Vol 8 No. 11 - December 5, 2007


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Limited bridge openings proposed

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Police ask for help in solving beach murder

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper CART backs tax plan

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Island governments react to state investment pool freeze

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Comp plan appears to have cleared one roadblock

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Privateer parade will lead to Santa

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Flood insurance rates cut

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Urgent request for help issued




Limited bridge openings proposed

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – A bridge management specialist for the United States Coast Guard says he will propose limiting Cortez Bridge openings while the Anna Maria Island bridge is shut down for 45 days next year for refurbishment.

Michael Lieberum told members of the Island Transportation Planning Organization last week that he is leaning toward prohibiting the bridge tender from opening the drawbridge to boaters during morning and evening rush hours to keep traffic flowing. Lieberum said he is considering the closings from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 7 or 7:30 p.m.

Lieberum said he was also considering allowing the drawbridge to open to boats once an hour between the morning and evening curfew hours.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford asked why they couldn’t prohibit the Cortez Bridge from opening for tall boats at all during the construction period, since most of the boat traffic is recreational. She said the boats could go out into the Gulf to get around the bay area of the Island.

"I checked the bridge tender’s logs and there is some barge traffic that goes under the bridge and they would not be able to go into the Gulf during bad weather," Lieberum said. "There is a commercial operator who anchors his boat between the two bridges and he would have to find a new place to tie up. He runs a charter service."

John Searles, safety officer for the Manatee County School District Transportation Department, said the closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge would affect school bus traffic to and from the Island.

"It’s going to be a hardship to students and their parents who have to get up earlier to get to the bus," he said. "The timing of this project is all wrong for the children. The summertime is the best time to close the bridge when you consider them."

Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Mike Howe and Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger both asked Searles how the school district handled the situation when rehabilitation shut down the Cortez Bridge in 1996. Searles said he did not know, but he would research it and get back to them.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens had a suggestion for Searles.

"For years, the school buses parked at our city hall overnight and drivers would come out to the Island to get to them," she said.

"All those drivers we had then have retired," Searles replied, as members of the audience laughed.

"Still, it would be easier for a driver in a car to get out here in the morning than one in a bus," she said.

Searles said he would consider it.

Florida Department of Transportation District 1 Structures Maintenance Engineer Jose “Pepe” Garcia said that the project would begin on schedule on Jan. 7 and that the bridge will be closed to traffic for 45 days sometime between Sept. 29 and Nov. 30.

Lieberum said it normally takes at least six months to get a change of openings through the system, but since this is an emergency, he would work on it and try to get it through in less time.

"I will begin on this immediately so that when I put this (proposal) out, there will be ample time for public comment," he said.

Police ask for help in solving beach murder

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Holmes Beach police are asking for help from anybody who might have had contact with a 29-year-old Sarasota woman recently whose badly decomposed body was found on the beach near the 50th Street access last Satuday.

Following an autopsy Sunday, Police Chief Jay Romine said they believe Carla Ann Beard was battered with a blunt instrument and died as the result of a homocide.

Police are asking for anybody with information on Beard and her actions during the past week to contact them at 708-5800 or contact Manatee County Crime Stoppers at 1-866-634-TIPS (8477).

Because of the decomposition of her body when it was found, investigators suspect she was killed last Monday or Tuesday. Her body was found Saturday by beach house residents while they were preparing for an outdoor party.

Beard, who has lived on and off with her grandmother in Sarasota, was last seen Nov. 26 when she left First Step, a drug treatment facility in Sarasota, Romine said.

Sarasota court on-line records show that 29-year-old Carla Ann Beard was arrested on April 5, 2001, for possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and was rearrested May 3, 2001, on a bench warrant for failing to appear in court on the charge. On Oct. 27, 2006, she was again arrested on a charge of possessing paraphernalia.

CART backs tax plan

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The Coalition Against Runaway Taxation (CART) is among the groups backing a proposed Constitutional amendment that would cap all property taxes at 1.35 percent of the taxable value of a piece of property.

The proposal, sponsored by Cut Property Taxes Now Inc., would apply to commercial, rental, homesteaded residential and non-homesteaded residential properties, which other proposals have failed to do, according to CART President Don Schroder.

The proposal also will provide increased tax savings to most homeowners who are already protected by the existing Save Our Homes amendment, he said.

"For the first time, grassroots organizations from across the state have agreed upon a formula that will provide significant tax relief to all owners of real property," Schroder said. "It actually limits the amount a property may be taxed after deducting the SOH and other exemptions. It provides for a level playing field, more equitably distributes the ad valorem taxation of property and cuts taxes an average of 26 percent statewide."

