The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 1 - October 19, 2011


Bayfest perfection
Carol Whitmore

Young and old enjoyed the shopping, the music, the food
and refreshments in the "heat" of the day, which wasn't
normal Florida heat thanks to a cool front and
overcast skies. Chamber President Mary Ann Brockman
said she expects to see some records broken when
they count the income and expenses later this week.

ANNA MARIA – The weather could not have been better Friday and Saturday as the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce hosted the 11th Annual Bayfest.

By the time Friday evening rolled around the sky was clear, but the sunlight was no match for the falling temperatures. The field in front of the main stage w as full of people listening to the music, children playing and couples dancing.

According to Chamber Executive Assistant Deb Wing, records were set for beer sales and money raised through sponsorships. Sales were so brisk that many of the food outlets ran short on Saturday afternoon. Wing said the children's area was a huge success, as well, with inflatable rides, climbing wall, games and other activities.

The success spilled over to the first-ever pie contest, run by Sign of the Mermaid owner and national pie-baking champion Andrea Spring. Judges had to rate 34 pies in four categories and the winners were: 2011 Anna Maria Pie, Doreen Russell, of Rotten Ralph's, for amateur and Julie Quinlivan, of Rudy's Subs, for professional; Holiday Bling, Sally Owen for amateur and Julie Quinlivan for professional; Krazy Mixed Up Key Lime, Clare Talbert, first place amateur, and Mickey Hooke, second place amateur, plus Ryan McNesky professional; and Chocoholic, Joann Manali and Matt LaBelle took first place amateur, Gil Parker was second place amateur and Sally Woodward won first place professional. Mia Styczny was first place culinary student.

There was music both days. KoKo Ray and the Soul Providers got things off to a great start with their blend of pop, rock and blues. Mike Sales played between KoKo Ray and the Dr. Dave Band, which energized the crowd bringing more people out to dance.

The next day's line up included Gulf Drive Band, Not Tuna, Emily Roff, the Island Rockers, SoulRcoaster, the Hammer-Adams Band making their last appearance and the Billy Rice Band.

There were more arts and crafts for sale and the not-for-profit vendors passed out information and took donations.

The car show was better than ever, with 112 entries, according to organizer Bill Mergens. There were antiques, classic cars and trucks, a couple of gorgeous surf woodies and some custom cars that combined the best of backyard restoration and engineering. The winning car was the red surf woodie, which came complete with two boards on the rooftop rack. The car is owned by Johnny Angel, Mergens said.

Chamber President Mary Ann Brockman had no figures as to the money raised, but she said indications were it was a successful event.

"We will definitely be able to give away our three scholarships this year," she said.

She also had kind words for the volunteers from CrossPoint Fellowship and their organizer, Pastor Ed Moss.

"My people had to leave at 10 o'clock, and he brought in his people who filled in at our booth," she said. "He had them ready to help out, and that's what they did."

A cool breeze with overcast skies brought out the crowds earlier than usual Saturday. It was a perfect day for a party outside, and the season's first festival was just that.

Fire merger goes down in flames

BRADENTON – A week after the first joint meeting of the Cedar Hammock and West Manatee fire commissions to discuss consolidation, Cedar Hammock's commissioners voted down the idea.

"They voted 4-1 to drop the talks," Cedar Hammock's Commission Chair Steve Litschauer confirmed Monday.

Litschauer was the lone commissioner who wanted to continue the consolidation study with West Manatee, and the one who introduced the idea.

Cedar Hammock Fire Commissioner Dan Brunner said he's been on the board for 10 or 11 years and this is the third time they've gone through the process. There was a successful merger with Whitfield and an unsuccessful attempt with Southern Manatee.

"The taxing is different and I didn't see any way the numbers would work out," Brunner explained of his decision to vote against pursuing the merger.

"Two-thirds of our district would pay more, and I saw no increase in service in either district. With the way our economy is, I can't see raising anybody's taxes at this time."

Both Brunner and Cedar Hammock Fire Commissioner Tom Flynn referenced the fact that West Manatee voters turned down proposals for the district to collect ad valorem taxes on three occasions.

West Manatee is funded by assessment with a base rate and a square footage rate, while Cedar Hammock is funded by a combination of assessment and ad valorem.

