The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 16 No. 39 - July 27, 2016


A jolly old Christmas in July

Carol Whitmore

Combining good times and good deeds as only they can, the Anna Maria Island Privateers raised about $2,000 during their Christmas in July event that took place Saturday at the Drift In in Bradenton Beach. John Swager, president of the swashbuckling non-profit organization, said the money would be used to support its Adopt a Family program during the traditional Christmas holidays later this year. The fundraising mechanisms included the lottery board, a 50-50 raffle and a donation box. "We had a good time," Swager said, as if that wasn't a given when discussing a Privateers' event.


maggie field | SUN

Kindell Cornett and Adam Jenkins, of Bradenton Beach, hold their Yorkies, Bear and Bittie, while chatting with Santa Saturday night at the Anna Maria Island Privateers Christmas in July

Commission approves Bert Harris settlements
Carol Whitmore

joe hendricks | sun

The owners of this property at 205 Palm Ave. will be allowed to
rent to 14 occupants.


ANNA MARIA – The Anna Maria City Commission has approved settlement offers expected to eliminate 24 of the 59 Bert Harris claims filed in opposition to vacation rental occupancy restrictions.

The decision came during last Thursday's meeting, when commissioners voted 3-2 to support City Attorney Becky Vose's recommendation to settle the claims she deemed most legitimate.

"These I believe are the most reasonable claims we would have the highest risk of losing. I'm not saying we will not fully litigate some complaints, but these are not the ones I would recommend," Vose told the commission.

"It's not an option to not make a settlement offer and I can't emphasize that enough. City officials need to take this situation very seriously because so far there are more than $23 million in claims and that doesn't include attorney fees. Failure to make an offer is an automatic win for the property owner. We lose and also have to pay their attorney fees," she explained.

Vose said the city of Ponce Inlet failed to make an offer on a $30 million Bert Harris claim and is now facing potential bankruptcy.

Vose said there is a benefit to settling legitimate claims.

"We don't want to lose credibility with the judge. If you turn down everybody, the judge is going to think we're not respecting the law of Florida. That's a law the judge is required to enforce."

The 24 claims discussed sought $6.8 million in compensation or relief from the eight-person occupancy limits contained in the city's vacation rental ordinance. Enacted in April, the ordinance allows grandfathered properties two persons per bedroom for a five-year period, but the additional occupancy provisions expire in 2021.

The claims represented 15 single-family residences, eight duplexes and one triplex, each containing four to six bedrooms. All the owners requested and received two-person per bedroom occupancy limits and most sought and received provisions that allow for two additional guests. The highest occupancy granted was 14 for a six-bedroom structure at 205 Palm Ave. Only one claim sought occupancy of less than 10.

Once finalized, the settlements will be permanent and will transfer to the new owner if a property is sold.

Commission response

Commissioners Carol Carter, Doug Copeland and Dale Woodland voted in support of the settlements and Commissioners Nancy Yetter and Chuck Webb voted in opposition.

Yetter was on the verge of tears when she spoke.

"I guess we all knew this was coming, but I'm really upset to think that we sat up here and we told everyone that we would not back down. I cannot vote for this, I'm sorry," she said.

"We will have an opportunity with 35 other ones to possibly make a stand," Carter said of the remaining claims.

"I understand that," Yetter responded. "I just think that we're showing them our weakness. They're going to come at us with all guns blazing and we'll back off on that too. We owe it to the residents to do something more than what we're doing."

"I don't like the idea that we're going to settle, but I think we're overwhelmed with 59 and these are the most reasonable. To live to fight another day, I'd like to recommend that we authorize the settlement offer," Copeland said.

"This is probably the worst day so far with me being a commissioner. I understand Nancy's feeling that maybe we're failing our citizens, but if we put ourselves in a position where we're owing $30 million the failure would be even greater," he added.

"I'd love to see our chances in court, but I can't make a case for jeopardizing the solvency of the city," Woodland said.

Offering encouragement, Vose said, "A year ago, the city had taken no substantive steps to stem the tide of vacation rentals. It took years for the problems to get where they are now. We can't cure the entire problem immediately, but you've taken the first important steps."

Webb asked to vote last, which afforded him the opportunity to cast a second opposition vote that would not jeopardize the recognized need to approve the settlements.

"My criticism is we didn't take action earlier. I pushed for that and couldn't get support," Webb said of his previous efforts to address vacation rentals.

