

"She’s going to miss Anna Maria Elementary, which she says is her all-time favorite assignment," her husband said. "The new reading coach is Diana Buell, who has an undergraduate degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in reading."

Finally, custodian Wanda Marcey moved to Blackburn to become the head custodian. Freddy DeLaTorre will replace her at AME.

This is the second full school year for students in the new campus and it is the first full year without the presence of the school’s beloved resource officer, Holmes Beach Policeman Pete Lannon, who died from cancer. The Holmes Beach Police Department will provide school crossing guards with its regular patrol officers, but there will be nobody to teach the anti-drug program and help provide counseling for kids and parents. Police Chief Jay Romine said he would not be able to commit an officer to those duties until after the effects of state mandated property tax cuts enacted over the summer are known.


Only fine tuning remains for budget

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — It appears the city commission agrees with the mayor’s 2007-08 proposed budget. At a work session Aug. 7, commissioners did some fine-tuning to the document that shows a planned 25 percent reduction in spending next year.

The only line items to increase over last year were staff salaries, something that not all commissioners were happy with.

"I think we are a little bit out of line with the spirit of what we are trying to do," Commissioner Dale Woodland remarked. "We’re trying to provide relief to the tax payers. The timing is bad in the spirit of trying to come up with a reasonable budget."

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick said she was finding the budget process difficult. She was elected last November and was participating in her first municipal budget workshops this year.

"I wish we had a salary scale with a basic salary," she said. "I’d like us to have a scale so everybody knows what the basic salary would be."

She said when there is a scale, raises can be based on merit.

Commissioner Chris Tollette said that after talking with Mayor Fran Barford about the proposed raises, she has come around to the mayor’s way of thinking.

"The staff has assumed more responsibility so she can work the job of mayor on a part-time basis," Tollette said.

In past years, former Mayor SueLynn requested money for an assistant. Barford has put the additional work an assistant would have done in the hands of existing staff.

The cost of living index for this area is 4 percent this year. The proposed salary increases range from 9 percent for most staff members and a total of 25 percent for the deputy clerk who got one raise in May when she assumed the responsibilities of finance director, which is included in the 25 percent figure overall. She has since assumed the responsibility of emergency operations.

In Anna Maria, salaries account for 24 percent of the annual budget, according to Barford. In Holmes Beach, salaries are 30 percent of the total budget, and in Bradenton Beach, they’re 51 percent of the budget.

The mayor also said that some of the money for the raises would come from building department revenues since some expenses that impact all the staff are generated from building permits.

The mayor outsourced the building department duties earlier this summer as a cost cutting measure.

Tollette said she would like to see the cost of insurance for the staff come down, something City Clerk Alice Baird said is she is working on.

"We would like to be self-insured like the county and Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, but you need 10 employees," she said. Anna Maria has only six full-time employees.

Baird said the company that does the self-insuring is expected to drop the limit to five employees in the next couple of months, and that’s something that the city would be very interested in.

It appears that three of the five commissioners support the salary increases, and all generally support the budget as proposed by the mayor.

The first public hearing on next year’s budget is scheduled for Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m. The second hearing will be Sept. 20.


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