"The dynamics between the two district are very different," Flynn pointed out. "Even the blended proposal (of the two districts' taxing methods) looked as though it would be a significant increase for about 70 percent of single-family owners in our district.

"As commissioners, we're under an obligation to protect the best interests of the people in the district. We provide fabulous service to our people, and we are fiscally sound. I did not see West Manatee on a par with us. It has the financial concerns, and that diminishes us to a degree."

Larry Tyler, chair of the West Manatee Fire Commission, said he plans to listen to a tape of the Cedar Hammock meeting before he comments on the vote, but he noted, "I'm surprised they turned it down so soon."

"I have nothing to say," West Manatee Fire Chief Andy Price said. "They proposed it and brought it to us, and we were willing to look at it, then they decided not to look at it further."

Price agreed that the most difficult part of a merger would have been combining the taxing methods. In the joint meeting on Oct. 6, he said a committee combined the budgets of the two districts to see what revenue would be needed and developed two potential taxing methods.

It then determined what the taxes would be in each district plus what they would be using a blended method and a modified method. The results were mixed, with some owners paying more and some paying less than they currently pay.

At the end of that presentation, the two boards gave themselves 90 days to decide whether to pursue the issue. West Manatee fire commissioners had planned to discuss the issue at their Oct. 20 meeting.

"I didn't want to give anybody false hope," Flynn concluded. "Why drag it out?"

County embarks on no-kill campaign

Manatee County took a bold step last week to become one of the first, if not the first, county in Florida to adopt a no-kill policy for pets brought into shelters.

The Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday, Oct. 11, to accept a 15-page plan from animal services with a goal of 90 percent live release rate. The current live release rate is 61 percent and the plan calls for increasing it two percent each month starting this month.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore was the driving force behind this effort, and she says reaction has been phenomenal.

"Sarasota's shelter called and asked how we did it, somebody sent me flowers and I immediately got 10 e-mails of congratulations," she said.

Backers have scheduled an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 19, from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. at the Bradenton Central Library to learn how the plan works. They will be looking for foster homes to hold dogs and cats that don't get adopted immediately. For more information, call Shona Otto at 941-713-6531 or Sheri Clinard at 536-5795.

In addition, Chiles Group Marketing Director Caryn Hodge has been lining up professional photographers to take pictures at the pound.

"She said the adoption rate is much higher if they have a good picture of the animal," Whitmore said. "She said she had lined up several photographers to donate their time and she's collecting items to use in the pictures.

Before voting on the resolution, the county commission heard from the public. Residents of a mainland trailer park, Tropic Isle, objected to the plan to trap feral cats, spay or neuter them and release them back into the wild since they would not make good pets. Two speakers said they had enough feral cats in the park and did not want to see them come back after being captured.

Ruth Eucher, of Anna Maria, praised the plan.

"I don't know what I would do without my dog," she said. "I meet people walking their dogs like I do, and so many of them tell me their dog is a shelter dog."

Jean Peelen, a candidate for Holmes Beach Commission and a member of the county animal services advisory committee, said she was shocked at the county's high rate of euthanasia.

"I think we're taking an incredibly bold step," she added.

After most of the county commissioners spoke about their support for the program, they took a vote, and it was unanimously in favor of the resolution.

Resort tax collections up

The redesigned Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce website launched on July 12, Chamber board member Larry Chatt reported to the Manatee County Tourism Development Council on Monday.

When a potential visitor looks up Anna Maria Island online, the Chamber's website most often comes up on top, he said, adding, "We want to provide a great first impression."

The new site offers banners for a fee that randomly pop up with photos, videos, contact information and special offers and will showcase events, he said.

Visitor time on the website decreased since the redesign, but Chatt said it may be that people are finding what they need faster.

The council also learned that Manatee County resort tax collections have risen 39 percent in the past five years, according to statistics from the Manatee County Tax Collector's Office.

The tourist, or bed tax, generated $5 million for the county in fiscal year 2006/07, compared to $6.9 million in fiscal year 2010-11, which ended this month.

August resort tax collections were up from last year for the third month in a row in all three cities on Anna Maria Island, but were down from July, according to the Tax Collector's Office.

In July, 52,300 people visited Manatee County, 8.7 percent more than in July 2010, according Research Data Services, the county tourism agency's consultant. In August, 34,200 people visited, up 11 percent from last year.

