The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 11 No. 44 - August 17, 2011


City to buy lots for $2.8 million
Carol Whitmore

The land the city wants to buy is
shown in the area outlined
in yellow above. Six buildable
lots are contained in
the property, which the city wants
to turn into a community park.


Commissioners last week voted to purchase six lots at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard for $2.8 million with a financing option offered by BB&T Bank.

Prior to discussion, Mayor Mike Selby said he had received a complaint from a resident regarding the rapid pace at which the sale was proceeding. However, Selby pointed out that the commission began discussions on the possible purchase in April.

"At the direction of this commission, we put together a team – a bond counsel, a financial planner, City Attorney Jim Dye, Diane (Finance Director Diane Percycoe) and myself, and we have spent quite a bit of time investigating it," he explained.

Commissioner John Quam asked how to proceed, and Dye said it's a two-part decision – do they want to proceed with the purchase and what financing package do they want to select?

A new deal

"Up to this point, you have been dealing mostly with Blackhawk Bank, which holds the mortgage on the property," Dye continued. "Through the efforts of Jim Gollahon (the financial planner), there's a better financing package out there with BB&T Bank.

"With the BB&T proposal, it really turns the Blackhawk negotiation into a real estate only transaction. BB&T has some intangibles that make it really attractive."

Commissioner Dale Woodland said he still advocates a public/private partnership for the purchase, and asked the board to agree to approve a resolution to that effect in the future. They agreed.

Gollahon said BB&T has agreed that any money that the city raises before the closing could be used to reduce the loan amount.

Quam said the city is pledging revenues from the electric franchise fee, the communications service tax and the half-cent sales tax to make the annual payments and asked, "The city could never default as long as that money is coming in. Is that correct?"

Gollahon said if the revenue drops below the payment amount, the city would go into default, renegotiate the terms or get the money from another source. He said anything over the payment amount could go back into the general fund.

Percycoe said the $225,000 in the budget to replenish the reserve could be used to pay the loan.

BB&T proposal

"BB&T is one of the most active lenders to governments in Florida," Gollahon pointed out. They're right on board with what we want to do. Blackhawk is not up to speed on typical municipal loans in Florida."

Gollahon said the proposal made by BB&T is contingent on closing in 45 days. Mattick made the motion to make the purchase accepting Option 2 as proposed by BB&T.

Option 2 is a 20-year loan with 3.94 percent interest with interest only payments for the first two years. Payments would be $111,896 each of the first two years and $221,071 for the next 18 years. The total debt service would be $4,117,684.

Chair Chuck Webb said the appraisal that the city came in at $2.55 million, and he felt the $2.8 million Blackhawk is asking is too high.

Quam agreed and said they should negotiate further with Blackhawk, but Selby pointed out, "We're at their breaking point."

The vote was three to two with Webb and Quam dissenting.

Scallops a scarcity in annual search
Carol Whitmore

Ronda Ryan demonstrates how to use a
line and poles to do a scientific count of
scallops for the 2011 Sarasota Bay
Watch Scallop Search.


LONGBOAT KEY – More than 125 people on 35 boats found only 10 scallops in Sarasota Bay on Saturday morning during the 2011 Annual Sarasota Bay Watch Scallop Search.

The event, in its fourth year, was not a disappointment to organizers, however, who said that scallop populations – like fish populations – vary, even when water quality is good. Scallops are one of the first species to be affected by pollution carried by runoff. They almost disappeared from the bay in the early 1970s.

During the first search in 2008, 947 scallops were found. In 2009, searchers uncovered 131 scallops, but in 2010, only 15 were found.

More volunteers turned out for the event than there were boats to hold them. Sarasota Bay Watch Chairman John Ryan instructed volunteers about the three types of seagrasses they might find scallops in, and his wife, Ronda Ryan, demonstrated the use of lines and poles in mapping out the areas to be searched.

The water was clear, and searchers found some scallop half shells, indicating previous colonies, and many live starfish about the size of a quarter, in addition to snails, clams, stingrays and other marine life. They also reported mullet jumping in the grassflats.

As volunteers enjoyed a complimentary lunch at Mar Vista Dockside restaurant on Longboat Key after the search, The Sun's Outdoors Editor Rusty Chinnis, a Sarasota Bay Watch founder, announced that with money raised from the Scallopalooza event earlier this month, the organization plans to plant about two million scallop larvae, known as spats, in the bay to repopulate it with the blue-eyed bivalves.

No scallops are taken during the surveys, as recreational and commercial bay scallop harvesting is prohibited south of the Pasco-Hernando county line. Future counts documenting bay scallop population changes could lead to the lifting of the ban.