Had the city enacted local legislation prior to 2011, those regulations would have remained enforceable after the state legislature limited local governments' ability to regulate rentals.

"In many ways we've dug our own graves, however putting a cap on vacation rentals is not the only solution. We hung our hats on eight, but there are other things we can do. We need to be thinking outside the box so we can get control of this," Webb concluded.

Millage rate doesn't change; taxes still headed higher

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

joe hendricks | sun

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon continues to
express concerns about the proposed 2016-17 fiscal year budget.

BRADENTON BEACH – Last week, the Bradenton Beach City Commissioners adopted its maximum proposed millage rate.

With Mayor Bill Shearon voting in opposition, the commission voted 4-1 in favor of adopting a maximum millage rate of 2.3329 percent, which is the same millage rate adopted last year.

"I can't support this because I don't believe we're going to have a balanced budget," Shearon said before he cast his opposition vote.

At one point during the discussion, Shearon briefly floated the idea of increasing the millage in order to maintain what he believes to be a balanced budget, but this idea garnered no significant discussion or commission support. The maximum rate could be lowered before the final budget adoption later this summer, but that is not expected to happen.

Although the millage rate is expected to remain the same, Bradenton Beach property owners will see their taxes increase due to increased property values. According to the Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office Preliminary Tax Roll, the total assessed value of all properties in Bradenton Beach increased by approximately 8.52 percent.

After deducting any exemptions, including the homestead exemption for those who claim their homes as permanent residences, the application of the 2.3329 millage rate means property owners will pay $233.29 for every $100,000 in assessed property value.

A property with an assessed value of $400,000 would be subjected to approximately $933 in city property taxes. The owner of a property with an assessed value of $800,000 would pay approximately $1,866 in city property taxes.

According to City Treasurer Shayne Thompson, if the millage is kept at the rate proposed last week, this will result in an approximate 8.52 percent increase per property owner due to the increased property value.

Applying the estimated 8.52 increase in property values for the sake of comparison, a property owner who paid $933 last year would see that tax increase by about $79. The property owner who paid $1,866 last year would see that tax increase by about $159.

According to a budget document prepared by Thompson, the 2.3329 millage rate will generate approximately $120,127 in additional ad valorem tax revenues in the new fiscal year that begins in October.

The city millage is part of the total county millage collected by the Manatee County Tax Collector, which last year was 16.54 for Bradenton Beach property owners. In addition to funding the Manatee County government, the county millage also provides funds for the school board, mosquito control, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the West Coast Inland Navigation District.

Balanced budget?

In regard to creating a balanced budget based on the proposed millage rate, Shearon contends capital projects and reserve expenditures, combined with 8 percent employee raises, the yet-to-be-budgeted cost of replacing the city day dock and other non-budgeted expenses may create a budget in which general fund expenses exceed general revenues.

Thompson, Vice Mayor Ed Straight and Lt. John Cosby have asserted that many of the capital project and reserve expenditures are being carried over from the current year or past budget years when the city set aside money in anticipation of funding city projects or purchasing needed equipment.

"It was put in there with the intent to use, I think we have to do that," Straight said during last week's meeting.

When asked by Shearon if projected general fund expenditures would exceed projected general fund revenues, Thompson said that when taking into account these previously budgeted funds, he did not expect that would happen.

According to City Clerk Terri Sanclemente, the accounting firm that conducts the annual audit of the city budget was provided a copy of the proposed budget and expressed no concerns about the projected expenditures and revenues.

Tentative Anna Maria millage unchanged

ANNA MARIA – Last week, the Anna Maria City Commission set the tentative millage rate for 2016-17 at 2.05 mills, which is the same rate as the current fiscal year.

The commission also agreed that the first public hearing for the formal adoption of the millage and the 2016-17 fiscal year budget would be scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

The commission also scheduled three budget work sessions for August. Mayor Dan Murphy said these would take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday Aug. 3, Wednesday, Aug. 10 and Wednesday, Aug. 17.

When the proposed adopted millage was first discussed at the July 14 meeting, Murphy said, "If we keep it the same, the increase in the value of the homes in Anna Maria will net the city an additional $191,000."

He noted that maintaining the current rate requires the simple majority support of three commissioners; and he said he feels the city is in good financial shape at the current rate.

