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Date of Issue: November 03, 2006

Chief Anna Maria election issues: comp plan, spending

gsr pic
Voting fever in Anna Maria
The five candidates up for election in Anna Maria Nov. 7 - Fran Barford and Tom Turner for mayor and Linda Cramer, Jo Ann Mattick and Duke Miller for city commission - met Oct. 23 at city hall for The Islander political candidate forum. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Candidates for the two vacant Anna Maria City Commission seats and the post of mayor discussed their positions on a number of issues at the Oct. 23 Islander candidate forum and generally agreed that adoption of the comprehensive plan and future land-use map after the Nov. 7 election and spending are the main issues facing the city.

Some candidates, however, appeared ready to throw outgoing Mayor SueLynn under the bus, blaming her for a number of city ills, including spending an inordinate amount of money on consultants and legal experts, particularly for the coastal overlay district and daylight plane ordinances.

Comprehensive plan

Incumbent City Commissioner Duke Miller, who is seeking his third consecutive term in office, said his main reason for seeking re-election was to guide the proposed comprehensive plan through the upcoming public hearings and eventual adoption.

He said he was "100 percent" in favor of the plan as proposed because it "supports all the reasons you and I moved to Anna Maria." The plan protects both the residential character of the city and the business community. Adopting the plan will ensure that Anna Maria won't change for the next 20 years, he said.

Miller cautioned, however, that there were some people who wanted to make changes to the plan that would add more retail-office-residential areas. "I'm against that," he said emphatically.

Commission candidate Jo Ann Mattick also endorsed the plan, saying it equalized the residential and ROR districts. She said there is a need in the city to support the business district, which the plan does.

Current City Commissioner Linda Cramer, seeking her fourth consecutive term, said she has supported the comprehensive plan "to this point," but does have one issue with the future land-use map.

"Unfortunately," she said, it concerns her property at the corner of Palmetto Avenue and Gulf Drive.

The proposed FLUM has her property designated as residential. Cramer claims the property is zoned commercial and the 1991 FLUM contained an error.

She maintained, however, that the problem should "not be a personal issue, just a property issue." She pledged to protect her property as much as she has protected other residents' property in the past.

Mayoral candidate Tom Turner said he supported much of the comp plan, but had an issue with the part that states that any lot less than 5,000 square feet is not a buildable lot. "That's wrong," he said. He also expressed concerned about the setbacks on Pine Avenue.

Candidate for mayor Fran Barford, who is also chairman of the planning and zoning board, defended the plan, which took nearly four years to prepare.

"We got the plan moving forward. There was give and take" on a number of issues on the planning and zoning board, she said. Not everyone got everything they wanted in the plan, she noted, but there was a lot of compromise. The proposed plan works for Anna Maria, she said.

 

Line of credit

Barford supports the recent city commission decision to establish a $1 million line of credit to begin many long-needed capital improvements, but said the city needs to ensure there is "heavy oversight" of the construction. As mayor, she promised that would happen.

Turner, however, is opposed to the line of credit, claiming the city could have done all that work without borrowing or paying interest.

The city was supposed to have set aside money in the budget each year for capital improvements, but didn't. The city is wasting money by paying interest, he said.

Cramer was supportive of the LOC, although she said she had some reservations. She claimed she had "encouraged" Mayor SueLynn to establish the capital improvements advisory committee several years ago to prepare a project list. She hopes the $1 million draw will be successful, but the city still needs to be fiscally responsible as it has to pay back $200,000 per year for the loan.

Mattick said it was a "shame" that infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate to the point where the city had no choice but to borrow money. She also noted it took more than a year for the commission to approve the line of credit. With inflation, the city is now getting less for its $1 million, she said.

Miller is "100 percent supportive" of the draw. He was the commission liaison to the CIAC as it prepared the project list. He said the line of credit was the only way to complete the capital improvements without raising taxes.

He also defended the commission's use of outside consultants, noting that when the city had Tarpon Street and Oak Avenue repaved two years ago, it had tried to oversee the project itself, rather than pay an engineer. As a result, the job was botched and the city ended up paying quite a bit more for the project without a totally successful result.

Administrative assistant

Mattick said the mayor can handle a lot of problems.

Current Mayor SueLynn got herself "involved in a lot of outside issues" that apparently were a lot of work for her. Mattick was not in favor of hiring an administrative assistant to aid the mayor.