Organizers are quick to acknowledge that the event, patterned after the Tampa Bay Watch Great Bay Scallop Search, is not completely scientific, but offers a snapshot of scallops in the areas searched, and raises awareness of water quality issues.

The event is funded through a grant from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County from the Robert R. Harlan and Susan H. Lowy Harlan Fund and was sponsored by the Chiles Group and The Sun.

For more information, visit

Crowd shows support for police

BRADENTON BEACH – It was noticed as a meeting to discuss the police department budget. But the word on the street was city officials might consider disbanding the department and replacing the officers with sheriff's deputies.

It was standing room only by the time the work meeting started, and judging by what was attendees said, they would pay more in taxes to keep their law enforcement local.

The full house was probably brought on when Commissioner Janie Robertson said they would consider all possibilities, even disbanding the police department and hiring the Manatee County Sheriff's Office to save money.

Former Mayor Gale Cole was there, as were Realtor Mike Norman, Sports Lounge owner Joe Cuervo and many others.

Although Mayor Bob Bartelt warned that this was a budget review and nothing more, the first speaker was LaCosta Resort manager Don Talley, who said he probably dealt with the police and fire departments more than anyone else.

"I could literally write a book on how to handle the drunks and idiots who come here and think they can do whatever they want," he said. "It has been my experience that those times when I got a sheriff's deputy instead of one of our guys, I got someone with an attitude who would rather not be there.

"If it's a matter of money, then put it to a vote," he said. "I would be willing to pay more to keep what we have. If off-Island owners knew what was going on, they would probably feel the same way."

Former Palmetto Mayor Pat Whitesell, who moved to Bradenton Beach after she left office there, said she had been in the same situation in another city.

"The dollar amount is not what you're going to save," she said. "The police department here is second to none, and they're here when you need them. It's a great police department, and a couple of my Palmetto officers came here and they're still here."

At that point, Mayor Bob Bartelt reminded them that this is a budget review and they would not be addressing disbanding the police force at that time, but Cole had his say and he discussed Police Chief Sam Speciale.

"Years ago, I was with Sam when they almost had a riot at Coquina Beach," he said. "Sam figured out how to get it stopped. I sure feel the city would be worse without him."

Sandpiper Mobile Resort Homeowners Association President Doug LeFevre said the police department is an essential part of the city.

"The officers are like members of the city and should be treated as such," he said.

Former city commissioner John Shaughnessy remarked that people sometimes come here for a vacation and later buy here because the like what they see. He said it amazes him how sometimes those people try to change what they see.

"Keep control of Bradenton Beach in Bradenton Beach," he said. "Don't be penny wise but a pound foolish."

Jake Spooner, owner of Bridge Street Bazaar, said Speciale goes above and beyond serving on the pier team, and he feels the police department has their best interests in mind.

"We get cards overnight saying they patrolled," Spooner said. "They're there immediately when we need them for shoplifters and other problems."

When they finally got to the gist of the meeting, Speciale answered a list of questions Robertson submitted to him about the police budget. One question referred to Robertson seeing people on the beach at sunset with drinks and sometimes dogs, which are illegal on the beach.

"My idea is, if you can come up to somebody and ask them to put it up, that's great," he said, referring to alcohol on the beach. "That's what I tell my officers.

"The city is trying to be friendly," he added. "In Anna Maria, a deputy watched a couple celebrate their 50th anniversary with champagne on the beach. The minute their lips touched their glasses, he gave them a citation with a $75 fine. I don't think you want that kind of a city."

As for the budget review, Robertson asked for more details and finally, Whitesell said the commission was micro managing, which they all denied, but the crowd applauded Whitesell.

Robertson questioned one officer taking 16 days off for a vacation. Police Lt. John Cosby reminded her that 16 days off is a two-week vacation including weekends.

The meeting ended with a motion to approve the police department budget with changes they made at an earlier meeting.

Grassy Point to get grant money

BRADENTON –Holmes Beach's Grassy Point Preserve will receive thousands of dollars in grant funds from several agencies, two members of the Palma Sola Scenic Highway group announced last week.

The 35 acres of environmentally sensitive wetland is located along the east side of Gulf Drive across from Publix and the Anna Maria Island Center. It includes red and black mangroves, tidal flats, oyster bars, a tidal estuarine creek and seagrass beds.

The city has delineated a nature trail around the upland portion of the preserve using the tree trunks left from the removal of exotics. Plans include a boardwalk, an observation tower midway and an observation deck at the end.