The full text of the proposed Constitutional amendment is: "Notwithstanding any other provision contained in this Constitution, the maximum amount of all ad valorem taxes collected by counties, school districts, municipalities and special districts on any parcel of real property shall not, when combined, exceed 1.35 percent of the parcel’s highest taxable value. The term taxable value refers to the value of real property to which millage rates are applied. The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the distribution of tax revenues derived from parcels for which the combined ad valorem tax levies exceed 1.35 percent of the parcel’s highest taxable value. This subsection does not apply to ad valorem taxes levied for the payment of bonds issued pursuant to Section 12 of this article or levied for periods not longer than two years when authorized by a vote of the electors."

The proposal will accomplish much of CART’s strategic goals, such as addressing the current level of burdensome taxation and providing fair treatment for all property owners, Schroder said.

"It is the best of the initiatives out there and we are going to mobilize all our contacts throughout the Suncoast and the state to put their effort behind 1.35 to get the necessary petitions to place it on the ballot," he said.
The petition supporting the proposal is available at www.CARTonline.org.


Island governments react to state investment pool freeze

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

All three Island cities have money in the state Board of Administration pooled investment accounts, which were frozen last week by Gov. Charlie Christ.

Recent large withdrawals from the fund started a sort of run on the bank.

"It was sort of like in the movie, "It’s a Beautiful Life," said Holmes Beach City Treasurer Rick Ashley. "The state is not investing in mortgage funds any more. Only about 4 percent of the investments were in mortgage monies, and those investments are continuing to pay dividends today."

Holmes Beach has $1.863 million in its SBA account, according to Ashley.

"We don’t designate those funds specifically," he said. "It’s primarily our emergency fund. We’re waiting to see what they do on Tuesday.”

The SBA has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, Dec. 4, to consider recommendations to provide reassurance to investors.

The SBA manages approximately $190 billion in assets invested by Florida municipalities, counties and school systems.

After an article by Bloomberg News erroneously reported, "The Florida pool’s $900 million of defaulted asset-backed commercial paper now amounts to 5 percent of its holdings."

That’s just wrong, according to a press release from Michael McCauley of the SBA media office.

"In fact, certain pool investments have been downgraded below purchase credit rating guidelines, but they have continued to pay principal and interest," McCauley said. "The pool has collected approximately $64 million in principal and interest payments since August on these downgraded investments."

Apparently the Bloomberg News article created a panic, and several local governments withdrew a total of $16.6 billion from the fund before the freeze was imposed last week, according to an article in the St. Petersburg Times.

Pinellas County withdrew the its entire $290 million investment and placed the money in a bank’s money market account.

Bradenton Beach’s City Clerk Nora Idso, who also serves as treasurer of her city, shared Ashley’s wait-and-see attitude.

"We have about $2 million in uncommitted funds up there," she said. "We don’t have to use it for payroll or anything urgent like some of the cities. It’s mainly our emergency fund."

Idso said she’s not too worried, because the monies invested in the mortgage market are not a big portion of the SBA investment portfolio.

"Besides," she said. "We just put our money there recently. We had it in Coast Bank before. We’ll wait and see, but we’ll probably leave our funds there."

On the other hand, Anna Maria Deputy Clerk and City Treasurer Diane Percycoe said and Mayor Fran Barford found the news to be a major concern.

"While the city had not intended using these funds, as these are basically our reserve funds, this news is a shock as well as a major concern to the mayor and myself," she said.

Percycoe was anticipating a conference with the city auditor about the SBA pooled funds.

The meeting Tuesday was to consist of the SBA Board of Trustees, which includes Gov. Christ, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum. Among the recommendations the board will consider are credit protection for the pool from default by approximately $1.5 billion in securities by four issuers: Axon Financial, KKR Atlantic, KKR Pacific, OTTIMO Funding and Countywide; commitment to obtain an AAAm rating from Standard and Poor’s on the pool, including adopting more conservative investment guidelines and establishing an external pool advisory council; continued restructuring of the pool investments to become more liquid; Building a larger reserve fund to protect the pool from future market illiquidity and improvements in the investment infrastructure of the pool.



Comp plan appears to have cleared one roadblock

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — The city’s comprehensive plan process seems to be moving forward again.

There had been a roadblock in the offices of the Department of Community Affairs in Tallahassee for a month or two.

"I think things are moving again," Mayor Fran Barford said. "I finally got the planner handling our EAR (Evaluation and Appraisal Report) to talk to me. I told him we had worked 3 1/2 years on this. It was a positive and a visionary process and the delays were starting to have a negative effect."

DCA had several objections to the plan as it was submitted. The most significant was the element that deals with affordable housing — something that would be problematic on a barrier Island, where increased density is discouraged and where the cost of real estate is sky high, even in a depressed market.