Both Barford and Turner see the mayor's post as "part-time" and said the city staff is competent enough to handle many problems.

Miller agreed, noting that this past summer he had prepared a list of duties that could be delineated to the staff rather than the mayor.

Cramer didn't support the position of administrative assistant, but believed the Island as a whole should look at "sharing" an Island manager. She did note, however, that each year the work involved at city hall seems to grow more complex and involved.

Coastal overlay district, daylight plane ordinances

Mattick said adoption of the coastal overlay district to limit development seaward of the coastal construction control line would "be a disaster" and is "totally unnecessary." The COD "doesn't make sense," she said, and leaves the city open to lawsuits.

She is also opposed to the daylight plane ordinance, saying that if the ordinance had passed it would have reduced property values in the city.

Both issues were "knee-jerk" reactions by Mayor SueLynn, she claimed.

The daylight plane ordinance was not adopted by the city commission. The overlay ordinance is pending before the next commission.

Miller said it was not prudent to make a snap decision about the COD. He said he wanted to reserve judgment on the ordinance because it hasn't been finalized.

"I'm not in a position yet. I need to deal with the facts," he said. He observed, however, that the city is charged by the state with the safety of residents living too near the coast. The COD is a safety issue to protect residents.

Barford said that the P&Z board looked extensively at both ordinances. The daylight plane ordinance was examined for the height of a structure and the light angle, but it turned into an architectural issue when it reached the commission.

Turner said it was a waste of city money to have the COD reviewed by an attorney from the east coast of Florida with no knowledge of

Anna Maria. He was also opposed to the daylight plane ordinance as proposed by the commission.

Budget

Turner said the city spends too much money on consultants and attorneys, claiming the city doesn't always need a consulting planner or engineer.

Barford said the current budget is "on target" and building a reserve fund for the city, at the same time keeping the millage rate at 2.0 mils.

Cramer said she supports tighter budgets in the future, but defended the use of a city planner. The city planner has helped with many legal aspects of ordinances as has the city engineer. She noted that the commission has dealt with a number of major issues the past two years, issues that had been ignored in the past.

Miller agreed with the current budget and said the millage rate is "right where it needs to be."

Mattick said it's possible to reduce the millage rate along with planning and legal fees. The city spent $179,000 last year for consultants, attorneys and planners. "We can do a better job," she said.

Miller said Anna Maria is in much better shape now than four years ago.

"We've worked hard and compromised" and passed a number of ordinances, he said. Legal fees have increased because the commission had to rewrite many ordinances passed by previous commissions that contained errors. The city is also facing an ever-increasing assault by outside attorneys over a number of issues. Proper legal advice is needed to fight back.

Mattick, however, disagreed. "The present process is flawed." She said the mayor should present issues in a public forum before bringing them to the commission.

And "too many commissioners seem to have already made up their minds" on issues, she claimed, adding that it seems public comment at commission meetings is barely tolerated by commissioners.

Cramer also defended the work of the commission the past few years. A number of major decisions have been reached and she's always voted "according to the desires" of her fellow citizens.

Summation

Barford said the mayor is the town manager and she pledged an increase in customer service. "The citizens are our customers, our stock holders."

She said she would look at getting more grants for the city. With her contacts from her prior public service, she would lobby for lower taxes and insurance rates.

Barford was mayor of Temple Terrace, near Tampa, for six years and before that, a city commissioner there for eight years. She's also been a member of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and a Florida League of Cities member for 16 years.

"I have the experience to make a difference and preserve the charm and uniqueness of Anna Maria. I have the energy," she said.

Barford and her husband moved to Anna Maria permanently in 2002.

Turner said his management experience will pay off as mayor. As mayor, he would have P&Z review all ordinances on a regular basis, not the city attorney, building official or city planner.

He added that if elected, he would donate his salary as mayor to charity. Turner also said all candidates should declare who made their campaign contributions.

"I can fulfill all aspects of the job," he promised.

Turner is a former chairman of the P&Z board and the code enforcement board and served on a number of city boards and committees since moving to Anna Maria in 1984. He retired from the U.S. Air Force after 22 years and spent another 20 years in the insurance claims business.

All candidates urged the electorate to vote on Nov. 7.

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