The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 8 No. 45 - July 30, 2008

headlines


Budget loss $500,000 in Holmes Beach

HOLMES BEACH – City Treasurer Rick Ashley presented the proposed 2008-09 budget and said it is $500,000 less than last year. The proposed budget covers the funding of city operations for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2008, through Sept.30, 2009.

The reduction in ad valorem taxes accounts for $324,589 of that $500,000. The total budget is $7,967,723 compared to $8,470,017 in 2007-08.

"It’s a balanced budget without anything that has become real painful," Ashley said. "It came out better than it could have due to the commission budgeting process in the past where we had extra money because of the assessments going up and the growth of the community. We have not spent that for ongoing expenses. We did things that needed to be done."

At Ashley’s recommendation, commissioners approved a millage rate of 1.589, the same as the 2007-08 budget. The millage can be lowered but not raised before the final budget is approved.

"Using last year’s millage rate allows you to give the residents of the city the benefit of all the reductions in the assessed values," Ashley explained. "The property appraiser has reduced the assessed values by just under 12 percent.

Ashley said the budget is a continuation of existing services, and employees received a 3 percent cost of living allowance and step raises.

"We’re pretty much caught up on our infrastructure needs," Mayor Rich Bohnenberger added. "The biggest project we have to deal with over the next few years is stormwater."

However, he said stormwater projects would take longer to complete because they will only be funded out of the stormwater utility fee. In the past, some project funding came out of the general fund.

Outside agency funding

The most unusual change in the proposed budget is the new procedure for outside agency funding.

"We’re not going to just hand out money," Bohnenberger told commissioners. "There will be a contract for services. It puts us in the driver’s seat. We need to be more business oriented and require something in return."

Bohnenberger said agency representatives could meet with him and explain the services they plan to provide, then draw up a written agreement and bill the city. There is $32,000 in the public works budget for that purpose, and he said the funds would be disbursed after January 2009.

Funding for 2007-08 included Community Center operations, $21,814; Community Center endowment trust, $727; AMI Historical Society, $1,454; Solutions to Avoid Red Tide, $4,362; AMI Chamber of Commerce, $1,090; Keep Manatee Beautiful, $727; AMI Art League, $545; and AMI Community Chorus and Orchestra, $1,090; and Manatee County trolley, $8,000.

"I don’t feel comfortable handing out money when we have to reduce the budget," Bohnenberger said. "I want to make sure we’re getting the bang for our buck."

Expenses

The mayor and commission budget is down $35,727, primarily due to the removal of $39,000 for outside agency funding, and the general government budget is up $22,741, primarily due to employee expenses (salaries payroll taxes, retirement, health insurance).

The police department budget is up with increases in employee expenses, fuel and equipment, while beach patrol has been reduced by nearly $10,000 and professional services has been reduced by $6,600.

The public works budget is down $525,641 with reductions in professional services, utility services and repair and maintenance and increases in employee expenses and operating supplies.

The code enforcement budget is up $7,876, primarily due to employee expenses, while education and training operating supplies and equipment have been reduced.

The stormwater utility fund budget has been reduced by $85,000 with the addition of $40,000 for engineering and a reduction of $125,000 for projects.

The first public hearing on the budget will be Monday, Sept. 8, at 6:30 p.m. in city hall.

City to TECO: Not so fast

HOLMES BEACH – City Attorney Patricia Petruff picked apart a draft franchise agreement submitted by TECO People’s Gas for the installation of a natural gas line in the city.

The company first came to the commission in May seeking its blessing to install the 4-inch plastic line. It will proceed along the Palma Sola Causeway and turn south on Gulf Drive to Bradenton Beach and turn north on Gulf Drive and Second Avenue in Holmes Beach.

Commissioners asked for a franchise agreement, which Petruff had reviewed. She said she has issues with the 30-year term of the agreement and the name on the agreement.

"I discovered that People’s Gas Company is not a company or a corporation," she explained. "I don’t think it should be a signatory to this agreement. I think it should be signed by Tampa Electric Company. I think it’s problematic for something that’s not a legal entity."

She questioned the indemnification clause, saying she couldn’t verify that People’s Gas Company has any assets and asked for a list of assets. She also questioned the effective date.

"This does not become effective until the company signs it," she pointed out. "I think that’s a little odd, and the company has 60 days to approve it. I would prefer that we be the last signatory, and once the city signs it, it becomes effective."

A section on reimbursement for removal or relocation of the line for work in the right of way should be clarified to exclude the county’s water and sewer lines, she said.

Regarding the franchise fee, the agreement states that it is 6 percent minus taxes, licenses and permit fees. Petruff said it should be 6 percent without any conditions. She also questioned the insurance limits.

Company responds

"This is a standard agreement that we use over the entire state of Florida," Leroy Sullivan, manager for external affairs for TECO, responded. "We have 100 in effect with municipalities around the state and they are signed by the president of the People’s Gas Company as a legal entity of Tampa Electric Company.

