Vol 8 No. 20 - February 6, 2008


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Tax plan leaves businesses cold

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Island’s own ‘field of dreams’ takes shape

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Grouper rules may tighten

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Work on AMI Bridge begins

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Bentley is back

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Mother charged after near drowning

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper New tax law may boost real estate

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Cities react cautiously to vote




Tax plan leaves businesses cold

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Business owners say the state Constitutional amendment passed last week by voters will not provide them much tax relief.

While the new law benefits business owners by creating a $25,000 tangible personal property tax exemption on the value of office equipment, rental property furnishings and other business property, its tax cap provision is virtually useless, they say.

The amendment establishes a 10 percent annual tax cap for non-homesteaded real property, including second homes, investment property and commercial property, a figure so high that it will probably never be triggered, said Steve Bark, of Bark and Co. Realty in Holmes Beach.

"I don’t think we have to worry about 10 percent appreciation anytime soon," he said. "Having a 10 percent cap on commercial (property) doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, because historically, it doesn’t appreciate that fast."

In addition, "There’s a ton of properties that aren’t protected by this amendment," he said, estimating that 75 percent of the homes on Anna Maria Island are second homes not subject to the amendment’s homestead exemption provisions.

But the new law isn’t the last word on lowering taxes for business owners, according to Don Schroder, president of the Coalition Against Runaway Taxation (CART).

"We’re working hard to get a proposal on the November ballot," he said, either through the Legislature or the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

Both state Sen. Mike Bennett and Speaker of the House Marco Rubio have voiced support for the proposal, which would cap property taxes at 1.35 percent of a property’s taxable value, including commercial, homesteaded residential and non-homesteaded residential properties.

More than 115,000 signatures out of a necessary 600,000 have been collected to get the proposal on the 2010 election ballot as a backup plan, Schroder said.

"There is a groundswell for this petition," he said. "This is a wave that’s taking on a life of its own."

Island’s own ‘field of dreams’ takes shape

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – The cry, "Play ball" will echo over the baseball field at the Island Community Center soon, as youths five years old and up prepare for this year’s Little League season.

"Opening day of baseball is the best day ever," Island Little League President Mike Brusso declared. "When I get near a baseball field, I can smell the field and the chalk and hear the sound of the crowd. When we were children and got our uniforms, it was a real thrill."

The season begins Feb. 25 and tryouts for the three older divisions were held Saturday. Tryouts for younger players are planned in the coming weeks. Coaches will then evaluate players’ strengths and weaknesses, place them on teams and begin formal practice.

"Little League baseball is played all over the world, and it all starts now in the South," Brusso explained. "Every community has a Little League and each has its own board.

"We partner with the Community Center because of the facility, but we are a separate entity with our own board, rules and fundraising efforts. We follow the rules set by the National Little League."

Changing demographics

This year, the three older divisions will play half their games at the Center and half their games at G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton. The two younger divisions will play at the Center.

"In the past, we had enough kids to have our own interplay teams, but the last few years we have not had enough," Brusso said of the decision to take the teams to town. "This year we have one majors team, down from three two years ago.

"We have less kids because of the changing demographics and competition from basketball, soccer, skateboarding, video games. In addition, baseball is a complex game and for some children, it’s too slow and not fluid enough."

He said another issue is that baseball is a spotlight sport.

"If the ball is hit to you, you’re in the spotlight and for some children, that’s nerve wracking," he pointed out.

Brusso said the registration fees collected by Little League are used to pay national charter and insurance costs and district dues, purchase equipment and uniforms, pay umpires and pay the Center for the use of the field and the lights.

"Our charter and insurance cost $1,500 and three sets of break-away bases that are required by Little League cost $750," he said. "If you add it all together, it gets quite expensive.

"None of the money raised by the Community Center goes to Little League and the registration fees don’t cover our costs, so we need to hold fund-raisers. We need the goodwill of the community."

Funds raised are also used to support the Bill Ogden Fund to help pay registration fees and purchase equipment for youths who cannot afford them.

Field being readied

Currently, the field is being readied for the season with the bases down, the fence up and more clay on the way. Brusso is hoping to have a press box completed.

"We want to make sure the field is on par with G.T. Bray, so our guests feel comfortable and welcome," he said.

Brusso also plans to have the plaque naming the stadium reinstalled. The field was originally named for Benji Scanio, who died in 1959 as a young boy. His father asked that people make donations to build a ballpark at the Center in his memory. The community came together with donations and labor and the field was built and dedicated in 1960.

In 1964, Fred Hutchison, Island resident and manager of the Cincinnati Reds, died after a battle with cancer. To honor him and his commitment to Island youth, the field was renamed the Scanio-Hutchison Field and rededicated in 1966.

"We want to honor them and other individuals that have given to the sport," Brusso said. "If we don’t continue to remind people of their history, it will be forgotten."

