Anna Maria Island residents could begin to feel the effect of Tropical Storm Isaac as early as 5 p.m. today and lasting through Monday until 2 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
The Manatee County Commission met at 3:30 p.m.
Aug. 25 at the Emergency Operations Center to declare a state of local emergency in advance of Tropical Storm Isaac. The declaration allows the implementation of emergency plans and procedures.
The Manatee County Public Schools also announced Saturday that all public schools in the district will be closed Monday, Aug. 27, due to the threat posed by Isaac.
Three district schools have been designated emergency shelters and will open at 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 26.
The three shelters are:
• Nolan Middle School, 6615 Greenbrook Blvd., Bradenton. Special needs, pet friendly.
• Manatee High School, 1000 32nd St. W., Bradenton. Pet friendly.
• Braden River High School, 6545 State Road 70 E., Bradenton.
Meanwhile, the Manatee Emergency Operations Center is at a partial activation with emergency management officials closely monitoring the path of thestorm.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, Tropical Storm Isaac was about 610 miles southwest of the mouth of Tampa Bay, moving northwest at 310 degrees at 21 mph. Maximum sustained winds are near 60 mph. Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Florida Keys. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Manatee County.
Tropical storm conditions are possible on Monday, including thunderstorms, high temperatures near 86 and a heat index of 97, and a southeast wind as high as 32-37 mph with gusts up to 47 mph.
According to the Florida Emergency Email & Wireless Network, the chance for hurricane conditions is “very small,” but the chance for tropical storm conditions is up to 69 percent for Manatee County.
Emergency Management Chief Laurie Feagans continued to urge Manatee residents to prepare for strong winds, rain and flooding on Monday as Isaac passes the Gulf coast.
The storm is projected tobecome a hurricane Sunday and Manatee is within a Tropical Storm warning area, according to the National Hurricane Center.“We need to take this storm seriously, so Manatee residents need have their family disaster plans in order,” Feagans said.
She said to have a disaster supply kit prepared.
Purchase any needed items you don’t already have. In addition, she said, clear your yard of lawn furniture, potted plants, bicycles, trash cans and other items that could become airborne in strong winds. Leave swimming pools chlorinated and cover the filtration system, lower the water level to accommodate heavy rains, but do not drain the pool.
A list of preparedness tips is available at www.mymanatee.org/hurricane and a storm-ready publication with tips for preparing your family, home and boat can found at www.islander.org.
Updates will be posted to Manatee County’s Facebook page and Twitter, as well as The Islander newspaper Facebook page.
As of 5 p.m., Friday, Aug. 24, Tropical Storm Isaac was moving northwest at 16 mph with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph.
The storm is expected to make landfall on the coast of Haiti later tonight.
The center of the storm is expected to be near the Florida Keys by Sunday.
Further strengthening of the storm is expected once Isaac reaches the warm Gulf of Mexico waters. The extended forecasted path of the storm continues to place the center of the storm about 150 miles west of Anna Maria Island by Monday afternoon.
Feeder bands producing heavy rain at times, and high winds can be expected in Gulf Coast communities beginning Sunday and possibly lasting until Tuesday morning.
The Top Notch photo contest winner for the fourth week, Penny Frick of Bradenton, is the top winner in the six-week contest with her photo of a searing sunset captured in May at Siesta Key Beach. Frick — a past winner as well — will receive the 2012 grand prize, $100 from The Islander, framing of the winning photo by Carly Carlson Framing and gift certificates from Duffy’s Tavern, Harry’s Continental Kitchens, The Feast, Hurricane Hanks Pub & Grill, Bridge Street Bistro and Mister Robert’s Resortwear. Weekly winners receive a “More Than a Mullet Wrapper” Islander T-shirt. Next week: Honorable mentions.
If resort tax collections are any indication — and they have been for the past 16 months — area tourism in June took a big jump from June 2011.
The Manatee County Tax Collector’s resort tax division reported collections in July — the tax is collected one month in arrears — of $739,150, a 28 percent increase from the $577,624 collected for the same month in 2011.
The resort tax — often called the bed tax — is officially known as the Manatee County tourism development tax and is the 5 percent charged on any rental accommodation of six months or less.