"They are operated as separate companies with separate presidents, and the presidents of the respective companies sign these type documents."

He said he wanted the commission to be aware that the company must be finished with its work by Sept. 29, when the Anna Maria Island Bridge closes, and asked the commission to proceed with approval.

"We’ve been waiting for something since our May 26 meeting," Chair Sandy Haas-Martens replied.

Commissioners agreed that the term of the agreement would be 15 years and that it would become effective when commissioners approve it. They set the franchise fee at 6 percent and approved the insurance limits.

Petruff said she would confer with the company’s attorney to make the changes and commissioners could hold the first reading on Aug. 12 and a second reading and public hearing Aug. 19.

"In three days we’ll be at your doorstep," Tom Lucas, Sarasota operations manager said. "Do you want us to stop?"

Commissioners said yes.

Help on the way for broken trolleys

If it seems like you’ve seen more buses than trolleys running up and down the Island lately, you’re probably right. But the county is looking to replenish the fleet, so that when a trolley goes down for repair, it’ll have another trolley to replace it.

Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) Operations Superintendent Mark Betti said that relief is on the way.

"We have identified some money and are looking to order two or three new trolleys," he said. "They’ll be like the newer ones we already have."

Betti did not have a timetable of when the new trolleys might be put into service, since they have not been ordered yet, but he said they are sorely needed.

"We’ve got one in Tampa getting some major engine work and two in the shop, one with an electrical problem caused by corrosion," he said Friday.

MCAT originally purchased five trolleys in March 2002 with money from a federal grant. There were problems with engine noise and corrosion and their exhausts were modified to make them run more quietly. In 2006, it purchased four more quieter trolleys from a different manufacturer. Betti said that the when enough trolleys break down, it has to replace them with buses. Some people claim that MCAT should not have committed trolleys to Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) for the Longboat Key/Sarasota extension.

"We actually sold the older trolleys to SCAT, so the fact that there are more buses on the Island has nothing to do with expanding the service to Sarasota," he said.

But if they still had the older units, they wouldn’t have to replace the trolleys with buses, which people waiting at trolleys stops don’t want to ride even though they are free. Betti said relief is on the way.

"These trolleys have extremely high mileage for their age because they are used long hours, 365 days a week," he said. "These trolleys go as many miles in three years as buses go in eight years."

MCAT Supervisor Ralf Heseler said that the funding for the new trolleys comes from a Federal Highway Department capital fund. He said the amount of money is not known, but it will be enough to purchase two, if not three vehicles. He said they would not look at hybrid vehicles that would get better mileage in stop and go traffic because they are too expensive.

Heseler told a meeting of the Manatee/Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Agency’s Public Transportation Task Force about the problems with the trolleys.

"They are custom built vehicles and repairing them is very problematic because parts are not readily available," he said. "They have plastic windows in the back to cover the open area during bad weather and when they break, we have to take the trolley out of operation until we can get a new one, according to Federal Transit Administration regulations."

Sun forum set for Wednesday

The Sun will sponsor a forum for candidates for the District 3 and District 7 at large Manatee County Commission seats on Wednesday, July 30, in Holmes Beach City Commission Chambers, 5801 Marina Drive.

Candidates for the District 3 seat are incumbent Jane von Hahmann and challenger John Chappie. Candidates for the District 7 at large seat are incumbent Joe McClash and challenger Greg Witham. Since candidates in both races are Rebublican, the elections will be decided in the Aug. 26 primary.

The event will begin with a meet and greet at 6:30 p.m. The forum will begin at 7 p.m. Each candidate will have three minutes to make an opening statement. Opening statements will be followed by questions submitted by residents. Responses should be limited to two minutes. Each candidate will have three minutes for a closing statement.

Anna Maria closing gap on revenue drop

ANNA MARIA – When it comes to figuring annual budgets, all three of the Island’s cities are looking to close the gap between what they used to collect in property taxes and what is available after Amendment One and the market bust that took bites out of those taxes.

For the city of Anna Maria, closing that gap includes smaller raises for employees and higher deductibles for their health insurance, as the commission discovered on Tuesday, July 22.

The new budget shows the city collecting $161,798 less in ad valorem (property) taxes, a 12 percent drop from the previous budget.

Deputy City Clerk Diane Percycloe, the city’s budget officer, gave a well-researched draft budget at the city’s first budget meeting. It showed the city’s anticipated revenues at $3,964,652, up 42 percent from the previous budget’s projected $2,584,820. A $1 million loan for stormwater improvements was the main reason for the much higher income. Percycoe said that she would figure out later how much of that draw would be used in the current fiscal year and how much would be carried over to the upcoming year.