Brusso encourages members of the community, not just parents of players, to come out and watch the games and support the Little League.

Grouper rules may tighten

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The regulatory net may tighten on both recreational and commercial grouper fishermen beginning in April.

While no final decisions have been made, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met last week to create a plan to reduce the recreational and commercial catch of gag grouper in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico by 45 percent compared to the average catch over the last four years.

"The fishery is not overfished. It’s not in bad shape," said Roy Crabtree, Southeast Regional Administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. "But we have science that indicates we’re taking fish out at too rapid a rate. Current harvest levels aren’t sustainable."

Several hundred fishermen, environmentalists, marine retailers and charter boat captains expressed a range of opinions on the proposals, which include closing the shallow water grouper season from Jan. 15 to April 15, two months longer than the current Feb. 15 to March 15 season.

"Three months in the heart of the tourist season is not good," Longboat Key charter boat Capt. Wayne Genthner said. "I make 60 percent of my living from February through May."

A recreational fishing proposal would reduce the current bag limit from five gag grouper per person per day to one, with a total bag limit of three grouper of all species per person per day. For red grouper, the bag limit would increase from one to three per person per day.

Commercial fishermen would have an increased quota on red grouper of 5.75 million pounds, up from 5.31 million pounds, and a separate quota of 1.22 million pounds of gag grouper.

"If we reach the red grouper quota and the gag grouper quota, the whole fishery will be shut down," said Cortez commercial fisherman Glen Brooks, president of the Gulf Fisherman’s Association, adding that as quotas rise and fall from year to year, fishermen are obliged to adjust.

The proposed allocation for gag grouper is 61 percent recreational and 39 percent commercial, while the proposed allocation for red grouper is 24 percent recreational and 76 percent commercial.

Public hearings will be scheduled in several locations around the state before a final decision is made in April.

A grouper forum is scheduled on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, 100 Eighth Ave. S.E. in St. Petersburg. For more information, call 727-551-5707 or email kim.amendola@noaa.gov.


Work on AMI Bridge begins

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

Motorists may not have noticed it, but work on the Anna Maria Island Bridge project began Monday morning with the delivery of signs and other equipment.

The first noticeable impact of the $9.1 million repair project should come later this week when the sidewalk on the north side of the bridge is closed to the public.

State officials said the closure could last up to 120 days and that foot and bicycle traffic will have to use the sidewalk on the south side of the bridge. Crosswalks will be made at both ends of the bridge, FDOT officials said, adding that fishing will continue to be allowed from the southern sidewalk.

Both sidewalks are popular with cyclists, joggers and fishermen. Plans call for the northern path to be extended through the Kingfish Ramp just west of the bridge.

However, Manatee County officials have asked the FDOT to consider moving that extension to the southern side of Manatee Avenue to avoid congestion at the boat ramp and for safety reasons. Such a move would require the sidewalk to go under the bridge at the western end and emerge on the south side of the road.

Agencies preparing

Most of the bridge repair work should begin in a few weeks, leading up to a 45-day closure of the entire span from Sept. 29 to Nov. 13.

When that happens, a number of local agencies will have to be ready to compensate.

With that in mind, FDOT is planning to spend some money above and beyond the bridge rehabilitation to compensate those agencies for their extra expenses.

Bradenton Beach will be where all the traffic on and off the Island will flow, doubling the number of cars and trucks that use the Cortez Bridge and Police Chief Sam Speciale said he wants to add a police officer at the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road to make sure traffic flows. He said he figures $15,000 would handle the cost of adding a full-time or part-time officer to that location.

West Manatee Fire Rescue will make several changes in its staffing and equipment to handle not only fire, but also medical emergencies. Chief Andy Price said he estimates all the accommodations will cost as much as $236,500.

Price said the department would keep another pumper truck at fire station one, in Holmes Beach, after the closure starts.

"We’ll also bring a ladder truck out to the Island and keep it at the station," Price said. "After meeting with FDOT and hearing their traffic estimates, we figured we would have a heck of a time getting the ladder truck on the Island if we needed it."

Price said they would need to have another person stationed on the Island to be accountable for personnel safety during a fire. Normally when there is a fire, an officer comes to the scene from the station on Manatee Avenue West, in Bradenton. Price said they hope to keep the bill for their extra expenses to $236,500 or less.

"We want to be sure we’re prepared any situation on the Island," Price said. "We don’t feel the people deserve any less than that."

Manatee County Public Safety is planning to keep a paramedic on duty who will ride to calls on the fire truck or the second vehicle in, according to Director Larry Leinhauser. When there is a medical emergency, the paramedic will be able to stabilize a patient before that person is taken off the Island either by ambulance or helicopter. Their estimate of the additional expense is $65,000.

The entire bridge repair project is expected to continue until March, 2009.