For 15 of the past 16 months, area tourism has increased from 5 percent to 15 percent monthly, while resort tax collections have risen more than 20 percent for the same period.
June collections brought the total resort tax collected for fiscal year 2011-12 to $6.933 million. With three more months of collections remaining in the fiscal year, it’s a sure bet collections will surpass the previous record of $7.1 million set in fiscal year 2010-11.
The collections have steadily increased since the resort tax collections division became pro-active in searching for owners or managers of vacation rentals who were not paying the resort tax, did not have a county license and/or were not registered with the Florida Department of Business Regulation.
Sue Sinquefield of the resort tax collections division said people who tried to beat the system found they not only must pay the past due amount when caught, but the cost of a county license and a Florida registration certificate.
Agents from the office routinely target known or suspected areas where property owners or accommodation managers may not be collecting the tax, or collecting taxes and not reporting to the tax office, Sinquefield added.
“I think the word is getting out that offenders will be caught. Of course, it’s also helped collections that tourism has been increasing the past two years.”
Sinquefield said her office also reports homeowners who rent their property in spite of receiving a homestead exemption to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office for action.
Sinquefield praised code enforcement officers and anonymous tipsters for providing information on potential violators.
Holmes Beach led both unincorporated Manatee County and other municipalities in June collections with $265,900. Manatee County brought in $200,000, Longboat Key collected $98,250, Anna Maria had $79,800 and Bradenton Beach collected $70,000 in resort taxes for June 2012.
Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key combined to bring in 69 percent of the resort tax collections in June 2012. On average, the barrier islands collect about 60 percent of the resort tax for the county.
The resort tax is used to fund the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the convention center, the Crosley Mansion and the county’s share of beach renourishment projects, among other projects and attractions.
At the Manatee County Tourist Development Council meeting Aug. 20, Research Data Services Inc. of Tampa reported tourism occupancy to the area rose 7.5 percent in June 2012 as compared to June 2011 figures.
Anna Maria commissioners and Mayor Mike Selby appear headed for a showdown with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office about the duties of deputies assigned to the MCSO-Anna Maria substation.
At the commission’s Aug. 14 budget work session, Commissioner SueLynn said it was time to discuss the $675,000 contract the city has with the MCSO for law enforcement services. She’s not sure if the city is receiving a fair value for its dollar, particularly in light of an Aug. 14 letter from Sgt. Dave Turner, head of the substation, suggesting deputies will not perform code enforcement duties.
Turner did not attend the meeting.
The letter apparently surprised commissioners, including Commission Chair Chuck Webb, who said the city has a contract providing that “the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is supposed to uphold our codes.”
Webb said city codes are city laws and the contract says MCSO deputies will enforce city laws.
Turner states in the letter that deputies are not code enforcement officers, while also claiming they have gone beyond their duty to assist the city’s code enforcement officer.
The main issue appears to be the MCSO’s response to noise and nuisance calls. Turner’s letter states his deputies are responding when possible, but they will not issue citations.
Hold on a second, Webb said.
Codes are laws, but the deputies apparently don’t want to enforce some codes because “that’s not their vision of law enforcement,” he said.
Regardless, Webb continued, “They have contracted to enforce our laws.”
Webb said Turner’s reference to Manatee County’s noise ordinance has nothing to do with Anna Maria.
“Our codes are our laws and they are no different than 90 percent of other cities,” Webb said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he added.
Selby said city attorney Jim Dye would meet with Michelle Hall, the MCSO attorney, to hopefully iron out the issue. Selby said Dye, who was not at the work session, believes the MCSO contract requires deputies to enforce city laws and Dye has state statutes to back up the city’s position.
Webb said he also would attend the meeting and Selby and other commissioners agreed.
“We need to establish a chain of command, of who is in charge,” Webb added.
“We didn’t have any confusion with our last supervisor, so the current issue is how is the contract being carried out,” said Webb.
Commissioner John Quam said the city should not sign its MCSO contract for law enforcement for 2012-13 until the issue of who is in charge and what laws are enforced is resolved.
“They can’t pick and choose what they are going to enforce,” Selby said.