Revenue from the city’s new stormwater utility fee, set at $78,710, also contributed to the higher overall revenue. Both the loan and the stormwater utility money will be committed to specific projects.

Percycoe said that her first hurdle in making the draft was switching to a department-based budged, where each department would be responsible for utility and other expenses previously shared. She also talked about cutting personnel costs.

"Anna Maria runs on about half of the people that cities of similar size use," she said. "This summer, we hired three part-time employees to take over a previous full-time position and in doing so, we eliminated the cost of the benefits."

Percycoe said that all of the employees are on target with the step plan for salaries except for herself, because she had taken on new duties. She recommended a $6,170 annual increase to bring her pay up to the standard. She also recommended a 3 percent cost of living increase for employees across the board, even though statistics for the region show the cost of living increase was 5.2 percent.

"This has been a very tough budget year," she said. "This is a bare-bones budget."

Commissioner Dale Woodland said he was looking for employees to take on more of the cost of their health insurance. While the city’s share of $58,000 for employee health insurance was down 8.8 percent from the previous budget, he said it is too high.

"We have six employees who we’re paying $58,000 on," he said. "That’s almost $10,000 per employee."

Percycoe said that her research indicated employees of other cities have better benefits than Anna Maria. She cautioned that if they raised the deductible much higher, employees would not seek needed testing or care, saying it is too expensive.

Commissioner JoAnn Mattick asked Public Works Director George McKay if there were any vehicles he could get rid of, and he said he needed the four pickups and electric cart.

Commissioner Dale Woodland said that the city’s contingency fund, down 27.4 percent from $114, 956 to $83,5414, needs to be bumped back up to 5 percent of the budget. He said it’s money the city might need.

The next budget work session will be at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7, followed by a tentative one at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 19. The first public hearing on the budget will be at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 10, and the final public hearing will be at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23.

City looks to nest egg to balance budget

BRADENTON BEACH – Just like the other cities across Florida, Bradenton Beach is facing a drop in property tax collections, but instead of deep cuts in services or employee layoff, this city has a cushion from which to draw.

Over the years, Bradenton Beach has fortified its reserves for more than weather disasters. At its first workshop on the 2008-2009 budget, the city commission last Thursday got a preliminary budget that showed a $124,886.43 shortage between income and expense. City Clerk Nora Idso, Assistant Clerk Christine Irelan and Police Lt. John Cosby, who worked on the budget, told the commissioners that they would need to take $125,000 from the city’s reserves to make it balance.

Cosby said that the city’s income from property taxes is down $171,224 from the previous budget, but the loss is closer to $200,000 with inflation and the loss of building permit fees that come with the housing bust. The city’s millage rate will drop from 2.2579 to 2.1539, according to the county’s rollback rate figures. The budget calls for total expenses of $3,567,182.43.

Cost cutting measures include no raises for employees and higher deductibles and co-pays for their insurance.

"We also audited liability insurance and found areas where we were overcharged, like worker’s comp.," Cosby said. "We found that there were nine vehicles covered by our insurance policy that we don’t own anymore.

"In another area, we looked attorneys fees and some invoices show we paid both of our attorneys to do the same thing," he added. "We need to appoint a lead attorney who we will use for most of our needs."

The city pier was another source of unexpected expense, according to Cosby. The city paid $16,000 to the former franchisees at the pier restaurant after they sued, claiming the city had kept some of the equipment they paid for. Also, the cost of the pier jumped $550,000 when the pier team agreed to enlarge the footprint of the restaurant’s kitchen area. Cosby said that the city still has three years on its loan for the pier rehabilitation and that they considered refinancing the loan, but they felt that they would rather make the annual payments than push the problem into the future.

Cosby said they looked at some of the capital improvement projects that had money appropriated to them.

"Some of them were wishful thinking," he said. "The funds for them have been re-appropriated to pay off loans.”

Some of those projects included $15,000 to elevate city hall and $3,000 to elevate the building department. He recommended the city take that money and pay off two Ford Explorer police cars. The commission voted to do that. Another project, improving Herb Dolan Park, had $22,000 that Cosby recommended be re-appropriated with some going to the projects and programs department for matching grants.

Finally, Cosby talked about the reserves.

"When times were good, we built up the reserve fund in case things went bad," he said. "Once we put all this together, we realized we need $125,000 out of the reserve to balance the budget and allow the millage to drop to its new level."

Cosby praised Police Chief Sam Speciale for working on the insurance to get expenses down and spoke of a new mandate for officers.

"If a car’s not moving, it’s not on."

Mayor Michael Pierce praised the process and the people.

"We’ve got a lot of good employees who give us a lot of good ideas and they will continue to do so," he said.

Then, some of the "old timers" remembered when the city was not in as good of shape as it is now.

"I remember when we would get our paychecks on Monday, but we couldn’t cash them until Friday," said Commissioner and former Mayor John Chappie.

