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Vol. 14 No. 44 - August 27, 2014

headlines

Summer season sizzles
Carol Whitmore

MIKE FIELD | SUN

Visitors Rebecca Orsi and Ella Sacarello, of Miami,
take a selfie at sunset in Anna Maria.

HOLMES BEACH – Tourism numbers are climbing to record highs along with the summer temperatures, according to Manatee County’s tourism officials.

About 150,000 people visited Manatee County during the second quarter of this year, from April through June, boosting visitation 5.9 percent compared to the same period in 2013, according to Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) consultant Walter Klages, who congratulated the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) for its hard work.

“Last year, we had 570,300 ‘heads in beds,’” he said at last week’s board meeting, explaining that the expression refers only to tourists, not snowbirds, who create less of an economic boost, according to Klages. “This year, just through June, we are at 480,000. The growth is very significant.”

Tourism’s economic impact increased 13.7 percent from $55.3 million in June 2013 to $62.8 million in June 2014, Klages said, calling it a record high.

Occupancy rates averaged 73.4 percent, up 6.1 percent, and room rates averaged $156 a night, up 7.3 percent, while direct expenditures were up 13.6 percent, topping the $100 million mark for the quarter, he said.

“We’re having a great year,” TDC member and hotelier Dale Sconyers agreed. “The summer is really strong.”

TDC member Vernon DeSear said he was gratified with the results of tourism marketing efforts, saying, “It’s a great time to live in this area.”

Tourism “improves on an almost daily basis the quality of life that we have,” said Klages, of Tampa-based Research Data Services, addressing persistent criticism that soaring tourism is producing bad effects with the good.

“If you have a little traffic to the island, listen, if you go to Spain it is not uncommon to sit in your car for two and a half hours to get to a dirty beach, an overcrowded beach and be served really bad food at really rotten restaurants,” he said.

“Every one of you benefits from a reduced tax burden” because visitors pay a resort tax, he said. “This is what the industry brings.”

Manatee County’s 5 percent resort tax is collected from owners of accommodations rented for six months or less. The majority of the tax is allocated to the CVB’s tourism marketing efforts with 20 percent allocated to beach renourishment.

International market

Local tourism operators should begin focusing on international tourists, giving discounts in preference to domestic tourists, who don’t stay as long or spend as much, Klages said.

“Our destination is not for the low- or middle-income traveler. Our customer is an upscale, high-income, sophisticated and demanding type of client,” he said. “Our destination is a metropolitan place. When you come to Manatee County, you’re not just stuck somewhere in the sticks, you’re in the middle of an international metropolitan facility.”

“It’s a struggle to get the industry to work with the European trade because domestic tourism is good,” CVB Director Elliott Falcione said. “The industry says, ‘I don’t need to give a discount to get the European business,’ but they will stay a lot longer, it’s less wear on your accommodations and they are more inclined to buy real estate here and you diversify your business.”

“Your job,” Klages told the TDC, “is to make sure that the trickle-down flow is growing and remains competitive. In a market economy, “it is he who provides the best product at the best price under the best conditions who succeeds.”

Klages predicted a strong summer and a positive winter tourism forecast, calling the traditionally quiet months of September and October “a challenge.”

In other business:

• Falcione announced plans to travel in September or October with County Administrator Ed Hunzeker to visit Anna Maria Island mayors about tourism-related traffic problems on the Island and seek partnerships.

“We believe in collaboration that maintains the quality of life for residents out here and that’s easier said than done,” he said, adding that the best way to do that is “get the three cities joining hands.”

With the Island’s municipalities united, “it would be so much easier to accomplish the wonderful things we need to see done,” TDC Chair Vanessa Baugh said. “I would like to press that forward for the three cities to work together more.”

• The TDC heard a request from Wendy Webb, of the Anna Maria Island Community Center, to provide “seed money” from resort tax funds for a Jan. 11, 2016 5K running event on an obstacle course on Coquina Beach. The idea is expected to be discussed at the October TDC meeting.

• Wendell Graham, of the Artists’ Guild of Anna Maria Island, requested that tourism promotions mention the arts.

• CVB Marketing Director Debbie Meihls announced that new, two-year visitor guides will be produced soon by Time Inc. with a coffee table look, and two different covers, one for each year.

Pier rent abatement sought
Carol Whitmore

Pier proprieters Roland Pena, left, and Jeffery
“Rusty” Roberts hold onto fishing poles near the
closed portion of the Bridge Street Pier.

MAGGIE FIELD | SUN

BRADENTON BEACH – The proprietors of the pier-based Cast-n-Cage restaurant, Rusty Anchor bait shop and Pelican Perch concession stand claim reconstruction of the Historic Bridge Street Pier is impacting business, and are now seeking relief from the city.

During the Thursday, August 21 commission meeting, business owner Roland Pena requested rent abatements and rent refunds that amount to more than $30,000.

The abatement and refund requests come at a time when the city is facing a $400,000 budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year.

According to their lease with the city, Pena and his wife, Tammy Kemper-Pena, pay the city $6,800 a month in exchange for the use of three city-owned entities. They pay $5,500 a month for the restaurant space, $750 for the concession stand and $550 for the bait shop.

When addressing commissioners, Pena requested the immediate suspension of the bait shop rent, covering a period from August 11 to the estimated reconstruction completion in January.

Pena said he has temporarily closed the bait shop because there has been little demand for bait sales or pole rentals since the fishing pier was closed on August 11 and demolition work began. If granted, the bait shop abatement would save Pena $2,750.

Pena also requested 50 percent rent abatement for the restaurant and concession stand during the same time period. If approved, this would equate to an additional monthly reduction of $3,125, and amount to more than $15,000 in savings over five months.

In addition, Pena requested a retroactive 35 percent rebate on the total monthly rent paid from February to July. If approved, the rebate would come to nearly $12,000.

Pena told commissioners the rebate request is based on lost revenues he attributes to delays encountered by the city in regard to the design and installation of new pier signs.

Pena is responsible for the purchase and installation of the Cast-n-Cage sign to be placed above the restaurant’s main entrance, but his sign has to match material and design standards applicable to the city’s new pier signs.

Public Works Director Tom Woodard presented revised pier and restaurant sign designs for commission approval later in that same meeting and placed an order for the city signs the following morning. As of Friday afternoon, Pena had not ordered his sign.

Pena told commissioners delays in promoting the restaurant at the city website also contributed to his rebate request.

The restaurant opened in February.

Cutting bait

Commissioner Ed Straight proposed the immediate approval of the bait shop abatement request.

“Obviously you’re not going to be able to sell any bait if people can’t fish out there,” he said.

Commissioner Janie Robertson agreed, but asked that the matter be discussed in depth at a commission work session before any decisions were made.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh then commented on bait shop operations overseen by family member Jeffery “Rusty” Roberts.

“I’ve talked to the fishermen and they’ve said a lot of times Rusty wasn’t there and they couldn’t get any bait. They’ve complained to me that you weren’t open. I didn’t just hear this from one person, I’ve heard it from many,” Vosburgh said.

She also noted that the couple was aware of the challenges before them when entered into their lease with the city in November.

“They knew when they rented that place that the pier was going up.” Vosburgh said.

The commission supported Robertson’s suggestion and agreed to address the abatement and rebate requests during a work session to be held on Thursday, August 28, at 1 p.m., with final commission action expected at the Thursday, Sept. 4 commission meeting.

Residents weigh in on parking plan

HOLMES BEACH – Residents last week gave their input and on the Island Congestion Committee’s proposal to eliminate street and right of way parking in residential areas.

“We’re limiting ourselves and our ability to park as we move from one street to another to visit friends or have parties,” Peg Cummings pointed out, “How will that work?”