Another boardwalk, which will connect with the nature trail, is planned over the wetland portion of the project along East Bay Drive.

The project is slated to receive $30,000 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District as well as funding from FDOT, said Mark Alderson, director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Project (SBEP).

"The MPO (Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Agency) has prioritized our boardwalk possibly all the way to the bay with a lookout tower," Holmes Beach Public Works Supervisor Joe Duennes added. "If that happens, we'll be largely home."

Duennes said a $3,000 SBEP grant would be used to landscape the picnic areas, and the city has shelled the parking lot and installed a fence.

Chair Molly McCartney asked when it would open to the public, and Duennes said it would be at least a year.

Horses on the Causeway

The group also discussed the issue of allowing horses on the Causeway, but did not take any action. For the past three years, a company has been renting horses there for riding and horse surfing.

Members of the Bradenton City Council have said they plan to ban the horses after hearing complaints from nearby residents. However, some county officials support the horse enterprise because it attracts tourists.

Member Jane von Hahmann brought up the subject asking, "Has this board talked about commenting on it? We supported it in the original plan (corridor management plan) because it was an intrinsic part of what was the Causeway.

"Part of the issue is that before it was simply recreational, and a few people from out east once in a great while would come and ride. Now someone discovered that it could be a business opportunity and that use has increased."

Member Ricardo Ramos, of the city of Bradenton, said he has received no negative reports regarding the increased usage.

Ingrid McClellan, executive director of Keep Manatee Beautiful, said while the original intent was recreational, it has now become a business, but because it is FDOT right of way, the owner could not get a license for the business.

Von Hahmann made a motion to support horse riding on the Causeway as a recreational activity but not as a business. It died for lack of a second.

Alderson said he felt that it is a city of Bradenton and FDOT issue, and it is up to the city council to make the decision.

Other business

McClellan reported that grant plantings at Kingfish Boat Ramp have been completed with the addition of native grasses as a buffer in the parking lot.

She said wildflowers planted in the preserve area were not successful and will not be replanted. Instead, native plants will be installed around the welcome sign.

Duennes reported that the forestry grant at the boat ramp has been completed, and the lights should be installed any day.

McCartney said the FDOT has sent back the group's application to extend the scenic highway with the comment, "Overall, the extension application document needs improvement in making the case for the extension and why it merits designation."

Earlier in the year, the group sent a letter to the Florida Scenic Highway program coordinator asking to have the scenic highway extended into Holmes Beach. Currently the highway begins at 75th Street West in Bradenton and ends at East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach.

The extension would include Manatee Avenue from East Bay Drive to the Manatee County Public Beach, East Bay and Gulf drives from Manatee Avenue to the city limits of Bradenton Beach and Old Gulf Drive from Manatee Avenue to East Bay Drive.

Trolleys delayed

The trolleys are in and will be on the streets soon, but not as soon as previously predicted.

According to Bradenton Beach businessman David Teitelbaum, who is spearheading the trolley advertising campaign with the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, the first two trolleys are at the Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) shop where the interior and exterior ads are being applied. Radios are being installed this week, also.

Teitelbaum said the transit operations staff predicts the first trolley will be on the streets of Anna Maria Island on Monday, Aug. 22.

Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker ordered five new, more reliable trolleys last year to replace the ones already in service when advertisers complained that the old vehicles were in the shop too much, forcing MCAT to replace them with buses. The rigors of servicing the Island 365 days a year through saltwater filled air and on sandy streets took its toll with the second-generation trolleys. The first set of trolleys came with noisy engines, which MCAT mechanics fixed with longer exhaust systems. They also proved to be unreliable.

The new trolleys will continue the two-tone teal color scheme and revenue from the ads will allow MCAT to continue running the system without charging rider fees. The Island service was a hit since it started in 2002.

Water testing could be shut off

Funds may be drying up for water testing at three sites on Anna Maria Island and the Palma Sola Causeway.

Manatee Public Beach, Bayfront Park and Palma Sola Bay are listed among 58 locations statewide where testing may be reduced due to budget cuts, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The Manatee County Health Department currently tests water at two sites at each of the three locations; the plan would reduce the testing to one site at each location.

If the testing is cut back, swimmers may be at risk for illness spread by fecal coliform and enterococcus bacteria, according to Glenn Compton, of conservation group ManaSota-88.

When bacteria counts are high due to sewage spills, stormwater runoff or pet or wildlife waste, the county closes swimming areas.

