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Date of Issue: August 04, 2005

Consolidation talks stall in Anna Maria

Islanders know full well that Anna Maria likes to be different.

While the Holmes Beach City Commission took just a few minutes to ratify language for a non-binding resolution on Island consolidation that would be on the November ballot, Anna Maria city commissioners decided to hold town meetings for public input on the draft proposal, citing lack of information and the need for more specific language in the draft resolution.

The non-binding referendum question would simply ask voters if they want the three cities to "move forward" and hire a consultant to study the pros and cons of consolidation, including costs, Mayor SueLynn said.

While the referendum is "non-binding," said the mayor, the exact language on the ballot has to be approved by all three Island cities and submitted to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections by Sept. 19.

Commissioner Carol Ann Magill, however, said the issue suddenly arose after being dormant for a number of years, and this is the first she's heard about it. Neither she nor residents she's talked to are in favor of consolidation.

"I was left out of the loop. They are trying to rush us at the 11th hour and I'm leery of putting this on the ballot."

Citing the need for more information, she said she would "prefer a workshop with public input first."

Commission Chairperson John Quam agreed with the basic resolution wording, but added that the referendum language needed to be specific about how much each city would spend for a consultant, if the voters approved the question. He would not want the Anna Maria portion to exceed about $35,000, he said.

And the cost for any consultant should be pro-rated on population, not an equal split, he added.

SueLynn admitted that she did not have information on the cost of a consultant to prepare a consolidation feasibility study, but added that that was not relevant at this point. The vote needs to be done first.

Commissioner Dale Woodland also had no real problem with the ballot language, but wanted public input before any commission decision. "This is an important step. I see enough time to discuss it further."

He noted that the consolidation issue is being pushed by Holmes Beach and any consultant hired would obviously return a biased opinion favoring consolidation. He suggested hiring two consultants, one for each side of the issue.

"To be fair, we would have to present both sides," he said.

Commissioner Linda Cramer wanted discussions about an Islandwide manager, while other commissioners were concerned about law enforcement, addresses, staff and taxes.

SueLynn cautioned, however, that now is not the time to get bogged down in specifics of consolidation.

"This is what happens when you start talking about consolidation. We shouldn't deal with issues now, just ask people if they want the three cities to explore the possibilities," she said. If any city rejects the referendum, that ends the process. "We need a vote first, before we should proceed."

Besides, the referendum is non-binding, she emphasized again. A city electorate could approve the measure, but a commission could elect to take no further action.

"It's like an opinion poll," said City Attorney Jim Dye. "The city does not have to be bound by the results."

Resident Jim Conoly cautioned the commission that it might be "putting the cart before the horse" by holding town meetings.

The commission, however, scheduled two town meetings at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Aug. 23 for public input.

Quam said that after that input, the commission could vote on the ballot language at its Aug. 25 meeting.

2005-06 budget

Commissioners voted unanimously to establish the tentative millage rate for the 2005-06 budget at 2.23 mils and scheduled the first public hearing on the budget for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7 (see separate story).

Local communications tax

The commission also learned that the city has not been charging a local communications tax on telephone, fax, cellular and other communications as authorized by the Florida Legislature.

The state has been sending the city about $19,000 annually, based upon a 1 percent tax, said the mayor, but the city could raise the rate up to 5.6 percent. At a 5.22 rate, the city would garner about $75,000 annually in communications tax as city revenue. Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach currently have a 5.22 rate, she noted.

A second reading of the ordinance to set the communications tax at 5.22 percent will be on the Aug. 25 regular meeting agenda, Quam said.

Hunt lawsuit

In other business, commissioners voted not to appeal the decision by Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Marc Gilner that quashed the commission's denial of a mixed-use site plan by Robert and Nicky Hunt for 303 Pine Ave.

Dye said there is no new evidence in the site plan, so the commission does not have to reschedule public hearings, just take another vote. The commission put the site plan vote on the Aug. 25 agenda.

County cable TV consortium

Assistant County Attorney Robert Eschenfelder addressed the commission about joining the county cable consortium to negotiate contracts with new cable providers such as Verizon. The advantage for the city is that the consortium provides the expertise on cable TV contracts, handles consumer complaints, deals directly with the company, and absorbs the vast majority of the legal and staff expenditures.

The annual cost to the city would only be $329, he noted, and no current subscriber to Bright House would have to take Verizon cable TV, if and when that company establishes service in the city. The city's franchise with Bright House is not exclusive, he noted.

While commissioners were generally in favor of the consortium, the "fly in the ointment," however, is that the city charter states that all franchises must be done by ordinance, said Dye. Verizon probably wouldn't like to negotiate with the county consortium, then have to make another presentation to the city.

Dye and Eschenfelder agreed to meet and work on that issue and will make a report at the Aug. 25 commission meeting.

Community Center

The commission unanimously approved the second reading of an ordinance vacating an alleyway through the Anna Maria Island Community Center property. The vacation will allow the Center to proceed with its expansion plans.

Surplus sale

The public works department has 15 surplus items that will be offered to the public for bid in the near future, including a 1987 Chevy Blazer in "good condition," PWD Director George McKay said. Other items include mowers, tools, water pumps and tool boxes. Additionally, the city has some surplus computers and a copier that will be up for sale.

McKay said he did not yet have the dates the public can view the items, but the complete list of items and accompanying pictures are available at city hall.

Forestry line-item transfer

The commission also approved a line-item transfer of funds from bridge repairs to cover the cost of removing exotics from city property. The mayor said that due to an error, not enough money was put in the 2004-05 budget for removal. At the same time, the bridge repairs were under budget, so the funds were available.

Alcohol on the beach

Magill questioned why the Manatee County Sheriff's Office had made no arrests for drinking alcohol on the beach during the June 14-July 25 reporting period. The mayor said she would discuss the matter with Sgt. John Kenney of the MCSO.

EEEC appointment

Jo Ann Mattick was appointed as a member of the city's environmental education and enhancement committee.

Draft language on non-binding consolidation referendum

The draft language prepared by the three Island mayors for a non-binding referendum on the November ballot is:

"Should Anna Maria participate in studies to explore the feasibility of consolidating the Island cities?

"A 'yes' vote on the referendum question will give the elected officials of each city authorization to expend funds to retains consultants to analyze the pros and cons of consolidation.

"A 'no' vote on the referendum question will result in no further action on the consolidation issue by the elected officials," according to the current draft language.

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