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Legislators change direction on consolidation of AMI cities

ANNA MARIA – State legislators say they no longer intend to commission a state-funded feasibility study on the potential consolidation of the three Anna Maria Island cities and their respective city governments.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy made the announcement during this afternoon’s Anna Maria City Commission meeting.

Murphy returned to Anna Maria today after spending Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Tallahassee meeting privately with the five members of the Manatee County legislative delegation – Rep. Will Robinson Jr., Sen. Jim Boyd, Sen. Joe Gruters, Rep. Tommy Gregory and Rep. Mike Beltran.

Consolidation study for AMI cities won’t be pursued
State Rep. Will Robinson Jr. is no longer pursuing a consolidation study. – MyFloridaHouse.com | Submitted

On Jan. 12, Robinson announced that the delegation intended to seek during the upcoming 2023 legislative session a state-funded study on the feasibility of consolidating or dissolving the three Island cities. During that same meeting, the delegation also announced its intent to file state legislation that could potentially preempt the city of Holmes Beach’s land development code and city charter to allow Manatee County to build a multi-story parking garage on county property to provide more public parking for beachgoers and other visitors.

An outcry erupted from many elected officials and their constituents in the Island’s three cities, Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach, that state officials were attempting to destroy home rule, the ability of the Island cities to govern themselves. Concerns were voiced that consolidating or dissolving the Island cities would put them under Manatee County’s jurisdiction, eliminating local codes including building height restrictions and paving the way for a new set of rules for development.

Regarding the consolidation discussions he had with Robinson in Tallahassee, Murphy said during today’s meeting, “He has agreed to pull that from the table for this year. That won’t be an item this year. Sen. Boyd agreed.”

During a recent Anna Maria commission meeting, Murphy said that Robinson told him he sought the state-funded consolidation study because he’s received numerous complaints about taxes being too high on Anna Maria Island. The proposed consolidation study would have looked at whether consolidating some or all of the similar public services provided by each of the three Island cities might produce lower property taxes for the Island’s property owners.

Consolidating Island city services

However, Murphy said, “They would like the three Island mayors to have some formal discussions as to what can be consolidated because they are getting pressure from constituents about the tax rates here on the Island. What can we do from a service point of view? To that end, I asked the other two mayors to meet with me here at city hall this morning on my return from Tallahassee. We agreed that the three of us will work on what can be consolidated. What’s the low-hanging fruit that can quickly be captured? Long-term and short-term, what can we do here with the idea of saving taxpayers money?” he said.

Murphy said the three mayors will meet every two or three weeks to discuss what can be done regarding the consolidation of shared services. He said the mayors would likely address one potential point of consolidation at a time. He said the three mayors will also solicit input from their commissioners and city staff members and provide their commissions with regular updates.

“I feel comfortable that my fellow mayors will give it a fair and honest shot,” Murphy said.

When asked if he could provide any examples of services that might potentially be consolidated, Murphy said it was too early to do so. He said those details would be released when there’s a solid plan in place. Murphy said listing potential areas of consolidation now could cause city employees in all three cities to become apprehensive about the potential impacts consolidation might have on their jobs and livelihoods.

A few years ago, Murphy proposed consolidating the Anna Maria and Holmes Beach public works departments but those efforts proved unsuccessful.

“We need to have a serious effort on the consolidation. We’ve made efforts in the past and that went nowhere. This time it’s serious and we need to have a serious conversation. I have every confidence, after my meeting this morning with the other two mayors, that we’ll make progress with some form of consolidation,” Murphy said.

Murphy said if left to the state, the complete consolidation of the three Island cities is a possible scenario.

For his efforts, Murphy received a round of applause from the commissioners and others who attended today’s meeting.

Parking concerns

Murphy said the Legislature’s continued concern about parking in Holmes Beach is not an issue that directly impacts the city of Anna Maria.

“That’s an issue between Holmes Beach and the state. This is not a county issue anymore,” he said.

Murphy referenced the streetside parking spaces the city of Holmes Beach eliminated during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Approximately 650 parking spaces were eliminated in Holmes Beach. The county, through the state, wants some reprimands for those. They’re gone and they’d like to have them back. I think everybody recognizes that a parking garage is not a panacea. You could put up a dozen and you still wouldn’t have enough, but 650 spots are 650 spots. They were taken and is there some way to get that back?” Murphy said.

He added that the parking reductions in Holmes Beach have “created a lot of angst” with people on the mainland who feel their ability to visit the public beaches has been negatively impacted by those actions.

“Was it the right thing to do or not? At this point, the ship has sailed,” Murphy said of that past decision.

He said Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth has reached an agreement with the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Holmes Beach to provide some additional public parking spaces in the church parking lot. Murphy said he was asked to meet with the priest at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, where Murphy is a member, and there’s a willingness there to also provide some additional public parking spaces.

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