Anna Maria commissioners agreed to have Mayor Mike Selby look into costs associated with hiring a special master to handle code enforcement violations and replace the current code enforcement board.
The same idea was presented by former Mayor Fran Barford in 2005, but was rejected by the commission.
Selby said each time the code board meets, it costs the city $1,130 for staff, utilities, the code board attorney, court reporter and city attorney Jim Dye.
In the past six years, however, the city has collected only $200 in fines, and the board meets between four to six times each year, the mayor said.
The code board is not a good return for the cost and few people volunteer to serve. It also can cause resentment among residents.
“It’s neighbor versus neighbor,” Selby observed. Those serving on the board don’t want to be required to pass judgment on people they know.
The mayor said he’s checked with the Florida League of Cities and the vast majority of cities have a special master system.
A special master is a board-certified attorney appointed by the Florida Attorney General. Hearings are held during working hours, reducing the cost.
At the same time, Selby recommended the city revert to allowing anonymous complaints.
In September 2009, following numerous anonymous complaints to the code board about Pine Avenue businesses, the commission opted to require a signed complaint before initiating an investigation. Under the present system, only the mayor and code enforcement officer may know the complainant’s name.
Selby noted that when anonymous complaints were allowed, there were 56 one month, but under the signed complaint system, there were 22 complaints in one month.
Along with the special master, the city should introduce a citation system for violating a code or ordinance, he suggested.
Most people issued a citation pay the fine rather than go before the special master, Selby said.
Additionally, the mayor asked the commission to have the code enforcement officer become pro-active for cases that involve violating the right of way.
Just from the number of real estate signs he’s observed in the right of way that deserve a citation, Selby said the city would easily surpass the cost of a special master.
“We have ordinances that need to be enforced, but no consequence” for a violation, Selby observed.
Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick opposed anonymous complaints. She said the city should “do a better job” of explaining the confidentiality involved in signing a complaint.
Chair Chuck Webb said he’s been involved with special master cases as an attorney and, when accompanied by a fine schedule, the system works well and generates revenue for the city.
Selby said the city needs to access all available revenue sources.
Commissioner SueLynn was intrigued by the fine schedule and anonymous complaints for the right of way. Mattick agreed that right-of-way complaints might be made anonymously.
Commissioners agreed to have Selby pursue the idea and return with a cost to engage a special master. He also will provide a draft schedule of fines for various ordinance offenses.
Anna Maria seeks business license
Anna Maria city attorney Jim Dye was directed by commissioners at their Jan. 12 meeting to investigate any possible way the city might resume collection of the occupational license tax.
The city lost it’s right to impose the tax after the 1995 commission failed to meet the Oct. 1 deadline set that year by the Florida Legislature for cities to either increase its fee or retain its fee schedule to continue to collect the tax.
The 1995 commission adopted the occupational license tax the first week of October 1995, and backdated the resolution to Sept. 30, 1995. In 2003, however, the Florida Department of Revenue tossed aside that resolution, saying the city had missed the deadline and was, therefore, not entitled to collect occupational license taxes. The city was not required to refund fees collected between 1995 and 2003.
City clerk Alice Baird said the fee brought in about $25,000 in revenue annually.
Additionally, said Mayor Mike Selby, the license fee provides the city a database to easily track owners of rental properties.
Commissioners agreed the revenue and database are necessary and directed Dye to investigate all possible avenues to resume collection of the tax.