But, Webb added, if there is a new MCSO policy in Anna Maria, the city might want to change or amend the 2012-13 contract with the sheriff.
“It may cost us some money” but the city needs to know what to expect from the MCSO, Webb said.
Commissioners agreed to hold the $675,000 contract out of the proposed $2.3 million budget until Dye and Webb report back to commissioners at their Aug. 21 meeting.
“There’s something strange going on here,” said Webb, a former county attorney for Broward and Charlotte counties before moving to Anna Maria and establishing a private law practice.
After the meeting, Selby told The Islander that Dye and the MCSO attorney met Aug. 15 to iron out the issues, and Dye would have a full report for commissioners at the Aug. 23 city meeting.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dave Turner, head of the MCSO-Anna Maria substation, has responded to Mayor Mike Selby’s request for help with enforcing noise and disturbance problems by saying, “We are not code enforcement officers.”
Turner wrote Selby and MCSO deputies stationed in Anna Maria Aug. 14 stating the subject has been discussed with his supervisors, and he has informed the mayor of the MCSO position.
“Once again I am referring you to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Legal Division regarding deputies going outside the normal parameters of their required duties under the MCSO contract and the agency’s directives and general orders,” wrote Turner.
“I am also referring you to my direct supervisors. ‘We are not code enforcement officers.’ The city has a part-time code officer and I think she is doing a good job. I think that my supervisors will have a problem if we start walking down the code enforcement path.”
He reiterated to the mayor that deputies enforce many code issues, but the city’s noise regulations are not the same as the county noise ordinance.
Selby made his request for more MCSO help at the Aug. 9 commission meeting when discussion turned to enforcement of noise regulations and violations.
Commissioners want MCSO deputies who respond to a noise complaint or disturbance at a vacation rental to contact the owner or manager and deal with the problem, including issuing a citation.
Deputies, however, already are working to determine if properties are licensed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Turner said. And deputies are “writing reports on all violations,” he emphasized.
One of his deputies has been working with Commissioner SueLynn in compiling a directory of rental homes and agents, and determining if properties are registered with county and state agencies, he said.
“This is well outside their normal contracted duties,” Turner maintained, particularly if the deputy has to wait at the scene for the property manager/owner to arrive.
Deputies are not ignoring problems, but there is only one deputy on duty from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Each noise complaint ties up a deputy for 30-45 minutes, Turner said.
This decreases patrol time to prevent crimes such as burglaries, which have increased recently in Anna Maria, he noted.
Turner said that “any more enforcement, like writing $100 magistrate summons on noise tickets, calling property managers while en-route or making arrests outside of violations of the law, would need to be approved by legal and by my supervisors,” said Turner.
He also noted that commissioners have previously said they were happy with the MCSO service, but “it appears when a deputy does not attend the city meetings” deputies and their duties “become an ongoing target.”
Selby said city attorney Jim Dye and Commission Chair Chuck Webb will meet with Turner, Sheriff Brad Steube and the MCSO attorney to clarify the MCSO duties under the city’s contract for law enforcement.
Selby said Dye will present a report of the meeting at the Aug. 23 commission meeting.
The Coquina Beach concession stand reopened May 23 after months of renovations kept the facility closed, but it reopened as a dry cafe — to the disappointment of some.
Despite the celebration, featuring a who’s who of county officials, beer and wine sales at the snack bar remained a goal for the concessionaire.
But it’s the city of Bradenton Beach that has authority to determine whether alcoholic beverages are sold. Coquina Beach is within Bradenton Beach city limits, but operates under a management contract with the county.
Before the doors reopened in May, Manatee County Parks and Recreation director Cindy Turner and County Commissioner Carol Whitmore expressed support for beer and wine sales at the concession stand, but city commissioners shot down that request at a commission meeting in March.
Turner and Mark Enoch, of United Park Services Inc., the contract operator of the concession stand, pledged to try again. They did so Aug. 13 at Bradenton Beach City Hall during a special meeting.
Only Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioner Ric Gatehouse attended the meeting, so a quorum for official business did not occur, but Shaughnessy said the meeting was only for discussion and would not require action.
