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Date of Issue: March 01, 2007

Tax proposal troubles mayors, chamber

Island mayors and Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce representatives plan to hold a town meeting this spring on tax matters.

The idea came out of a meeting Feb. 23 at the chamber office, 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. The meeting involved chamber president Mary Ann Brockman, chamber chairman Mark Davis, Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie.

The gathering was called to discuss how the chamber can partner with municipalities on events such as Bayfest in Anna Maria and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the pier in Bradenton Beach.

The chamber plans to hold a Jazz Under the Stars concert in Anna Maria Oct. 19, the night before Bayfest takes place on Pine Avenue. Bayfest, Brockman said, is "getting bigger and bigger every year."

In Bradenton Beach, the chamber is working with the Bridge Street Merchants Association on a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the pier in September.

An idea for Holmes Beach, a sort of Taste of the Island, is in the works for 2008.

"My goal is to do something major in each city," Brockman said, adding that the chamber is working on a full year of events on the Island, as well as the Taste festival and a tradeshow in 2008.

The bulk of the morning meeting was devoted to sharing concerns about proposed changes to the tax system in the state.

"We need to alert the membership of the chamber to the dismal consequences of what's being proposed," Bohnenberger said.

A tax-relief plan recommended by a state House committee would involve two phases. The first phase would roll back property taxes across the state beginning July 1. The rollback would apply to residents, out-of-state second homeowners and businesses using 2001 property tax bills and a formula that takes growth and inflation into consideration.

A second phase would involve a constitutional amendment that would eliminate property taxes on homesteaded property and then raise the state sales tax 2.5 cents. The amendment would also limit the annual growth of state and local spending.

"The tourists pay again," Brockman said, referring to the proposed increase in the sales tax and echoing what chamber directors have said across the state in February.

"Is there something we can do as Island mayors?" Barford asked.

From that question developed the idea of an Island town meeting, perhaps in the hall at St. Bernard Catholic Church and involving a representative from the Florida League of Cities, as well as municipal officials and the chamber.

"I think we need to do that," Bohnenberger said.

"The governor thinks we're awash in money," the Holmes Beach mayor said, adding that proposals circulating in Tallahassee could doom the Island's municipal governments.

Bohnenberger also shared his concerns about the state tax proposal with the Holmes Beach Civic Association during a meeting Feb. 24 at the Island Branch Library in Holmes Beach.