Holmes Beach commission candidates open up
The four candidates seeking one of the three city commission seats up for election Nov. 8 met at The Islander candidate forum Oct. 27 and offered some differing and similar views on issues. The candidates are incumbents Rich Bohnenberger, Don Maloney and Patrick Morton along with challenger David Zaccagnino.
Maloney said voters should look at his past performance to the city, noting his participation in various city boards and committees before his election to the commission eight years ago. He's active with the Florida League of Cities and serves as commission liaison to Waste Management Inc.
Morton is seeking his second term in office and said he has enjoyed his first two years as a commissioner. However, the commission's work is not finished. There is a need for managed growth and he will listen to the citizens. He'd like to see the commission work together and "keep private agendas to ourselves.”
Bohnenberger has 10 years of service as an elected official, including two as mayor. He cited his work as liaison to the Florida League of Cities and the number of measures he's supported on the current commission that have improved the quality of life in the city. A major task of the new commission will be the comprehensive plan review and changes to the land development code.
Zaccagnino is seeking office because he wants to help steer growth on the Island toward the city's visioning statement. He's also concerned with growth in eastern Manatee County affecting the city. Other issues he wants the commission to deal with are taxes, density and green space.
The planning committee is expected to recommend that the revised comprehensive plan eliminate short-term rentals in the single-family (R-1) areas and require rentals to be for a minimum 30-day stay.
Morton said he's talked to many people who are upset with the short-term rental policy established a few years ago. There is a "need"to establish some control, but what the planning committee is proposing is "overkill."Businesses will close down because tourism will be lost if property owners can no longer rent for less than 30 days. He suggested the city "go in a different direction.”
Bohnenberger said the city had a problem a few years ago with a person operating a house as a motel. That prompted the minimum seven-day rental requirement. Regarding a 30-day minimum rental, he said he wanted to know the need and basis for that recommendation before he could form an opinion. The city would "probably"end up in court if it passed such a requirement. At this time, he could not support the recommendation without "solid evidence.”
Zaccagnino said the issue highlights the differences between the comprehensive plan and land development codes and how they differ from the city's visioning statement. Should the city enact a 30-day minimum rental requirement, "you would see empty houses or an abuse of the rules."The proposal would hurt the city's economy, he said.
Maloney said he believes "we have to do it,"although he acknowledged the problem with any short-term rental requirement is how the city should police the code. He's convinced that the city's population is not increasing, but its social makeup is. More investors are coming to the city looking to buy property as a rental accommodation.
Key Royale Bridge
The Florida Department of Transportation informed the city last week that the estimated cost of the Key Royale Bridge has gone up, and the city should have at least $3.9 million available for funding, up from $2.9 million. The city proposes to borrow the money at a low interest rate from the Florida League of Counties and the DOT has said it will reimburse the city in a future budget.
Bohnenberger said he absolutely supports borrowing the money. He's been trying for the past 10 years to get a new bridge. He's afraid that if the bridge isn't built, the DOT will eventually delete the project from its "to do"list and the city would end up paying the entire bost. "It's a good deal,"he said.
Zaccagnino agreed. The cost of the bridge is never going to get cheaper in the future. It's a "tough call,"but the city should proceed and build the bridge now.
Maloney noted his longstanding objections to a new Key Royale Bridge, noting that the DOT has said the bridge is "structurally sound."He suggested the city not waste taxpayer money with the estimated $125,000 in annual interest payments. That money could go to a "better place for the greater good,"he said.
Morton said it would be a big mistake not to build the bridge now. It's going to have to be replaced eventually and the commission can't burden the taxpayers in the future with a much higher price.
Zaccagnino said he's spoken to between 150 and 200 people about consolidation of the three Island cities and all are against the idea. However, he believes that some services could be consolidated, although he noted that it "seems we are always bailing out our neighbors.”
He said the city was not "proactive"enough in getting services from Manatee County.
Maloney said he believes it would be an advantage for the entire Island to have a single government. While the amount taxpayers would save is not known, he suggested a "professional study"of the issue. There is no advantage to having three governments on a small island, and a single Island government "speaks with a powerful voice."He said the cities need professional advice on how to start consolidation, even if it's just services.
Morton wondered if the cost of consolidation was even worth the effort. Other Island cities, he said, don't like the idea of consolidation because Holmes Beach is the largest city and would probably have more control. "If it's not broke, why fix it?"he said. He would consider consolidation of some services such as public works and building departments.