Commissioners previously rejected the request to sell beer and wine at Coquina Beach based on Police Chief Sam Speciale’s concerns about enforcing potential bad behavior due to alcohol consumption at the beach.
“I trust my department heads and value their input,” Shaughnessy said to Turner, as to why the commissioners turned down the request. “If there was indeed a problem, it would be awhile before we could get an officer down there, especially at night.”
The city and BBPD have a contract with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to patrol Coquina Beach, but Speciale said he would need MCSO assistance if alcohol would be sold at the concession stand.
Coquina Beach did not always have the reputation it enjoys now. It used to be a problem area for Bradenton Beach law enforcement, and Speciale said he does not want a return to that kind of atmosphere.
Gatehouse said his reasoning was along those lines, as well, and also said serving alcohol in an open area does not allow for adequate supervision.
“Clearly underage drinking on the beach becomes a possibility,” said Gatehouse. “It also brings to mind the tragic incident in Siesta Key of having someone cut people off. Those guys got hammered and one of them got in a car and ran down a woman and killed her.”
Turner said she respects the city’s points of view, but has been working with Speciale to address his concerns and wants to work with Gatehouse to address his points.
“The Siesta Key incident is tragic, but unfortunately people are going to drink, whether it’s at Coquina Beach or the BeachHouse,” said Turner. “What our studies have shown is that when you are serving it in a controlled environment, it prohibits people from bringing their own alcohol.”
Turner said it’s no secret that people bring their own alcohol to the beach.
“They sneak it on the beach and drink it,” she said. “We’ve had a number of people ask us why we can’t just sell it. I look at it as more controlled by selling it than having people sneak in their own.”
Turner said she can promise additional law enforcement to alleviate Speciale’s concerns, and would work on a list of policies with Gatehouse to address his points.
Shaughnessy wanted to know why the county was pushing so hard for the sale of beer and wine at Coquina Beach.
“What does the county get out of this?” he asked. “Do you get a percentage of the gross sales, because Bradenton Beach isn’t getting anything out of it?”
Turner said the county does receive a percentage from the contractor, but it wasn’t about the money and disagreed that Bradenton Beach wasn’t benefitting.
“You are getting an enhanced environment,” she said. “Manatee County isn’t in it because of percentages. We support it because we believe in it and think it’s the best thing we can do for our community.”
Turner said she is trying to look at the bigger picture to enhance the Coquina Beach experience as part of the county’s commitment to its Blue Wave certification.
“You have to follow strict environmental guidelines to get that certification, and that’s something we are proud of and worked really hard at,” said Turner, who added that Blue Wave is all about enhancing the community.
“The beer and wine sales is another enhancement to our visitors and residents,” she said. “It’s not the dollar value. It’s what people are asking for.”
Speciale said the county has addressed his concerns and he would no longer object to the proposal.
“I can’t speak for my commission,” said Shaughnessy. “If my chief of police is comfortable with it, then I’m comfortable with it, too. If I can’t trust my department heads, then they wouldn’t be there.”
Turner said she would work on a business plan that will include law enforcement involvement and a list of policies for the serving of alcohol. Turner said the request would be submitted at a yet-to-be-determined commission meeting.
Voter turnout for the Aug. 14 primary election was higher than in 2008, but lower than the 2010 primaries.
Voter turnout in 2008 was 16.25 percent, while 24 percent of voters turned out in 2010, according to Nancy Bignell, Manatee County assistant supervisor of elections. A little more than 21 percent of voter turnout was recorded for the 2012 primary.
“We always prepare and expect a bigger turnout, but you never can predict these things,” said Bignell. “It usually depends on who is on the ballot, but we thought we had some elections on this ballot that would bring voters out.”
Some primary elections were to determine who would advance to the Nov. 6 general election, but others, such as the Manatee County sheriff race, decided the officeholder.
Incumbent Brad Steube was up against Republican Bill Waldron. With no Democrat in the race, the primary decided Manatee County’s sheriff for the next four years.
Steube defeated Waldron, a former homicide detective, with 78.33 percent of the vote. According to the official tally, Steube received 32,442 votes to Waldron’s 8,972.
Steube soundly defeated Waldron across the island, as well. He took Anna Maria 239-84. Holmes Beach recorded a Steube victory of 276-69 in Precinct 92 and 276-74 in Precinct 93.
