Vol 7 No. 52 - September 19, 2007


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper A terrible lesson

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper County hears tax complaints

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Trolley extension money OK’d

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper The bee man returns to the tree

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Manatees get reprieve from governor

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Anna Maria Elementary to lose one teacher

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Horizon Bank acquires Rosa del Mar

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Commission gets primer on drainage project




A terrible lesson

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Perhaps it was sitting in Manatee High School’s cavernous auditorium for the first time in 30 years, with prom and homecoming and graduation memories mixing with thoughts of my high school friend, Victor Hullinger, a talented pianist who was killed by a drunk driver.

Possibly it was remembering the middle-of-the-night, severed-limb, alcohol-related fatality and the other gory accident scenes that newspaper, radio and television editors have sent me to ever since I edited Manatee High’s student newspaper two doors down the hall.

Maybe it was knowing that one of my Manatee High classmates lost her son, Zane Zavadil, in a drunk driving accident last year.

But after years of stoically getting the facts, all it took was one look at a photo of Zane’s friend, surfer Ryan Costello, crouched into a perfect wave in Mexico, to end a career’s worth of detachment.

I have no idea whether the Manatee High drivers’ education students were crying, too, because I couldn’t see anything except Ryan, sitting stiff as a board in his wheelchair, unable to move, to see, to speak, to eat, to do anything for himself at all.

I didn’t see the rest of the photos that Monica Costello was showing the class of her six-foot, 200-pound son, a 2005 Manatee High graduate, here with his girlfriend, there rock climbing, here with four friends carrying his wheelchair out over the sand so he could enjoy a day at the beach.

That’s the best day Ryan has had since the accident in which Zane and Ryan’s car plunged off the Manatee Avenue bridge, she said.

The boys, who were underage, bought alcohol at a local market, went to a party, and got drunk, said Costello, a nurse and Ryan’s fulltime caretaker. Then they decided to get in the car and go pick up a friend. The 15-foot plunge off the bridge into the water killed Zane instantly. Ryan was knocked unconscious and suffered irreversible brain damage from being underwater for several minutes. He was found clinically dead, then was revived, she said.

The decision to drink and drive will cost both son and mother for the rest of their lives, and between $10 and $20 million in lifetime care, she said, adding that Ryan exhausted his insurance benefits in the first 10 minutes he spent in the hospital.

She has arranged for Ryan to move to a rehabilitation hospital in two weeks and hopes she never has to make the decision whether to take him off life support.

Think of your parents before you drink and drive, drivers’ education teacher Joe Roche told his class. Think of yourself, he said. Remember that the biggest health risk a teenager has is getting behind the wheel of a car intoxicated.

Half of all severe, traumatic, brain-injury accidents that result from car crashes are alcohol related, 90 percent involving males between 16 and 24, Costello said, adding that drinkers who cause accidents can wind up in jail.

Meanwhile, someone’s parents have to donate organs, make funeral arrangements and grieve the rest of their lives.

Or change their child’s diapers, forever.

It’s not a pretty picture, not like the one of Ryan surfing in Mexico.

But it’s exactly the picture that Monica Costello wants every driver to remember before he/she takes a drink.

Trolley extension money OK’d

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – The True Value Hardware store is being hammered by taxes, since its "true value," as determined by the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office, has risen.

"This past year has been a real shocker," store owner Tony Caminite told the Manatee County Commission last week during a public hearing on its budget, which must be cut by 9 percent under a state law passed in June.

Because the property value is higher this year than last, his landlord raised the rent 12 percent, said Caminite, who has owned the business at 5324 Marina Drive since 1975.

Together with an increase in the shopping center maintenance fee, another $7,000, and a 280 percent increase in insurance totaling $19,800, he’s looking at a $28,000 increase in expenses, and a $48,000 profit.

He has cut staff, increased prices and decided not to increase wages this year, but his employees who live on the Island are struggling, too, he said, adding, "My staff lives on the Island and they need a wage increase. The working people need a fair shake themselves.

"It’s important when looking at taxation to look at both sides of the coin," Caminite said, suggesting that the county is wasting money by buying new trucks for the county building department and allowing law enforcement officers to take their cars home instead of using them on other shifts.

"There’s a real serious problem when people have to pay the bill, and that’s us. You create the budget but we go home and pay the bill," he said.

"It’s my point here tonight to stress that private business entrepreneurship is crucial to our way of life, and it’s very, very difficult for an investor to risk everything he’s got."

Commission Chair Amy Stein told taxpayers that the county is cutting $21 million from its budget, and that to cut more would result in a community that no one would want to live in.