Bohnenberger said the city has looked at consolidating services such as police and public works in the past without success. Each time, he said, he found there was "nothing in it for Holmes Beach taxpayers."He's against a single Island city and there's no reason to consider consolidation of services. He's against any consolidation.
Maloney said he's been in favor of the idea for the past eight years. "Bring in professional management,"he said. That was not a reflection on the Island mayors, he said, but just a "way of doing it better.”
Morton disagreed, stating that he's opposed to the idea of an Island manager because of the size of the city and Island. The commission and mayor can handle what's going on in Holmes Beach, he said. An Islandwide manager is just a "bad idea,"he claimed.
Bohnenberger observed that comparisions to Longboat Key as an example of the need for a city manager are inaccurate because Longboat Key has more people and provides more services, such as water and sewer, to its people. In addition, the Longboat Key town manager makes about $300,000 annually in pay and benefits. He's opposed to the idea.
Zaccagnino, however, said an Islandwide manager might be a good idea in the future. Right now, the city's mayor is doing a good job, but what happens when she leaves office? "We need stable management,"he said, and the city should investigate the issue and look at Longboat Key. People moving into the city these days want "things done professionally.”
Taxes and small businesses/accommodation properties
Morton said taxes are one of the biggest problems the city's small business owner faces every year. "People are getting taxed off the Island."He suggested the city get the Florida Legislature to become "involved,"so people can keep their businesses and motels.
Bohnenberger noted that what started the spiraling taxation of businesses was the "Save Our Homes"initiative a few years ago that limits a homesteaded property to a maximum three percent annual increase in taxes. Property appraisers turned to other revenue generating measures and found they could tax motels and businesses on the "best possible use,"not what they actually were. There's a need for intervention by the Legislature, or a change in the sales tax collection laws, which create a shortfall in revenue.
Zaccagnino said the city needs a "strong voice"to go to Tallahassee and change the laws. Business owners should be taxed on what they are, not the best possible use, he said. He noted that only 9.3 percent of taxes paid to Manatee County come back to the city. The city needs more of this revenue back.
Maloney noted that the ever-increasing taxes are creating a "dangerous situation"on the Island. Property values keep going up, but that's "no value"to the small business because of the increasing taxes. Small businesses are closing and the city is in danger of losing its character. Change needs to start with the Florida Legislature.
Boat dock rentals
As more and more marinas are turned into other commercial enterprises in Manatee County, boat dock space will soon be at a premium. Should the city consider allowing owners of docks to lease space to other boat owners?
Bohnenberger said commercial dock space is "disappearing"rapidly and a waterfront dock will be valuable. The city needs to look at the practicality of allowing such a measure, but at this point, there's been no support from dock owners for such an allowance.
Zaccagnino said the city has "done well"in establishing the T-end canal and Sunrise dock ordinances, but the city needs to look at the comprehensive plan and land development codes for any "conflict"before it approves such a measure.
Maloney said the issue of allowing canalfront owners to lease dock space brings the city back to the need for "attention to growth.”
Morton said the city is already working on a plan that prohibits the sub-lease or sub-rental of any dock space that the city owns and leases directly to a private individual.
Adding lights to the ball field
Zaccagnino said the Birdie Tebbetts Field is not presently used enough to add lights to create extra hours of operation.
Maloney said the question has never come up except some nearby residents have voiced an objection.
Morton said he would support lights at the field if usage could be restricted and the lights and activites don't interfere with the neighbors. He would support whatever the residents in that area wanted.
Bohnenberger said he's not received any support from the people in that area to add lights to the field.
Morton said that the commission still has a long way to go and get its "finger"on the pulse of growth. He believes the city gives too many variances and vacations. "Don't give away city property,"he said.
Bohnenberger noted that he's been involved at all levels of city government and he was instrumental in getting the Florida Legislature to change its revenue sharing with the cities from the cigarette tax to sales tax. He also has the "time and energy"for another term.
Zaccagnino said that while the present commission has "done a good job,"it's "time for a change."He wants to be "pro-active"as a commissioner and be concerned about growth in Manatee County and in the city. He believes the city should stop granting variances and vacation requests.
Maloney observed that with him, "You are aware of what you get."He's looking for the voters to "continue to trust me"as they have the past eight years.