The sheriff claimed Bradenton Beach with a 101-29 victory.
Von Hahmann loses supervisor of elections race
Cortez resident Jane von Hahmann, the former county commissioner representing the island, finished third out of four Republican candidates vying to compete against Democrat Charles Williams in November for the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office being vacated by Bob Sweat, who is retiring.
State Senator Michael Bennett, who has termed out of office, won the GOP nod with 36.75 percent of the vote, or 9,163 votes. Von Hahmann claimed 26.77 percent of the votes, or 6,697 votes.
Anna Maria supported von Hahmann with 83 votes to Bennett’s 44. Bradenton Beach also supported von Hahmann with a narrow victory of 27 votes to Bennett’s 26. She finished third in both of the Holmes Beach precincts.
In other local interest races, Betsy Benac defeated Joe McClash in the District 7 at-large Manatee County commissioner race in what proved to be the tightest race of all. Benac received 12,872 votes to McClash’s 12,378 votes.
Bob Gause defeated Linda Schaich in the District 4 Manatee County School Board race with 22,332 votes to Schaich’s 17,324 votes. Gause’s district includes Anna Maria Elementary School.
And Dave “Watchdog” Miner, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island, defeated three candidates in the District 2 Manatee County School Board race, collecting 19,217 votes. The closest competitor was Robert Moates with 12,235 votes.
Voter registration for the Nov. 6 general election runs through Oct. 9.
For complete primary election results and information, visit www.votemanatee.com or www.islander.org.
Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen read a report she wrote into the record Aug. 14 before a packed city hall chambers, targeting builder Shawn Kaleta for invading the city eight years ago and transforming it into an out-of-state investor-driven rental market.
Peelen’s report, titled “Crisis in Holmes Beach,” also blamed a lax land development code, and bad contractors — as well as the mayor, building department and city commission “with the clear exception of Commissioner (Pat) Morton” — for allowing the problems to fester.
The report also blames the crisis on blatant violations of rental agents and owners, who advertise online finished ground-level game rooms and homes for less than seven days in violation of city zoning codes.
The five-page report, with 16 pages of attachments, including residents’ accounts of construction worker- and renter-related noise, trash and parking problems, was met with sustained applause from the crowd and strong denials from Kaleta’s attorney.
Commissioner John Monetti also pointed to the “six to eight months” the commission has spent on such issues, and read an anonymous letter into the record questioning the city’s crackdown on ground-level living spaces for ping-pong tables in garages and air conditioners in storage spaces.
Louis Najmy, attorney of Najmy Thompson of Bradenton, took the podium, saying he represents Kaleta, Joseph Varner and an Anna Maria Island coalition of property owners, and that he also owns property in Holmes Beach.
Najmy labeled Peelen’s comments mostly “directed at one individual” as “libelous and slanderous,” and asked that she retract the statements, cease from making such statements and disclose public records maintained in her personal email account.
In the past several months, Kaleta, who is a principal in several contracting and development companies, has been referenced at city meetings about short-term rental problems blamed on the increased number of multi-story rental homes.
Recently asked why he’s not been involved with the city process, Kaleta said he’s been focusing on achieving a .30 floor-area ratio for his future home designs.
Peelen’s report alleges Kaleta has built at least 64 houses in the R-2 zone, and estimates a total of 100 homes since 2004, many in violation of the city’s comprehensive plan and land-development code.
“I think the commission, building department and most of the people who’ve had approval authority over the projects feel otherwise,” said Najmy.
Peelen wrote in the report, “I believe the city of Holmes Beach is in a crisis. It is a crisis that has been building for the last eight years but only recently noticed.
“I believe that while the city has not been legally complicit in creating the crisis, they have, at the very least, been unconcerned and allowed the developer to have his way,” she said.
Peelen’s report also claims some instances of utility thefts.
City attorney Patricia Petruff said people should call the police if they witness anyone plugging in appliances or hooking up to water when they’re “confident the owner didn’t give permission.”
Najmy denied the theft of utilities, saying there was only “one charge of violation.” He called Peelen’s reference to contractors’ employees working illegal hours both inaccurate and unsubstantiated.