Commissioner Ron Getman disagreed.

"I think we are paying way too much to run county government," he said. "If you’ll tell us what you want to do away with, that will help us."

"New schools are going up where old schools could have sufficed," Island property owner Al Marnie said. "The new Community Center on the Island cost a fortune."

"We can reduce the size of government. We should eliminate funding for 47 vacant positions," said Ernest "Sandy" Marshall, president of the Federation of Manatee County Community Associations. "Require developers to donate land for schools as a condition of their permit. Fund the needs of this community, not the wish list. Change the assessment formula to actual use, not highest and best use."

Rep. Bill Galvano, of Bradenton, has said he plans to sponsor legislation by spring 2008 to change the law requiring the state’s property appraisers to use the highest and best use standard of appraisal to an actual use, or income standard. The bill would keep taxpayers from paying taxes based on the value of their properties as if they were condominiums, considered the highest and best use of the land.

"I think the only way to get out of the problem is to base it on square footage whether you live here or you don’t," said Ron Robinson, of Holmes Beach.

Barry Gould, of Island Vacation Properties and the Island-based Coalition Against Runaway Taxation (CART), suggested that the county should adjust its tax millage rate to make up for what he called the property appraiser’s miscalculations.

Don Schroder, president of CART, suggested that the county’s reserve fund account is too high.

"This money should be returned to taxpayers through a greater reduction in millage rates than is now being considered," he said.

Most of the funds are already committed to projects, Stein said, adding that the remainder acts as an emergency fund in case of a hurricane or other disaster.

"They’re looking at this from the 30,000 foot level and they’re not seeing all the nuances," county Financial Management Department Director Jim Seuffert said, adding that a large part of the funds can’t be returned to taxpayers because they are committed to the new county courthouse.

Other taxpayers, including physician Francisco Estevez, complained that they tried to dispute their new property values, but missed the deadline because it was so difficult to get through to the property appraiser’s office.

His taxes increased from $4,500 to $15,000, he said.

Commissioner Jane von Hahmann explained that in his case the huge increase was due to the fact that he bought the property last year and paid taxes last year on its former value. This year, the property was reassessed at a higher value based on the purchase, causing the taxes to soar. Homebuyers should be advised that this will happen in a separate document at real estate closings, she suggested.

None of the ideas discussed satisfied Bradenton resident Lee Lisky.

"Nobody’s going to go to the help of the hardware store man," he said. "Who’s going to help that man?"

The final public hearing on the county budget is scheduled for Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. at the county administrative center.

Trolley extension money OK’d

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – If all goes as planned, the bus/trolley station at Coquina Beach will become the trolley station within the next few months as Manatee and Sarasota counties move to extend trolley service south.

Manatee County Community Services Director Fred Loveland sent a memo to County Administrator Ed Hunzeker late last month telling him that the Federal Department of Transportation had encumbered three years of funding to help pay for that extension. The grants include $370,050 the first year, $388,000 the second year and $408,000 the third year.

Manatee County would have to pitch in $277,028 the first year, $291,064 the second and $305,418 the third to help pay to extend trolley service through Longboat Key to St. Armands Circle and into downtown Sarasota.

Sarasota County commissioners voted Nov. 11 to enter into an interlocal agreement with Manatee County for this venture, and Loveland said it would go before the Manatee County Commission soon for approval.

"Then, it would simply be a matter of hiring new drivers," he said.

Under the agreement, Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) would give Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) three of its older trolleys, he said.

"At any time, there would be three trolleys running that portion of the route," he said. "Two of them would be SCAT trolleys with their drivers and one would be an MCAT.

Extension of trolley service was a project that came from demand in Sarasota County, including residents of Longboat Key. When a private trolley service tried to run through Longboat Key in the mid-1990s, residents of that town tried to ban it, but were advised to drop that effort by their town attorney because of concerns that it could be seen as discrimination.



The bee man returns to the tree

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – The man hired by Sandbar restaurant owner Ed Chiles to humanely get rid of a bee hive located on a lot adjacent to his restaurant’s lot returned last Wednesday to set the stage for the bee evacuation.

Bob van der Herchen, of Englewood, used a garage vacuum with an extra long hose, some aluminum screening and a large wooden box with a one-way entrance and a honeycomb with the scent of a queen bee inside to get the bees to leave the tree. It will be a few weeks before he knows if it will work, but he’s confident, Nonetheless, he advised restaurant manager Joe Rogers to keep an eye on the tree for signs that it is not working.