Occupancy rates were 69.2 percent in July, up from 64.1 percent last year, while room rates increased to an average of $133 a night, up from $130 last July. In August, occupancy rates were 51.9 percent, up from 47.8 percent last year. August room rates averaged $120 a night, up from $118 last August.

The total direct economic impact of tourists in July was $31 million, with another $18 million in indirect impact. In August, direct expenditures were $13 million, with another $7.5 million in indirect expenditures.

For both months, the average visit was a week long, with three people in each party. More than half were families traveling with children, with the next largest group being couples. The average age was 46.5 with a median annual income of close to $100,000.

More than half came in their own cars, with the next largest group flying into Tampa International Airport.

About two thirds were on vacation with about a third here for a getaway and the rest visiting family or friends or for a wedding. More than a third were here for the first time, and more than 95 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with their trip, with about two-thirds planning to return next year.

On average, they spent nearly $100 per person each day in July and $60 per person per day in August.

As always, the beaches topped the list of attractions, followed by a clean environment, good value, good restaurants and laid back accommodations.

The tax is collected from owners of hotels, motels, single family homes, trailers and condominiums rented for less than six months, in addition to the 6.5 percent state sales tax. The tax funds the $3.9 million budget of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), which attracts tourists to the county.

Tax Collector Ken Burton Jr. attributes an unspecified part of the double-digit increase to better enforcement and improved collections efforts by his office. The tax also increased from 4 to 5 percent in 2009.

In other business:

• The TDC learned that the Island trolley will feature free advertising for events organized by non-profit groups.

• The CVB has launched a new campaign, "Family Traditions Start Here," with the tagline, "Give the Gift of Travel" for holiday gifts.

Parks committee busy

HOLMES BEACH - The city's parks and beautification committee is continuing to look for grants to fund a boardwalk and observation tower at Grassy Point Preserve, Chair Jerry West told the committee last week.

About $18,000 in Sarasota Bay Estuary Program funds has been spent on removing invasive species such as Brazilian pepper and planting native plants, he said.

The preserve, which is not yet open to the public, has mangrove tunnels on the bay side in the Intracoastal Waterway and is home to roseate spoonbills, pelicans and white ibis.

In other business:

• Committee members elected Jerry West chair of the committee and liaison to Keep Manatee Beautiful.

• Committee members recommended adopting Dade County's ordinance on pruning sabal palms, also known as cabbage palms, the Florida state tree, saying they should not be hurricane pruned with only two or three fronds left on the tree because such pruning has been shown to damage the tree and make it less likely to survive a hurricane. In addition, berries should not be pruned, as they are food for birds and squirrels.

• Vice Chair Melissa Snyder recommended that landscaping at the intersection of Manatee Avenue and East Bay Drive that was damaged when Florida Power and Light upgraded the wiring on its electrical poles last month be replaced.

• Members expressed concerns about the new landscaping at Kingfish County Park, including observations that trees were planted too far apart and not enough shrubs and flowers were planted. The trees need the room for canopies expected to mature in 10 to 20 years, and the shrubs did not survive, West said, adding that Keep Manatee Beautiful was in charge of planting flowers.

• The committee will check on who owns dead plants at Wachovia Bank to determine whether the city should replace them.

• A committee member criticized small live oaks planted at a bench on 77th Street to replace Australian pines that were cut down, saying they will not provide shade "in our lifetime," and recommended that a plant be positioned to provide shade on the bench.

• The committee postponed action on installing plants on 63rd Street.

• The committee discussed adopting a goal of increasing the city's tree canopy coverage.

City responds to rental problems

The city of Holmes Beach is addressing citizen concerns about trash and parking violations at rental properties, according to Mayor Rich Bohnenberger.

The city's code enforcement department is working weekends and off-hours issuing citations for trash violations, and Commissioner Pat Morton has met with property management companies and Waste Management to seek solutions for trash overflow, according to the mayor.

The code enforcement and building departments are conducting inspections of rental properties and finding many that are not in compliance with city ordinances and state law, according to Bohnenberger. Notices of violation are being sent to non-compliant property owners and property management companies informing them that their city rental business tax receipts have been suspended.