Chair Carol Soustek said vehicles would be OK if they have resident parking permits.

Cummings asked if the permits could be transferable like hang tags for evacuation, and said, “We want to make it very comfortable for ourselves, the residents.”

Soustek said that has not been decided, but members are considering allowing residents to apply for as many permits as there are registered vehicles at that address.

“If you have more guests than you can accommodate off the street, you can put your car on the street and they can park in your spot,” she added.

Committee members also have said people could let the police know when they are having a party with numerous guests who would be parking on the street.

“For homeowners to have to request a parking pass or make special parking arrangements with police is problematic,” Bill Shuman pointed out.

“What about impromptu gatherings? I suggest if a guest gets ticketed, they could take the ticket to the police department and get it voided.”

Guest permits

Shuman asked if there would be permits for guests, and Soustek said that is being considered.

Shuman asked, “Are we pushing people to drive around looking for parking spaces and adding to the congestion?”

Members disagreed and Jayne Christenson said, “We’re not adding new cars; we’re designating where they can park.”

Cummings said people coming to the beach need restrooms, and Christenson said they are trying to provide more parking where the facilities are located.

“I live on a canal; can I be exempt?” Cummings asked.

Members said that would exclude some party houses and that if they eliminate parking in some residential areas, people would park in the residential areas that are not included. Christenson also said while they have suggested all residential areas, it is up to the city commission to decide.

“You can’t take the enjoyment of these people and put it on the backs of residents,” Soustek said.

“We want our visitors, but we want to be safe on our streets,” Christenson added.

“This is frustrating, but people have to realize times have changed, and you have to figure out a way to make it the best you can,” member Pam Leckie concluded.

In other business, committee members:

• Heard a suggestion from resident Edward Goff to make some streets one way with diagonal parking, but members said they want to concentrate on their original suggestion;

• Plan to ask city commissioners to update the interlocal agreement with Manatee County regarding beach renourishment parking and if they can install parking signs at newly identified parking spots;

• Ask for residents’ input on parking permits;

• Would continue to gather signatures on petitions supporting their proposal to ban parking on residential streets asked members to and right of ways.

Fire district presents $5.9 million budget

BRADENTON – West Manatee fire commissioners held the first reading of the $5.9 million 2014-15 budget last week.

“This year was the eighth year in which the district’s income was limited to the five-year personal income growth (PIG) factor,” Price said in his budget message to the board. “This has only allowed us to maintain the staffing and service levels in place since the 2002-03 budget.”

The fire district charges an assessment rate based on the type of parcel and the number of square feet. It can only raise the rate as much as the PIG rate, which is an average of 2.13 percent over the past five years.

Price said the budget includes a 1.5 percent cost of living increase plus some minor salary adjustments. The position of deputy fire marshal will be replaced with a new position of fire marshal that includes a new job description and salary step plan. The fire marshal will head the Fire Prevention Bureau.

The district has been told to expect a significant increase in health insurance rates, and worker’s compensation rates also are increasing. Interest income has been reduced by 35 percent due to the economic conditions, Price said.

Budget figures

Budget figures for 2014-15 are as follows with 2013-14 in parentheses:

Operating budget income – taxes and fees, $5,779,814 ($5,529,297); interest, $8,750 ($13,750) and reimbursement, $107,680 ($108,640).

Operating budget expenses – wages and benefits, $4,957,501 ($4,829,586.50) maintenance, $191,000 ($160,500) insurance,$65,000 ($60,000) training, $39,500 ($39,000) office expenses, $11,500 ($10,500) supplies, $26,000 ($22,500) utilities, $129,000 ($129,000) fire prevention, $13,750 ($13,750) special services, $431,729 ($355,954) miscellaneous, $31,263 ($30,896.91).

The total operating budget is $5,896,244 ($5,651,687.89).

Fire commissioners plan to vote on the budget at their next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 18, at 6 p.m.