Van der Herchen brought his pickup truck and a bee suit with a screened helmet Wednesday. There was a ladder on the truck, which he used to get close enough to the hive to use the vacuum. He sucked up the bees on the outside of the hollowed trunk of the Australian pine first, in order to get an idea of how big the hole to the hive is. When he finished that job, he took out some screen and formed a cone with excess screening around the large opening.

While worked on the cone, more bees came out of the hive to replace the ones that were now sitting inside a wooden box at the other end of the vacuum. Van der Herchen had to return with the vacuum and clear out the new bees before he could staple the cone over the entrance to the hive.

That raised the hackles of the bees in the nest, and he warned The Sun reporter to leave because when he came down from the ladder, the bees would follow.

With the cone in place over the beehive entrance, bees will be able to get out the narrow opening at the end, but won’t be able to find their way back in. They will fly around looking for someplace else to nest, which will hopefully be the other wooden box that he mounted in the tree.

"This box will weight a couple hundred pounds by the time I take it away with the bees in it," he said. "A lot of that will be the honey they will make inside it."

Van der Herchen said it would take a few weeks for all the bees to leave the hive. As their supply of honey diminishes, they will kill the larvae waiting in the hive, but before that happens, another generation of bees will be born and will have to leave.

Chiles contacted van Herchen after he learned that the hives was in the trees. He first asked the city to take care of it, but when he learned the city was going to bring in an exterminator, he asked them to cancel those plans.

Chiles said he had been reading about a shortage of bees nationwide and that scientists were trying to pinpoint why. He decided he would try to find someone to move them, not destroy them.

Van der Herchen said if all goes well, he would be able to move the bees in the box somewhere safer, Somewhere not on the Island.

That may mean the bees will be going to his property, where he raises other bees and sells honey.



Manatees get reprieve from governor

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

A proposed downlisting of the manatee’s endangered status in Florida has been postponed until December, while gopher tortoises have been uplisted to threatened status.

A request from Gov. Charlie Crist postponed last week’s vote by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on reclassifying manatees from an endangered species down to threatened.

Because three of the seven commissioners are new, Crist requested that the scheduled vote be postponed to give them more time to familiarize themselves with the issue.

Crist expressed concern about current methods of estimating manatee populations, and the record number of manatee deaths in 2006 in a Sept. 10 letter to Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto.

According to commission statistics, more manatees died in Florida in 2006 than in the history of the state’s survey program, with 416 dead. 2005 was the second-worst year for manatee mortality, with 396 deaths.

In addition, state synoptic surveys, or one-day counts, of manatees have steadily declined from an all-time high in 2001 of 3,300 to 3,143 in 2005, to 3,116 in 2006, to 2,812 this year.

New commissioners Dwight Stephenson, Ron Bergeron and Kenneth Wright said they will make every effort to be prepared to vote on the issue at the commission’s December meeting in Key Largo.

Commissioners proceeded with approval of a new management plan for gopher tortoises that reclassifies them from a species of special concern up to threatened.

The new plan requires that gopher tortoises be relocated away from construction areas into public and private habitats where the species can thrive.

Gopher tortoises live on Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, the Sister Keys, Egmont Key and elsewhere in Florida.


Anna Maria Elementary to lose one teacher

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Just when you thought it was safe to put your personal stuff in your desk, one teacher at Anna Maria Elementary School might have to pack up and move.

The word came down last week that the school’s final enrollment was 289, down from the 303 the district had projected.

"We found out last week that we would be losing one teacher unit," said AME Principal Tom Levengood. "We met with all our teachers (Thursday) and gave them a list of all the openings in the district."

Levengood said any teacher who wants to voluntarily transfer could. Otherwise, the teacher with the least amount of tenure would have to transfer. Levengood said with the growth in the county, no teacher would be laid off.

"We have more openings than displaced teachers," he said. "For instance, my old school, Bayshore, has four openings.

The drop in enrollment was more or less expected after the school got word from local preschools, such as School for Constructive Play in Anna Maria, that it was not graduating that many four-year-olds last year.

The limit on the number of students in each classroom is one factor that dictates the number of teachers needed at each school. Currently, there can be no more than 18 students per classroom in kindergarten through third grade and no more than 21 students in grades four and five.

Levengood said that next year, if a school gets a new student who places it one over the limit in any one class, the school would have to hire another teacher.



Horizon Bank acquires Rosa del Mar

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – With a $100 bid and no competition, Horizon Bank obtained the vacant, Gulffront property known as Rosa del Mar at a foreclosure sale at the Manatee County courthouse on Sept. 11.