The Holmes Beach City Commission also plans to consider a change to the city code requiring all new residential construction to include one parking space for each bedroom on site, according to Bohnenberger.

Publishers express concerns on news rack ordinance

BRADENTON BEACH – Mayor Bob Bartelt hosted a meeting between city staff and newspaper representatives last week to hear their concerns about a proposed news rack ordinance. After they aired their concerns, they agreed to meet later to finalize their recommendations and work out a plan to make the ordinance work.

April Hemby, of the St. Petersburg Times, volunteered to run the program in terms of getting multiple newspaper racks, renting them and servicing them. She said her office has been involved in setting up and renting racks since 2000. She started the meeting by suggesting some changes to a draft of the ordinance, which calls for multiple outlet news racks to replace individual racks.

She had an issue with the part of the ordinance that banned cardholders in the front of the racks.

"That cardholder is for important specific news stories or to promote what's in the paper," she said. "Those are important to newspapers."

She also pointed out that a portion of the ordinance calls for metal boxes, not plastic ones. News organizations have problems with metal boxes rusting, but they don't make multiple outlet boxes in plastic.

Hemby noted the draft ordinance called for the publishers to get permits from the city.

"That's a lot of work for you," she said to the city officials. "St. Pete and Tampa both dropped them. If you ordinance spells out what kind of rack to use, code enforcement can work with it."

Hemby was told that the city would be willing to pour the concrete pads on which the racks would sit. She said her office could also provide that service, at a cost to the participating newspapers. She said they work on two-foot increments for each modular rack outlet and that her office would supply the liability insurance. She said each free publication would pay between $220 and $250 per installation, depending on location. Newspapers that charge money to purchase them would pay around $500. These are one-time charges for setup and installation and they would also be responsible for repairs and maintenance costs.

Code Enforcement Officer Gail Garneau said that Hemby had offered to share information on local publications with her, and she explained the permit.

"It would be a conditional use permit," she said. "Staff can handle most of the requests instead of bringing them to the city commission."

There was some doubt about whether the city could pour concrete pads on the west side of Gulf Drive because it is a high hazard area. Building Official Steve Gilbert said he talked with Steve West, of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who said he would issue field permits for the pads.

Commissioner Gay Brueler said maybe the city should consider the racks only on the east side of Gulf Drive, but Eric Ross, of USA Today, said that their three best locations were west of Gulf Drive, and he likes being located away from the competition. "On Bridge Street, when we went modular, we lost about 40 percent of our business," he said. "We wouldn't oppose going modular on the west side, however."

Gilbert suggested the publishers meet and pick out the five top priority locations. When Sun publisher Mike Field asked about a timeline on this project, Gilbert had an answer.

"We've only been working on this for 11 years," he said. "We'd like to get started soon."

Rare red knots visiting AMI

AMITW ropes off a resting area for rare red knot
shorebirds that are currently in the area. Here,
AMITW Director Suzi Fox and Volunteer Glenn Wiseman
discuss how far to the north they think the
area should extend.

Small flocks of red knots have been appearing on the Island in recent days. The birds, which are members of the peep family, are small, plump birds with short legs.

The red knots are named for the orange-red coloration that they display on their breast and belly during mating season.

Red knots are rare. They nest in the Arctic and spend the winter in South America and sometimes in Florida.

"We've seen red knot flocks on the Island in past years," said Anna Maria Island and Shorebird Protection Director Suzi Fox. "So we're happy to be part of this study."

In order to make the trip to the Arctic to breed, the birds need lots of energy, so in a joint project between Audubon of Florida and research scientists at Eckerd College, a study is being conducted on AMI.

"We are trying to see if creating a safe zone where shorebirds can rest will help them successfully migrate and breed," reads the sign on a stake marking the protected area.

Audubon and Eckerd College are running the project locally. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is providing funding for the study.

The first phase of the study was conducted during two weeks in the spring of this year.

The ultimate goal is to provide an area as free from disturbances as possible where the red knots and other shorebirds can roost and forage.

AMITW volunteers roped off the sanctuary on Sunday. It extends from Cypress Street to Sea Grape to the north.

That's an area where there are deep dunes. Native plants are abundant, so the choice of that area is a natural for the protection area.

This will be the second and final week of Phase II of the study.

"One thing we really love doing is participating in the scientific studies that are always going on," Fox said.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper