BIEO members begin fight for home rule

Jean Peelen
In her last meeting as an elected official, Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen asks members of the Barrier Island Elected Officials to consider setting aside funds to help her Home Sweet Home nonprofit reach its goal of providing affordable housing on the Island.

ANNA MARIA – The Island’s elected officials are beginning preparations for a Legislative fight.

During the Barrier Island Elected Officials October meeting, members discussed priorities for the upcoming state Legislative session, primarily attacks geared toward repealing home rule protections for municipalities.

“The attack being prepared is stronger than a lot of us realize,” Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek said.

One of Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson’s priorities is to draw legislative attention to the unequal distribution of tourist tax dollars.

“There’s an awful lot of stuff to encourage tourism here, which is good. But distribution of funds is disproportionate with the cities that have the highest tourism numbers,” he said.

With each Island city contracting its own lobbyist, Johnson said he feels having time to prepare before the session gets underway in January will be key to success.

“We’ve got to work through this whole session,” he said.

Soustek said she’s concerned with the misinformation concerning home rule being bandied about in Tallahassee. Some of the rumors she mentioned include claims of taking away the right to rent properties from owners, plus state claims of inspecting all vacation rental properties.

Commissioner Jean Peelen said she would like to be able to present state senators and representatives with hard numbers of how many vacation rental properties are owned by investors. Soustek agreed.

Johnson and Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon appeared the following day before the Manatee County Legislative delegation to discuss home rule.

“We on the Island don’t have any issue sharing our islands with people who come as tourists,” Johnson said, adding that issues arise with too many tourists being located in traditional residential neighborhoods. “Please reject the efforts to repeal home rule that will surely come again this session.”

Home Sweet Home

Peelen also gave a presentation during the meeting, updating her fellow elected officials on the progress made by the organization. The nonprofit’s purpose is to help bring more full-time residents back to the Island. One of the ways its members seek to do that is to provide affordable housing.

While the organization is attempting to build funds to purchase small Island homes to provide this affordable housing, Peelen said she’d also like each city to consider donating funds to the organization, if each city is considering providing any charitable contributions in the current fiscal year.

Soustek also suggested the organization reach out to elderly property owners on the Island who have no family to leave their properties to, in order to encourage legacy donations.

“It’s all negotiable,” Peelen said, adding that a life estate, in which the donor continues to live in the property for the rest of his or her life, is also an option. “We’re getting serious,” she said of the endeavor.