The Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted to appoint Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen May 22 to the Tourist Development Council. Peelen will take the seat June 1 from 12-year TDC member/Holmes Beach Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens.
The TDC is a county advisory board that makes recommendations on how to spend the 5 percent tourist development tax, also known as the bed tax, collected on short-term rental properties — nearly $7 million in revenues countywide last year.
“I’m very excited,” Peelen said after her appointment. “I’m very honored to be appointed, and look forward to representing the islands and the city.”
Haas-Marten’s four-year TDC term expires June 1, and although she sought to retain her seat, it drew competition from Peelen as well as Longboat Key Commissioner Hal Lenobel.
While saying she was disappointed not to be returning to the TDC, Haas-Martens, who first joined the council in 2000, expressed pride in her TDC work and affirmed her run for re-election as a city commissioner in November.
Before the county board’s 4-3 vote, the chair took nominations for all three contenders from the floor and public comment from Holmes Beach Commission Chair David Zaccagnino.
With an influx of visitors this season on Anna Maria Island, Zaccagnino said, tourism “is reaching critical mass.” He pointed to Manatee County Area Transit figures to support his claim.
Thirty-five percent of the MCAT riders are from Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key since October, he said, adding the transit system recorded 65,000 Island trolley riders in the month of March.
In comparison, Anna Maria Island is approximately 3 square miles and Longboat Key is 4 square miles with only 40 percent of the key in Manatee County, according to the Sarasota/ Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. County and census records show Manatee County has 741 square miles.
Zaccagnino said he supported Peelen for the TDC because “it’s time to make a change,” and he said she could provide a fresh perspective “to help us alleviate the critical mass and keep the product we’re all trying to promote.”
Since December, Zaccagnino has been lobbying the TDC and county officials to address the impact of tourism on Island infrastructure and city services.
He repeated his concerns last week, telling county commissioners that while Holmes Beach received $1.9 million in property taxes, the city’s rental property owners paid “the same amount of money” in resort tax dollars to the TDC.
In addition to the $1.9 from Holmes Beach, approximately $2.34 million in resort tax was generated from unincorporated Manatee County, $1.12 million from Longboat Key, $728,000 from Bradenton Beach, $484,000 from Anna Maria and $303,000 and from the city of Bradenton, according to TDC records.
After the meeting, at-large Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who also serves as the TDC chair, said Zaccagnino’s comments may have swayed the commission to select Peelen.
Whitmore recommended Peelen to the county board, saying she “wrote Title IX,” and describing her as a “smart woman.”
Whitmore said, “As much as I love Sandy — Sandy helped me open my first bank account — I never got a report from her on what’s going on at the TDC” during her time on the TDC, which included some years when Whitmore was mayor of Holmes Beach.
Haas-Martens received support from Commissioners Joe McClash, also an at-large representative, John Chappie of Bradenton Beach, District 3, and Larry Bustle, District 1, who praised Haas-Martens service before the 4-3 vote.
In addition to Whitmore, Commissioners Robin DiSabatino, District 4, Donna Hayes, District 5, and Michael Gallen, District 2, voted for Peelen.
The county board also appointed Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, replacing Bradenton Commissioner Harold Byrd, to the city’s seat on the nine-member TDC board.
After the meeting, Whitmore said, “It was a very hard decision for me. Jean lobbied us better.”
She also noted that Peelen’s efforts — attending TDC meetings and talking directly to county commissioners — likely contributed to her appointment. Peelen might disagree with her on some issues, she said, but she may also provide “a breath of fresh air” on the council.
Whitmore said while she didn’t believe the TDC could assist with city services and infrastructure as requested by Zaccagnino, the TDC could help in other ways.
The TDC received letters in support of Peelen for the appointment from Zaccagnino, two Bradenton Beach city commissioners, Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy and Anna Maria City Commissioner SueLynn, according to Whitmore.
Whitmore said the TDC received a letter in support of Haas-Martens from Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger.
In addition to beach renourishment for Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, the TDC supports the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Manatee Convention Civic Center, Crosley Estate, McKechnie Field and a host of publicity and marketing projects.
The next meeting of the TDC will be 9 a.m. Monday, June 18, at the county administrative building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.