"When Nora got here, the city was making minimal payments on its Visa card," Cosby added.

State shuns swaying signs

HOLMES BEACH – The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has determined something that a lot of Island residents already believe, the two-sided variable message signs mounted on long mast arms over Gulf Drive had too much "wiggle" in the wind.

That’s the word from Manatee County Assistant Director of Transportation Harry Mendenhall. He said that FDOT engineers took one last look at the design of the poles and mast arms and rejected them.

The problem came to light Nov. 7, 2007, when the sign and its mast fell onto Gulf Drive during a windstorm. Thankfully, nobody was underneath them at the time, but the county ordered the sign contractor Traffic Control Devices Inc., to take down the other sign near the old bus turnaround in Bradenton Beach, until it could determine why the one sign fell.

The contractor replaced the poles and masts with larger ones and remounted the sign in early 2008, but a windstorm again caused the signs to sway in the wind, so much so that the Holmes Beach Police Department rerouted traffic at 31st.

"We sort of knew that they weren’t safe enough when we had to reroute traffic from going under them," said Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine. "Now that we know, it’s time to get on with it and replace them."

The contractor then installed vanes on the mast arms that were supposed to give ithemstrength, but subsequent windy days still caused the signs to bob up and down.

Mendenhall said while the county won’t use the two signs, the other four that were installed are okay.

"We’ll put the other signs into operation soon," he said. "The highway department is asking the sign contractor to redesign the two big ones."

The county was given the funding from the state to install the six signs to inform people when there is a problem on the Island such as a malfunctioning bridge, a traffic jam or full parking lots at the beaches, but the project has been hampered by design problems that have delayed their use for almost nine months.

Bridging the Gap plans grow

ANNA MARIA – Vowing to "make lemonade out of lemons," members of the Island’s business community are honing their plans to attract people here during the six-week closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge beginning Sept. 29.

A group of volunteers met with Jane E. and Island Sun Advertising Manager Chantelle Lewin at Ginny’s and Jane E’s Monday evening to discuss plans for events that will draw people onto the Island despite the loss of one of the bridges to rehabilitation. The events are all planned around weekends when traffic onto and off of the Island is expected to be lightest. Resorts are being encouraged to offer weekend packages for visitors to come enjoy the festivities and a mini-holiday on the beach.

Lewin said that it appears the three Island cities are going to waive some of the permit fees. Anna Maria’s special events permits cost as much as $500 for an outdoor event with alcohol.

There have been some changes in plans for some of the events. The “Battle of the Bands” is now the “Concert in the Park” scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 4, from noon to 7 p.m. in the park next to Holmes Beach City Hall.

The Bridge Street Merchants have changed their plans for a trolley poker run into a trolley scavenger hunt on Oct. 11. They are looking for sponsors for prizes and advertising on the bags that scavenger hunters will use.

Plans for a “Seven-Mile-Long Yard Sale” have morphed into a flea market in the field next to Holmes Beach City Hall on Oct. 25 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jane E. said she wanted it to be an event where businesses could bring their overflow merchandise and sell it. She is also looking for food vendors.

Sandy Pruett, of the Island Community Center, said they want to hold a pot luck supper and free movie on Friday, Oct. 10 and a live concert by Yesterdays on Nov. 15, three days after the bridge is set to reopen.

There will be another Bridging the Gap meeting at Ginny’s and Jane E’s at 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 11.

Bridging the Gap events list

• Tennis tournament, Kip Lalosh, 778-5446
• Realtor progressive open house, Sandy Rich, 778-0426
• Dog costume contest, The Sun newspaper, 778-3986
• Anna Maria block party, Ed Spring, 778-9399
• Sand castle tournament, Pam Fortenberry, 778-0436
• Skim Board Bash, Ronee Brady, 778-1001
• Artwalk, Nancy Ambrose, 518-4431
• Fishing tournament, Jake Spooner and Dana Snell, 778-3400
• Mini-golf tournament, Jake Spooner and Dana Snell, 778-3400
• Progressive raffle, Sandy Rich, 778-0426
• Trolley scavenger hunt, Linda Haack, 779-2545, ext. 1130, and Caryn Hodge, 778-8705
• Key Royale Golf Tournament, Tom Tollette, 779-1888
• Bicycle tour, Lauren Sato, 352-514-6545
• Motorcycle run, Laura McAdams, 792-6366
• Flea Market, Ginny Dutton, 778-7370
• Concert in the Park, Mark Kimball, 518-6329 and Steve Bark, 720-3200
• Holly Trolly, Sabine Musil, 778-5405
• Pickle Ball, Robert Taylor, 778-6465
•Three-mile Run/Walk, Irene Pearman, 518-9806
• Wing eating contest and karaoke contest, Tom Siwa, 419-341-1035.
• Softball tournament, Jeff Levine, 744-6883.


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