Peelen’s report also pointed to a rental website, Anna Maria Vacations, currently under investigation by code enforcement officer David Forbes, for offering rentals of less than the seven-day minimum permitted in the city’s Residential-2 district.
“That is simply not true,” Najmy said.
The Peelen report also compares some rental homes, those that accommodate an average of 16 people, to a “weekly invasion of 32 new people,” equivalent to a “7-11 opening next door to your home.”
As far as the report’s criticism of large homes being commercial uses, Najmy said vacation rentals are permitted under the city’s code.
“It’s something that every property owner and person who lives in Holmes Beach needs to, and must, accept,” he added.
“Tonight’s reading was at our objection,” Najmy said, “because of the harm to the individual” and “property owner who has enhanced and contributed to our community.”
Petruff declined to advise Peelen against making her statement.
Peelen’s report claimed “the pace of the commission has been without urgency” and called for decisive action by the city on the following:
• Require a floor-area ratio of .30 for the R-2 zoned district.
• Deny or place on hold R-2 building applications that exceed a .30 FAR.
• Inspect job sites to ensure nuisance-free neighborhoods, with the issuance of stop-work orders or citations as appropriate.
• Cite rental agencies for repeated noise complaints at managed rental properties.
• Require remedial action to correct ground-floor room violations, including removal of doors, finished flooring and illegal walls.
• Issue a warning to Kaleta to halt the design or building of houses with finished rooms on the ground floor.
• Issue violations, not warnings, to the owners of every property in the R-2 zone advertising stays of less than a week on www.annamaria.com.
• Issue a violation to Anna Maria Vacations for advertising rentals for less than a week.
• Hire an additional, experienced code enforcement officer.
• Consider the termination or demotion of the current building inspector.
Others addressing the commission included residents Diana McManaway, who said the FAR limitations would not necessarily encourage residential homes over rentals.
Frank Leggio spoke in favor of large homes that comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency standards and the city’s regulations.
Varner, one of the owners of Anna Maria Vacations, told of recent renters complaining about the treatment received while visiting in the city.
Varner read a letter from a Lakeland resident, who said she’d vacationed for 40 years on the island, but would not return because of how her party in a six-bedroom rental was treated July 4 by Holmes Beach police officers. She alleged they threatened jail and scared children in their response to a neighbor’s noise complaint.
“That’s the type of response we’re getting on a regular basis from guests coming to our island,” Varner said.
Morton took exception to the letter’s allegations, saying he knew every police officer, and did not believe such an account.
City planner recommends more study
City planner Bill Brisson attended the Aug. 14 Holmes Beach commission meeting to address some of the proposed changes to ordinances in response to the rental issues.
He recommended additional study on proposed land-development code changes, including floor-area ratio limits, to ensure compliance with the comprehensive plan and avert legal challenges.
“Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time,” Brisson said, adding he would report alternatives to the commission at its Aug. 28 meeting.
Floor-area ratios and increased setbacks will not cure the city’s problems of overcrowding, amassing garbage and noise, Brisson said.
He viewed these problems as indicative of too many bedrooms, acknowledging a need to change the definition of bedrooms to “sleeping rooms.”
While Brisson said the study would make recommendations for all residential districts, he proposed a limit of three bedrooms for a duplex unit.
Commission Chair David Zaccagnino and Peelen disagreed on limiting bedrooms, and pointed out that additional people come with larger houses.
“If you have a 4,000 square foot house, you’re highly likely not to put 15 people in there,” Zaccagnino said.
“There’s lots of ways to play with bedrooms,” Peelen said.
Commissioner Jean Peelen said a focus group “ended up after three months of study, recommending FAR as the only effective means” to control the short-term rental problems.
Commissioners also described the problem as one of large homes that are out-of-character in their surroundings.
Zaccagnino told Brisson the commission voted 3-2 on a .30 FAR. Brisson said he could “almost guarantee” a .30 wouldn’t hold up in a study.
Other proposed regulations being reviewed include requirements for noise-baffling for pool equipment, at least one parking space per bedroom, and a 5-foot minimum pool and deck setback with no pool in any front yard or facing a street.