In other business

• The fire district plans to continue negotiations with Palma Sola Presbyterian Church to purchase the property next door to the administration building to replace Station 4. If the station were built on the current site of Station 4, the building would have to be two-story because the property is narrow.

• The district received a matching grant from the West Coast Inland Navigation District to replace its fire boat.

• The district continues to pursue its beach safety program in conjunction with Manatee County.

• Fire Inspector Rodney Kwiatkowski, Battalion Chief Chris Kiernan and Captain Ryan Moore will be attending the National Fire Academy in Maryland.

Bowlers strike early, often for Center

TOM VAUGHT | SUN

Ryan Fritz pans for the camera after winning high series and the Chuck Stearns Award for best bowler.

 

BRADENTON – AMF Lanes on Cortez Road was invaded by Island residents last Saturday night for an evening of action, fun and charity.

It was the annual O’Connor Bowling Challenge with proceeds going to the Anna Maria Island Community Center. According to Sandee Pruitt of the Community Center, they raised $4,000 for children’s programs at the Center.

The number of bowlers was smaller than in years past, but they appeared to have a great time and there was some great bowling. Bryan Fritz won men’s high series with a 619. Tom Bowles won men’s high game with a 231.

For the ladies, Karen Nicoll won high series with a 526. Fritz won the Chuck Stearns Award for best bowling. On the downside, Cecelia Hohendahl won lowest women’s score with a 28. Roque Monkey won men’s low score with a 59, even though Anna Maria Oyster BaR Owner John Horne’s attempt to win the low score using a ramp that led to the gutter. He ended up with a 69.

Then there were the teams. The women of the AMI Dragon Boat, “Peddlers from Paradise,” wore colorful T-shirts.

Many bowlers met at the Oyster Bar on Cortez Road for the trophy presentations and the raffle winners. Patti Bales won the big prize, a 55-inch television set donated by The Anna Maria Island Sun. She was not present to collect her prize.

City applies for baseball field grants

Photosfromtheair.com

The baseball field in Holmes Beach
as seen from the air.

 

HOLMES BEACH – Human Resources Analyst Mary Buonagura said the city has applied for $5,000 grants from the Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates to fund improvements to the city’s baseball field.

Buonagura said other private donations also are on the table. Holmes Beach resident Andy Procter has told city commissioners that after improvements are completed, he hopes to bring traveling Little League baseball tournaments to the city.

Procter was on hand at the recent city commission work session to respond to questions from the public and commissioners. Procter said the Manatee West Hurricanes baseball team is a member of AAW and is a 501c3 and that all the proceeds go to the kids and the ball fields.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked where they play now, and Procter said G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton.

“We get donors and sponsors so all the children can play,” Procter explained. “If we have tournaments, the teams will pay to play here. They will come here because of the Island. We are not bringing parties; we are bringing families.”

He said he wants to change the name of the Manatee West Hurricanes to the Holmes Beach Hurricanes and added, ‘It’s a no brainer; it’s great for the community.”

Constance Kihm asked how they could have tournaments with only one baseball field, and Procter replied, “We take the first eight to 10 teams and do a round robin and then play for the championship.”

Commissioner Jean Peelen asked if they plan to play this fall. Procter said most teams already have set their travel schedules, but local teams could play, and they could prepare for tournaments next fall.

Peelen asked if he hopes the city would fund the improvements and then get paid back when the grants are awarded.

“That sounds good to me,” Procter said. “I’ll bring donors, and the Rays have offered manpower.”

“What about the people in Holmes Beach?” resident Ellen Stohler asked. “I know it was very unofficial, but in the Sun survey, 70 percent of the people said we don’t need more cars or people.”

She said tournaments every weekend would bring parking and noise problems and that the baseball team is not made up of Island kids.

Resident Barbara Hines agreed and said, “We have festivals in the field and the dog park. Where are they going to park? Think about what’s best for all Islanders including the Island kids.”