Although he offered no support for increasing the millage, Murphy said, "If you raise it to 2.756, it requires a unanimous vote for the commission to approve. If you did go to that break point, it nets you approximately another $100,000."

When Commission Chair Doug Copeland asked about the break point that would require a supra-majority, four-fifths vote to adopt a middle ground millage rate of 2.0687 mills, Murphy said that would net the city an additional $9,000

In regard to a higher possible millage rate, Commissioner Dale Woodland said, "If we didn't have the outstanding 59 Bert Harris claims we wouldn't even be talking about this. It might be the prudent thing going to the max, but you're not going to get much. At 2.05, we're going to have a hard enough time justifying that to our people when they see the increase in revenue. I'd be more concerned about that."

Before the tentative budget was adopted at last week's meeting, Commissioner Chuck Webb commented on the possibility of adopting a higher tentative millage rate.

"It's tentative. We can set a higher tentative one and bring it back to give us more flexibility," he said.

"I'm fine with the 2.05," Commission Chair Doug Copeland said.

The commission then voted 5-0 in favor of adopting the tentative 2.05 millage rate.

Property owner impact

Maintaining the current millage rate means property owners will see an increase in their ad valorem property taxes due to escalating property values.

At the tentative 2.05 millage rate, each $100,000 of assessed property value, minus any exemptions, would cost a property owner approximately $205. The owner of property with an assessed value of $500,000 would owe a city tax of $1,025. The owner of property with an assessed value of $900,000 would owe a city tax of $1,845.

According to the preliminary tax roll comparison that the Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office released in June, the assessed total value of all properties within the city limits increased by 11.4 percent. This means taxpayers can expect to see a similar increase on their tax bills.

At the anticipated increase of 11.4 percent, the owner of a property with an assessed value of $500,000 would see their taxes increase this year by an estimated $117. The owner of a property with an assessed value of $900,000 would see an estimated increase of $210.

One local Realtor pointed out that those who recently purchased primary residences often bear a greater share of the tax burden than the longtime permanent resident who receives a higher homestead exemption. He also pointed out that those who own vacation rental properties pay an even greater amount because they do not qualify for the homestead exemption.

Crows cause poor shorebird nesting season


Above, a crow digs into a sea turtle nest on Anna Maria Island.

Shorebird nesting season ended last week on Anna Maria Island with no least tern or black skimmer chicks surviving an onslaught of crows, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring Director Suzi Fox.

For eight years, the two imperiled species have successfully raised chicks until they could fly, she said, but this year, only snowy plovers had success, with a mere eight chicks hatched.

"We watched the crows, and one group would flush the birds off their nests while the other one came in and got the eggs," she said.

Crows also are predators to sea turtles eggs and hatchlings, Fox said.

They seem to be attracted to dumpsters, she said, adding that many dumpsters at beachside vacation rentals are too small and often overflow or can't be closed, particularly on holiday weekends, attracting crows and other scavengers, she said.

Rental managers need to provide as many dumpsters of adequate size as necessary to avoid overflowing trash that attracts crows, and guests should not overload dumpsters with large items such as beach chairs and floats when they leave, Fox said.

"I would be heartbroken if shorebirds could not nest here any longer because of crows," she said.

Overloaded dumpsters should be reported to the Manatee County Health Department at 941-748-0747.

Moratorium would have unintended consequences

BRADENTON BEACH – If Bradenton Beach voters approve a citizen-initiated building moratorium in November, the city will be forced to enact a moratorium that is more restrictive than its proponents intended.

This was the conclusion reached at last Thursday's City Commission meeting, when the commission was asked to approve an ordinance that contained ballot language based on a moratorium ordinance previously presented by resident Priscilla VonAhnen on June 16 as the result of a petition initiative she spearheaded.

The citizen-initiated moratorium ordinance presented to commissioners last month called for a six-month moratorium on structures containing more than four bedrooms in the city's R-1 and R-2 residential zone districts.

A reference to rooms being used as sleeping areas, and the lack of clarifying language regarding living rooms and dining rooms, prompted City Planner Alan Garrett to say then, "If I have two living rooms, I can only have two bedrooms. The wording needs clarification."

The commission then voted against enacting the moratorium themselves, which meant the ballot language and ordinance would come back to them in July in order to be forwarded to the supervisor of elections office for inclusion on the November ballot.