Bentley is back

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – Bentley the Butler is back and ready for duty.

The life-sized ceramic sculpture of a butler with a napkin over an arm and a tray holding a cup of coffee was found last Saturday morning by a customer of Sandy Rich Realty, 9906 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, where he was last seen St. Patrick’s Day 2007.

Most people weren’t too sure they would ever see Bentley again after Rich reported him missing. Rich distributed flyers with pictures of Bentley, but got no results. She told The Sun then that she wanted him back, no questions asked, and would go get him if need be.

Saturday morning, the customer found him at a garage sale in Bradenton with a $150 price tag on his chest. He looked no worse for wear, except for the fact that his glasses are missing. So where did the seller, Michelle Phillips, find Bentley?

"I was leaving for work a few weeks ago and saw what I thought was a man staring at me near a storage area, so I checked it out and it was him," she said. "I took him home, but he was too big for my place so I brought it over to my brother’s house to sell at his garage sale."

When Rich arrived at the garage sale Saturday, she told Mark Morris, who was holding the sale, that she wanted to buy it, but she needed to get some money and come back. Morris told her that he had already sold it and the buyers were coming soon to get it. That’s when she called police.

"The buyers showed up and when the (Manatee County Sheriff’s Office) deputy told them the story, they decided they would give him up if they got their money back," Rich said. "The seller gave them their money and then donated him to me."

Phillips said she was glad to see Rich get Bentley back.

"I’m as honest as they come and I was happy to see him come back to the Island," she said. "I’m a single, working mom and my mother always told me, ‘What comes around goes around.’"

The responding deputy had one problem returning Bentley to Rich.

"He didn’t have any proof that I had previously owned Bentley," she said. "I asked them to call the sheriff’s office in Anna Maria, and Deputy Gary Sellitto answered. He was the one who had written the report when Bentley turned up missing."

Sellitto convinced the deputy to bring Bentley back and when they got him here, Sellitto helped unload him, according to Rich.

To celebrate, Rich is holding a party at her office at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8. She is inviting Morris and Phillips and hopes that all of Bentley’s old friends stop by.


Mother charged after near drowning

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – A woman whose two-year-old son nearly drowned in the bathtub, has been charged with child neglect after police found marijuana and paraphernalia in her apartment.

On Thursday, Jan. 24, police responded to a report of a drowning at 3501 Sixth Ave. S., Holmes Beach, around 4:50 p.m. According to the police report, when officer James Cumston arrived, he observed the mother, 39-year-old Pamela McDaniel, standing in the doorway of the unit holding her son. He was naked and partially wrapped in a towel and crying.

McDaniel told Cumston that the baby was in the bathtub and she left it alone for only a minute to get him some clothes. When she returned, he was floating face down in the water.

McDaniel went to her neighbors, Joshua Odem and Sally Smythe, begging for them to help. They said he was not breathing, but struggling to take a breath. They administered CPR and got him breathing again.

EMS arrived and took the baby in the ambulance. Cumston observed that McDaniel appeared high on something and was not totally coherent at the time he was speaking with her. He reported that her eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

He entered the residence with her and observed a glass pipe like those used for marijuana lying on the shelf next to the front door. He also noticed that the bathtub had been drained, but there was about an inch of water on the bathroom floor. He wrote that it was far too much water on the floor for the mother to be away from her child for only a minute.

Cumston also noticed that the home was dirty and cluttered. There was a large pane of broken glass sticking out of a trash bag on the kitchen floor, easily accessible by the child. There was also a pair of wire cutters on the living room floor next to a baby seat.

Cumston left to get a camera and the neighbor closed and locked the door behind him. He returned later to the apartment with Det. Sgt. Teri Davis and McDaniel where they entered with her permission. They confiscated a second marijuana pipe sitting in the bathroom sink behind a bottle of cleaner and a lighter and ashtray. They seized the two pipes and read McDaniel her rights.

McDaniel admitted smoking marijuana in the presence of the baby, but stated that she had not smoked any in about a week.

She was charged with child neglect and possession of drug paraphernalia and arrested. She was released on bail Jan. 28.

The baby remains under treatment at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburgh.



New tax law may boost real estate

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Florida’s real estate market may be one of the first beneficiaries of the state Constitutional amendment on tax reform approved last week by more than 64 percent of the state’s voters.

Homesteaded property owners will reap the rewards from a provision increasing the Save Our Homes exemption from $25,000 to $50,000.

But it’s the portability provision added to the Save Our Homes benefit that may encourage new purchases, some say. Since property owners can transfer up to $500,000 of their Save Our Homes benefit to their next Florida homestead, they will be able to purchase more expensive homes without their tax bills skyrocketing.

Mary Ann Brockman, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, hopes the amendment will stimulate the real estate sector on the Island.

"It’s a place to start," she said, adding, "There’s so much more work to be done."