Business owner ordered to pay penalties, costs

HOLMES BEACH – Code enforcement board members agreed to forgo a fine, but did order Jeff Hostetler, of Coastline Consulting, 6915 Holmes Blvd., to pay penalties and costs at last week’s board meeting.

In June, the board found Hostetler in violation for failure to obtain a business tax receipt (BTR) and ordered him to submit a BTR application and pay $758.81 by June 26. Hostetler wrote the city contesting the need for a BTR because the business is only on paper.

The case was brought back to the code board in July, but was continued because there was no evidence that Hostetler received the notice of hearing.

Hostetler said he started the entity, but never registered with the state, applied for a federal tax identification number, opened a bank account or engaged in business.

“I was not properly served in the first code enforcement hearing,” he stressed. “The notice came to my house, my son happened to be there and signed for it and threw it on my desk. The code clearly says ‘engage in business’ and I did not.”

He said he’s been living in Sarasota for the past six months and never saw the notice and that he dissolved the corporation that morning.

Attorneys speak

City Attorney Jim Dye explained that the code enforcement process is two-part and that the first part was the finding of violation and the second part is setting a fine. He said the finding of violation must be contested in circuit court.

“Don’t plow ground that has already been plowed,” Dye said. “The issue today is whether a fine should be issued.

The things he presented were addressed in the first hearing and are not relevant.”

Code Enforcement Officer David Forbes asked for a fine of $10 per day since June 27 for a total of $560.

Hostetler again stressed that Coastline did not engage in business and that he was not properly noticed. Board attorney Michael Connolly said the fact that his son signed for it was considered proper notice by code.

“You’re saying that anybody could sign that return receipt?” Hostetler asked. “My neighbor could sign for it?”

“All the city code requires is return receipt requested,” Connolly said.

Board deliberates

Board member Don Schroder made a motion ordering Hostetler to pay the $758 in costs and penalties and the $560 fine.

Board member John Wize felt they should “give a little leeway” and said Hostetler should only pay the $308 in costs.

Schroder said he is concerned about setting a precedent, but board member Dick Motzer pointed out, “The city has incurred a tremendous expense on this and wants to recoup its money. I can understand about being lenient, but there’s a lot of hours and research involved. I go along with Mr. Schroder.”

Board member Tom Creed said the city should recoup its costs, but the fine should be minimal.

Chair Andy Sheridan said he agreed with the $758 in costs and penalties, but not the $10 per day fine and added, “Sometimes we have to take the hard line for the good of the city. Violations need to have penalties.”

Motzer, Creed and Schroder then agreed with Sheridan, while Wize held out for $308. The vote was 4-1 with Wize dissenting.

Code enforcement process questioned

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioner Marvin Grossman questioned the code enforcement process at a recent city commission meeting after observing the July code enforcement board meeting.

“There were two attorneys, three staff members and seven code board members,” he said. “We need to look at this professionally, at what’s happening and the cost of it.”

Two of the cases at the code board meeting involved persons who did not obtain BTRs for rental units and were issued notices of violation. They did come into compliance two days late.

Code Enforcement Officer David Forbes had asked the board to find them in violation and recoup the city’s costs of $128 each. However, code board members felt the city was over zealous and found the persons not in violation.

Grossman said the cases cost far more than the city would have recouped and added, “This has to be examined closely.”

Chair Judy Titsworth asked why there are two attorneys at code board meetings.

“The city attorney’s office represents the staff,” City Attorney Patricia Petruff replied, “It would be a conflict of interest for that attorney to represent the code board, so a separate attorney represents the board. That is standard.”

Petruff said one solution might be to consider having a special magistrate with a legal background, “who is hired to be a decision maker,” rather than a code enforcement board. Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria use special magistrates.

Grossman asked to form an advisory committee to explore the issue, but Titsworth said they would discuss it at a work session.


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