At the June meeting, City Attorney Ricinda Perry said she and Garrett could help make minor modifications but that request was never made.

During last week's meeting, Perry said she received an e-mail from the city clerk that morning that contained an amended version of the moratorium ordinance VonAhnen wished to have adopted instead of the one provided in the agenda packet.

The amended ordinance included language suggested by Garrett during a recent meeting he had with VonAhnen. It better defined bedrooms and stated that living and dining rooms would not be counted as sleeping rooms.

"At this juncture it is too late," Perry told the commission. "It is completely unfair to the individuals who signed the petition to now change the ordinance. They signed a particular ordinance and now what is being proposed is different from that. Legally it is not sound or advisable at this time to make any amendments. This is not a small change, as is suggested by Mrs. VonAhnen. It is a substantial change and it is my recommendation that the commission cannot allow this," Perry said.

"The problem is a citizens group came forward to put restrictions on private property rights. There's a tremendous burden and responsibility on that group to make sure that they do it right. The city hires professionals when it goes in to affect property rights. There weren't professionals hired by this citizens' group and it's not the city's responsibility to do all the legal work," she added.

After seeking clarification from Building Official Steve Gilbert, Commissioner Jake Spooner said, "If this passes it's going to be more restrictive than you originally intended. I would assume you'd be even happier because you'd only be able to build a home with one or two bedrooms," Spooner said to VonAhnen.

VonAhnen said that was not intent of the ordinance and she pleaded with the commission to amend it.

She also disagreed with Perry, to no avail.

"We've been directed by the city attorney that it's not her recommendation to consider amending it," Mayor Bill Shearon said.

"If the voters vote for the moratorium, that's the law and we have to enforce it," he added.

When asked if the commission could amend the ordinance if adopted, Perry said the commission could repeal the ordinance in its entirety and replace it with a new one if that was the commission's desire.

The commission voted unanimously to place the moratorium request on the ballot as originally presented.

When asked later if she would still encourage voters to support the moratorium, VonAhnen said, "Yes, I will encourage them to vote for it, if for no other reason than to use it as pressure to get some kind of regulations in place."

Arnold restitution set at $92,830.50

HOLMES BEACH – The other shoe has dropped in the saga of Christopher Arnold, the former contractor convicted of scheming to defraud the city of Holmes Beach in a 2012 curb replacement project.

Arnold, 64, pled no contest in 2015 to grand theft and served 364 days in the Manatee County Jail. Last Monday, he was ordered to pay the city $92,830.50 in restitution and $3,069.19 to the police department in investigative expenses.

He was arrested in 2013 after an investigation by Holmes Beach Police Detective Sgt. Brian Hall concluded he did not replace all of the curbing marked with orange paint for replacement. Hall's report claimed some of the curbs with the orange paint were painted over with gray paint, instead of being replaced.

At a restitution hearing on June 17, 2016, Arnold said he was unable to find work in construction because of his involvement in this case and his wife owned their home. He said they pay their bills at this time from his wife's Social Security checks.

In the restitution memo, written by Assistant State Attorney Lisa Chittaro and approved by Judge Deno Economou, Arnold was ordered to search for a job and keep a daily log of his efforts. When he gets a job, he will have to pay a minimum of $500 per month. He will also have to provide a detailed record of his monthly bills, including utilities. The memo also asked that Arnold's finances be reviewed within a year by the court.

Harles gets a new judge

HOLMES BEACH –Gerald Harles II might be able to come home soon after the judge in his case disqualified himself.

The 30-year-old lived with his mother, Judy, until May 31, when his actions after drinking caused his mother to call police. According to the police report, an officer thought he saw and heard Harles with a weapon and the Holmes Beach Police Department called in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office SWAT team.

Harles surrendered peacefully and was taken to jail. He was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and was released on bail, but the judge put a "no-contact" order in effect, for his mother's safety. His mother complained about having to pay for her son's motel room and entered a request to change the order to a "no harmful contact" order.

However, Judge Deno Economou refused, saying she lied about whether her son had a weapon. That prompted her to file a motion to disqualify Judge Economou and get a new judge.

On July 18, Judge Economou disqualified himself and assigned the case to District Judge Susan Maulucci. He also set a hearing for Thursday, Aug. 18, at 11:30 a.m. to modify Harles' release to a "no harmful contact" order. Maulucci will preside.

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