GSR Development, the previous property owner reorganizing under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code, owed Horizon Bank $8.56 million on the property, located at 2508, 2510, 2512 and 2516 Gulf Drive N.

A sealed bid auction on Sept. 7 failed to result in a buyer, as potential buyers did not want to deal directly with GSR, said Barry Gould of Island Vacation Properties, who arranged the auction.

The bank plans to sell the property, but it’s not a fire sale, Horizon Bank President and CEO Charles Conoley said.

The adjacent Gulffront property to the north at 2518 Gulf Drive N., Sandy Toes, also is for sale by owner Edge Sharff Properties, whose principals are Graeme Edge, drummer and songwriter for the Moody Blues rock band, and Bradenton real estate investor Paul Sharff. The purchase of both properties could mean a larger development than GSR’s originally planned 14-unit condominium, according to Gould.

The 1.2-acre Rosa del Mar property, which has 250 feet of beach frontage, is zoned R3 for up to 18 condominium units or a hotel.

The sand pile on the western border of the site, which is contaminated with construction debris, must be removed or bulldozed flat onto the site before development, according to the city of Bradenton Beach.

Rosa del Mar was one of GSR’s two largest projects; Villa Rosa in Anna Maria was designed as a gated, canalfront community with 17 custom, single-family homes.

The company recently gave up ownership of 15 other Island properties valued at more than $33.5 million, according to court records. Secured claims against them total $23.5 million.


Commission gets primer on drainage project

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — City commissioners got an overview last week from their engineer of the next drainage project proposed for the city.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick had asked for a review of the project, which has drawn some heated resident fire in recent weeks. The city commission work session on Sept. 13 was devoted exclusively to that overview.

"This project is designed to improve the quality of stormwater runoff," said Tom Wilcox, the city’s consulting engineer from HDR. "It’s based on the 1995 study by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swfwmd). It’s designed for the maximum use of alleyways. And it’s designed to minimize flooding along the streets of the city."

Wilcox explained that there are increasing problems with pollution from pesticides, fertilizers and heavy metals in the canals and in the bays and waterways around Florida. He explained that some of the pollutants would be percolated out of the water in long, shallow swales running through the alleyways of the city. Other pollutants will be removed by filtering systems before being dumped into the canals.

"I was talking to (former commissioner) Carol Ann Magill, and she told me that at some point in the future, the state will be mandating that we remove the pollutants," noted Mattick. "We might as well take advantage of the grant we have to do this now. Money will be tighter in the future."

The city is paying half of the $539,000 cost of the drainage project. The other half is being picked up by Swfwmd and the Manasota Basin Board under the Stormwater Improvement Management (SWIM) program.

"The reason we jumped to the top of the list of cities applying for the funds is that we’re cleaning up the stormwater before dumping it into the bay," Commissioner Dale Woodland said.

Woodland worked with Wilcox to shepherd the grant application through the system.

Wilcox explained that the 1995 system, which identified the drainage basins within the city was helpful, but it’s outdated.

"That was mostly a conveyance study," Wilcox told commissioners. "In those days, the point was to get the water off the streets as quickly as possible."

That method is outdated now, according to Wilcox.

"We now know we have to clean up the water before we put it into the canals or the bays or the Gulf," he said. "There are three or four outfalls into canals now. With the new system, we’ll have seven outfalls. All will have filters to take pollutants out of the water."

The asphalt at the city hall parking lot, which has been blamed for some street flooding along Pine and Spring avenues, will be redone with pervious materials. That will help as well, Woodland said.

There were some concerns about maintenance of the system — something that the city didn’t have a good record with in the past.

"Since we did the Gladiolus/North Shore drainage project," Wilcox said, "George (Public Works Director George McKay) has kept a record and a schedule for maintaining the mowing of the swales and for checking the drains and filters."

McKay said that the records are on his computer at the public works barn on Pine Avenue behind the museum. He invited anyone who is concerned to come and take a look.

Mattick said she felt she had a much better knowledge of the project after the work session.

"I think this presentation tonight helped me understand much better how this is going to work and why we’re doing it," she said. "I think we have an obligation to do our part to take as many pollutants out of the water as we can."

"I certainly feel more confident about this project than I did about the Gladiolus/North Shore project when it was at this stage," Commissioner John Quam said.

Commissioners Duke Miller and Chris Tollette were absent from the meeting.

If approved, a contractor will be selected and on board in November or December. Work should begin around the first of January of 2008. It should take about a year to complete.

There was to be a neighborhood meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18, just after press time. Coverage of that meeting will appear in next week’s edition of The Sun.


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