The amendment is a temporary fix where a permanent solution is needed, said Steve Bark of Bark and Co. Realty in Holmes Beach, who is less than confident that the state Legislature will rise to the challenge.

"Legislators understand there’s a problem, but I don’t think they’re understanding the severity of it," he said, explaining that while buyers can afford principal and interest payments, adding tax and insurance payments can be the equivalent of a principal and interest payment.

"It’s not the interest rates – they’re dropping – and it’s not the price of real estate, it’s the holding cost," he said. "If you own one house and homestead it, there’s no problem, but our market is second home people, and they don’t have any protection."

While the amendment provides a 10 percent tax cap on non-homesteaded property, critics say it provides little, if any, benefit.

While other measures are being devised, the new law has the state’s 67 property appraisers scrambling to create new systems and forms to implement it, Manatee County Property Appraiser Charles Hackney said.

"We will manage it," he said, "but there are a lot of unintended consequences."

For example, out of about 5,000 current applications for exemption, about 1,600 will qualify for portability, he said, which will require his office to track down the homestead status of the owners if they moved to Manatee County from other Florida counties.

The portability provision, which is retroactive to purchases and sales in 2007, is being challenged as a federal violation of the constitutional right to travel between states.


Cities react cautiously to vote

By Pat Copeland, Laurie Krosney and Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

Leaders of the three Island cities are preparing to deal with the passage of Amendment 1 by voters last week.

The amendment would double the homestead exemption, allow homesteaded property owners to take their exemption to their next home and establish a 10 percent cap on non-homesteaded property.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce said he has already talked with department heads who will be setting their budget requests this summer for the next fiscal year and they expect more belt tightening.

"We had to scramble to cut the budget last year because of the legislature’s restrictions, but it didn’t affect services we offer," he said. "We expect to change things fiscally this year."

Pierce said he feels confident his city can deal with the expected drop in property tax income.

"We feel we’re going to be just fine," he said. "We’re working on implementing new ideas and new incentives and we’ll move forward," he said.

Bradenton Beach Financial Officer Nora Idso, who also serves as the City Clerk, said she is waiting for information from the county and state on what Amendment 1 will cost the city in property tax income before she figures out what to do.

"I’ve talked with city auditor Ed Leonard and we’re waiting to find out what percentage the millage will be cut," she said. "Until we know that, we can’t do much."

In Holmes Beach, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger exclaimed, "If that’s what the citizens want, we’ll live with it. The worst is yet to come as far as being able to provide services. If nothing else happens, we could lose as much as $80,000 to $100,000."

City Treasurer Rick Ashley said that the full affect of the amendment would not be known until the city gets the tax roll and begins the budget process.
"State law provides that the starting point for everything we do in setting a millage rate for any year’s budget revolves around the rollback rate, which is the millage rate needed to generate the same dollars in tax revenue as the prior year," he explained. "In years when the tax roll increases, the millage needed to generate the same dollars as the year before goes down.

"If the tax roll decreases, the rollback rate theoretically could increase to generate the same amount of tax dollars. With what’s been happening in the real estate market, the tax roll very possibly could go down, but we won’t know that until we receive the tax roll information from the property appraiser in early summer."

Both Ashley and Bohnenberger also said that no one knows the affect of the portability portion of the amendment and it won’t be known for some time.

"The city is paying more for everything, just like you and I are at home," Ashley pointed out. "In addition to that, overall revenues are down, building permits are almost at a standstill compared to prior years, interest income is down substantially from last year as interest rates fall and revenue sharing has been reduced due to shortfalls at the state level.

"The effect of Tuesday’s vote is just one piece in a big puzzle that could make for some hard decisions at budget time this summer; but until then it is anybody’s guess and to talk about specific cuts or impacts would just be conjecture."

Officials in the city of Anna Maria were also concerned about the affect of the vote.

"The effect of an additional $25,000 Homestead exemption on homesteaded property would be approximately $30,000 in ad valorem if using the current millage rate of 1.7882," City Treasurer Diane Percycoe wrote in a memo.

Mayor Fran Barford said the residents of her city would feel the impact.

"That doesn’t sound like a lot," she said. "But the effect on a city with a small budget like ours will be significant."

Barford said residents would just have to expect to see a cut in services.

"We will do nothing that would affect health, safety and welfare, but some cuts will come," she said.

Barford said the city has already begun to find alternative ways to operate in tight financial times.

"We have citizens taking care of the beach access points," she said. "We just don’t have the staff to do it ourselves."

She said the city would likely see more of that kind of belt-tightening.

"But you can’t really predict how big the cut will be," she said. "The issue of portability is so flexible. You don’t know how many people will take advantage of that moving into our out of the city."

Barford said what can be predicted is that the passage of Amendment 1 will have a trickle down effect on the budget of her city.


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