Other objections were primarily with format. Tony Arrant, the planning consultant who has been working with the city on the plan, had been dealing with another planner at DCA making sure the t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted, but that planner was replaced with a new planner who raised some objections.

Arrant was having difficulties getting appointments with DCA officials, but things seem to be moving forward again, according to Barford.

"I expect that we’ll see some movement forward on the plan now," she said.

The city commission scheduled a continuation of its second reading for the adoption of the EAR last month to Dec. 11 at 6 p.m.

One property owner, Linda L. Cramer, a former city commissioner, has said she plans to challenge the plan legally because the plan designates her property on the northwest corner of Gulf Drive and Palmetto Avenue as residential on the Future Land Use Map. Cramer wants the designation to be ROR or commercial.


Privateer parade will lead to Santa

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

It’s that time of the year when familiar sounds return to the Island.

No, not hoofs on your roof or bells and "ho,ho,ho."

How about an "Arrrrgh" and cannons blasting?

The Anna Maria Island Privateers host their annual Christmas Parade on Saturday, Dec. 8, starting at 10 a.m. at Bayfront Park in Anna Maria. It will proceed south until it pulls into the Coquina Beach parking lot.

This will be the first parade since Manatee County reconfigured the parking lot at Coquina. The Privateers have reserved the large pavilion at the south end of the parking lot and there is still a lot of room for parking, according to Privateers Past President Greg Luzier.

Everyone is welcome to participate in the parade, although it is not a walking parade because of its seven-mile length.

"You can use a car, a truck, or even a bicycle," Luzier said. "It’s just too long to walk."

Participants have to be there early, according to Luzier.

"I want them staged and ready to go by 9:30," he said. "You need to arrive by 9 a.m. if you haven’t filled out an application form."

When the parade reaches Coquina, the attention turns to celebrating the holiday.

"Santa will be there to listen to what the kids want for Christmas and pass out something to each child," he said. "The kids will get free hot dogs and sodas and the adults can have some for a nominal contribution."

This event has been a mainstay of the holiday by the Privateers for more than 20 years, and Luzier said they owe it all to public participation.

"Everybody knows the Privateers are about having fun, and we earn money for our scholarships and kids’ programs," he said, "but we need the public to participate too, and we hope to have a big parade this year."



Flood insurance rates cut

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — Property owners in the Island’s northern most city will see a 25 percent reduction in their flood insurance bills.

The reduction is the result of an increase in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s designation of the city’s rating system from a Class 4 to a Class 5 in the National Flood Insurance Program.

The class 5 designation in the community rating system means that each property owner insured against flood will pay 25 percent less in premiums than a property owner in a community with a Class 1 rating.

Last year, the city earned a Class 4. The city commission and staff worked on flood mitigation strategies that they implemented and codified to earn the Class 5 designation awarded this year.

If there are no NFIP noncompliance actions, the CRS rating will automatically be renewed annually. Then in five years, Anna Maria will have another verification visit.

The city implemented several policies that resulted in the higher rating. Among them are outreach projects, disclosure by real estate agents about flood hazards to prospective buyers, providing flood protection information in a reference section at the library, drainage system management, floodplain management and storm water management.


Urgent request for help issued

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – KIDS’ Miracle Partners, a newly-formed not-for-profit organization has issued an e-mail request for contributions to help a single Sarasota mother be with her two-year-old son while his leukemia runs its deadly course.

KIDS’ Miracle Partners founder Ronald Stanchfield, who lost a grandson to cancer, issued the plea, saying the mother needs $850 immediately for a rent payment due Dec. 1 so her son can stay in hospice at home. After several months of hospitalization, her income and resources have been sharply cut and the bills are mounting. An anticipated source of funds has not materialized, according to Stanchfield.

He said any money received above the rent would be applied toward utility bills and future rent. Any additional surplus funding will be 100-percent reserved for other families facing similar needs.

Holmes Beach-based KIDS' Miracle Partners is the source of last resort for families seeking a miracle for a child struggling with a life-threatening illness. Donations may be sent directly to: KIDS' Miracle Partners Inc., "Charlie’s Fund," c/o Regions Bank, 3900 Sixth Ave., Holmes Beach, FL 34217. One hundred percent of your donation will go toward the mother.

KIDS' Miracle Partners Inc. is a 501C3 nonprofit organization. Donations are tax deductible. Donations of $75 or more will be receipted to the address provided on the check, unless instructed to the contrary.

KIDS’ Miracle Partners was the brainchild of Stanchfield’s grandson, Mitch Chepokas, who, while on his deathbed, thought of all the families of children who have serious illnesses. He talked about how nice it would be if they did not have to worry about normal expenses while they dealt with their children’s emergencies.


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