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Island census: declining numbers or flaws?

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

The late Holmes Beach City Commissioner Don Maloney said in 2005 that the last person to leave Anna Maria Island should “turn out the lights.”

Maloney made the comment after learning that the number of registered voters in the three Island cities had declined 12.3 percent from 2000 to 2005, while Manatee County voter registration increased 19.1 percent during the same period.

People were selling their Island homes to investors at a profit and moving away from AMI, Maloney said.

The investors turned those single-family homes into rental properties and that trend would continue, he predicted.

The jovial Irishman was right, at least according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 census.

Population figures from the 2010 census recently released by the bureau show Anna Maria Island’s population dropped 21.2 percent from 2000 to 2010, losing 1,752 residents.

Holmes Beach lost the most people, declining from 4,966 residents in the 2000 census to 3,836 for the 2010 count, a drop of 22.8 percent.

Bradenton Beach fell 21 percent in population, falling from 1,482 residents in 2000 to 1,171 in the 2010 census.

Anna Maria’s population decline was 17.1 percent from 2000 to 2010. The city had 1,814 residents in the 2000 census, while just 1,503 were reported in 2010.

Islandwide, the population declined from 8,262 in 2000 to 6,510 in 2010, the census reported.

For the same decade, Manatee County’s population rose 22.3 percent, climbing from 264,002 in 2000 to 322,833 in the 2010 census, a gain of 58,831 people.

Census questioned

However, Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger called the 2010 federal census “a joke.” He said he knew several people who never got a census form, while others received two or three in the mail. He received three forms in the mail at his house.

“The census bureau can’t count. They botched the census, it’s completely useless,” Bohnenberger said.

If the city’s population drop is correct, “We’d actually be getting more tax revenue because many houses would no longer be homesteaded. In fact, our tax revenues are about the same.”

Bohnenberger observed that 59 percent of Holmes Beach residents filled out a census form, according to the census bureau, compared to the Manatee County and national average of 74 percent.

Bohnenberger may have an unwitting ally in his claims against the U.S. Census Bureau.

In September 2008, the bureau published a Florida city population report that estimated the population of Holmes Beach at 5,017, while it said Anna Maria had 1,829 people and Bradenton Beach 1,553.

“Where did everybody go in two years?” Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt asked.

Likewise, the number of registered voters in each Island city appears inconsistent with the 2010 census.

For the November 2010 elections, Holmes Beach had 3,612 voters, according to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections website, 224 less than the population number reported in the census.

Bohnenberger said he’s not decided if the population figures from the bureau should be a political issue. Some federal grants are based on population, he said, but most Holmes Beach grants come through the county.

With the county’s population up by 22.1 percent, Bohnenberger was confident that grants would trickle down through the county to the Island cities.

Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby also was disturbed by the census figures. He acknowledged the city may have lost a few residents the past 10 years, but not that many.

“I don’t know what the figures mean. People tell me they want to live in paradise and they keep buying homes,” he said.

At the same time, said the mayor, he knew of several people in recent years who sold their house and left the city. The buyer then turned the dwelling into a rental for the income, he said.

Those investors are “likely waiting until it’s time to retire before moving to Anna Maria permanently,” Selby suggested. But he said that number is nowhere near the 311 people the city lost according to the 2010 census.

The mayor said he would have expected ad valorem tax revenues to rise as more and more houses had homestead exemptions removed, increasing the tax rate on the property. That’s not the case.

Selby also noted that only 49 percent of Anna Maria residents returned a census form, according to the 2010 census.

That could have something to do with the low population reported for Anna Maria, he indicated.

As in Holmes Beach, Anna Maria’s number of registered voters does not appear to be consistent with the population.

For the September 2010 recall election, the city had 1,367 active voters and 138 inactive for a total of 1,470 voters. If the present census figure of 1,503 is accurate, then only 33 people in the city would not be registered voters, Selby observed.

In Bradenton Beach, Mayor Bob Bartelt also questioned the census bureau figures.

For example, he said, the 2010 census reported only 51 percent of city residents returned a census form. At the same time, the number of registered voters in November 2010 was 928 active and 132 inactive for a 1,060 total.

Comparing that figure with the 1,130 official census bureau population led Bartelt to question the bureau’s accuracy.

“Something is not adding up. The census numbers sound skewed. I haven’t seen or heard of a large exodus,” he said.

Bartelt was concerned that the population decline might affect the city’s ability to obtain grants and federal funding.

If that’s the case, he wouldn’t mind joining the other Island mayors and pushing U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, to have the census numbers investigated and get an explanation from the census bureau.

Buchanan might have a reason to get some answers from the bureau.

Longboat Key’s population fell by 9.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the census bureau figures.

In 2010, the town had 2,591 Manatee County residents and 5,012 Sarasota County residents, a total of 7,603 people. In the 2010 census, however, Longboat Key’s population was listed at 6,888, a loss of 715.

Getting Buchanan involved “might not be a bad idea,” Bartelt said.

“Maybe we’ll find out that the people at the census bureau really can’t count.”

Efforts to reach Buchanan’s office for comment on the census figures for his district were unsuccessful.

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