Health concerns about Palma Sola Bay have led the Bradenton City Council to consider banning horses in the bay and along the Palma Sola Causeway beach after beachgoers complained about horse manure on the beach and in the water.

Water tests last month at the northeast corner of Palma Sola Bay, near where Great World Adventures rents horses, showed only trace amounts of fecal coliform bacteria, according to Bradenton Public Works Director Claude Tankersley.

All 10 water testing sites in Manatee County showed good water quality last week, the highest rating possible.

Budget revised based on 2.05 millage rate

ANNA MARIA – Finance Director Diane Percycoe presented a revised budget based on the 2.05 millage approved at the last commission meeting in July. The revised millage rate would generate $90,118 more in revenue than the current one.

Commissioner Dale Woodland said expenses included a 4.5 percent increase for employees and noted, "The economy isn't that great, and it's hard to justify."

Chair Chuck Webb pointed out that the cost of living increase is 6 percent, and Percycoe said employees are now paying 3 percent of their retirement and have more responsibilities.

"It's a wash and I'm in favor of leaving it as is," Commissioner John Quam said, and Webb and Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick agreed.

Woodland then said the cost of retirement and insurance for employees is "extremely excessive. We cannot keep doing this to our community. I think it's not rational at all for this city to continue in that light.

"I think we need to take a serious look at making some serious changes in the future where there's more employee participation in their retirement and health care. If you're paying what most people in the private sector pay, it's totally out of whack."

Mayor Mike Selby said the employees "make our city work. They make a fair amount of money, but I wonder what they could have made in the private sector."

Percycoe said other cities offer their employees more benefits and noted, "We don't get overtime; we get comp time, and we lose it at the end of the year because we are too busy.

"I have never been caught up with my work, and I know the others haven't either. We have given all and more to this city. I believe we've done a good job keeping this city where it is."

Webb said Woodland's concerns could be addressed following the budget review. The next budget work session was set for Thursday, Aug. 18, at 6 p.m.

Summer tourism strong, bucks economic doldrums

During these dog days of summer, Anna Maria Island tourism businesses often take an unwanted breather until the next influx of visitors arrives; some even close for a month or more.

But this year, tourism has not slowed to the usual summer crawl, according to Walter Klages, a consultant for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

"August has not really rolled back, and that is surprising," Klages told the Manatee County Tourist Development Council on Monday. "It's been a very good summer season."

Florida's entire Gulf coast – although not the east coast – is experiencing this peculiarity, he said, attributing some of the local rise to Manatee County visitors staying on the Island for a few days' vacation and Sarasota County residents using the Island as an inexpensive couples' getaway.

Corporate retreats have boosted business in Bradenton, said TDC member Tom Jung, of the Courtyard by Marriott in Bradenton.

September and October promise to remain strong, Klages said, followed by a traditional drop in November and a traditional pickup in December, with indications for winter "positive" despite what he called "very significant economic and political clouds on the national scene."

In the first six months of this year, accommodations' occupancy rates were up 4.5 percent from last year, with 58.7 percent of the county's accommodations full in May, 61.5 percent in June and 69.2 percent in July, he said, adding that the average daily hotel rates were 3.6 percent higher than last year.

From January to July, tourism had a $394 million economic impact on the county, with nearly $250 million in direct expenditures, he said.

Klages also said he supports the idea, announced at the meeting, that the one-man sports marketing division of the CVB soon will be expanded into a not-for-profit organization.

Sports marketer Joe Pickett said that the new organization will be able to hire more people, while the county's budget cannot support new personnel. The division attracted 112 sporting events to the county this year and expects at least 135 events next year, he said.

Sports is no longer a niche market, Klages said, especially with the new Benderson rowing facility near the Manatee/Sarasota county line.

In other business, the council learned that the CVB has launched a redesigned website,, featuring contests, content specifically aimed at German visitors and several microsites devoted to dining, recreation and other areas of interest to visitors.

Council Chair Carol Whitmore suggested that the CVB marketing team remove references on the website to horseback riding on the Palma Sola Causeway and in Palma Sola Bay, because the city of Bradenton, which has jurisdiction over the Causeway, is considering prohibiting horses there. Previous complaints about the website have included references to "dog-friendly" Anna Maria Island, where dogs are prohibited on the beach.

The council also unanimously approved recommending that the Manatee County Commission spend $200,000 over two years from the tourism budget to match an identical amount from the Sarasota County Convention and Visitors Bureau to attract a new airline to Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport from Houston, Dallas or Denver.

A similar 2005 grant partnership resulted in landing AirTran at SRQ, airport spokesman Rick Piccolo said.

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