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‘Cash cow’ needs more than words, BIEO agrees

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen is tired of seeing the virtues of Anna Maria Island and its beaches displayed in just about every advertisement and website about the Bradenton area.

She’s not really tired of the advertisements, they’re great for tourism, she said. She’s just tired of the island serving as the “cash cow for the entire county, yet we have very little to say about the money,” she said at the March 20 meeting of the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials March 20 at Anna Maria City Hall.

Peelen also serves on the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, a nine-member board that also includes islanders Ed Chiles, David Teitelbaum and Barbara Rodocker and is chaired by County Commissioner Carol Whitmore of Holmes Beach.

Peelen told BIEO members they need to present a united front and either an environmental or recreational plan to the Manatee Board of County Commissioners and the TDC to gain funding from the resort tax, which is paid in large part by visitors to the barrier islands.

The resort tax, often called the bed tax, is the 5 percent tax collected by the county on accommodation rentals longer than six months.

Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino, who said he has attended most county commission meetings the past year, said whenever he asks for funding for Holmes Beach, he’s asked what specific project does he have.

“The only resort tax money we get back is beach renourishment funds and that only happens once every five to eight years,” he observed.

The resort tax, which brought in $8.1 million in fiscal year 2011-12 to Manatee County, helps fund the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors budget and its advertising campaigns, the Bradenton Convention Center, the Powel Crosley Mansion, McKechnie Field and the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training facility, among other projects.

“I don’t see any island projects on that list,” Peelen said.

Peelen proposed an island bicycle path, and Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn suggested the BIEO should go to the county commission or the TDC “en masse with a detailed plan of what we want to do, including drawings and engineers reports. They want to see solidarity, a plan and a need,” she said.

SueLynn also said there’s a good chance the bike path might meet the criteria for funding from the BP oil spill settlement. Charlie Hunsicker, director of natural resources for Manatee County, has said lawyers for the five Gulf Coast states have told him Manatee County can expect $4 billion-$19 billion as a settlement.

The funds can only be used for environmental or public recreation projects and Hunsicker is charged with preparing the final list for commission approval.

“Whatever we do, we do it together and we go with a detailed plan to either the commission, the TDC or Hunsicker,” said Peelen, who suggested the bike path from Bean Point to Coquina Beach, then over the Longboat Pass Bridge to connect with Longboat Key’s bicycle path.

“We need artist drawings, engineers or public works officials to show us the weak points and discuss the path mixture. And we need help with a crosswalk,” Peelen said. Surely there must be some experts in these fields on the island, she added.

SueLynn said this is the type of project the county wants to see before it considers any funding.

Peelen said if all the island cities support the bike trail, the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization might get behind the effort. Although the MPO might not have immediate funding, its stated support for an environmentally friendly project that cuts down on transportation could be effective in gaining either county commission or TDC funding.

Officials agreed to do some homework to put details on paper for the bicycle path and report back at the April xx BIEO meeting.

Zaccagnino also suggested that as many BIEO members as possible attend county commission meetings, particularly when an island or Longboat Key issue is on the agenda.

In other business, members discussed county administrator Ed Hunzeker’s 26/13 Plan to reduce property taxes throughout the county and have the cost of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office shared more by residents in unincorporated areas of the county than cities with their own police forces. Some portion of municipal property taxes would still support the MCSO.

Hunzeker plans a series of public forums throughout the county leading up to a June 17 vote on a half-cent sales-tax increase to fund his plan.

Zaccagnino also discussed HB 838, the bill that allows Florida homeowners to rent their property. The bill came as a surprise to many elected officials when passed in 2011. Zaccagnino said he talked with state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who told him the best chance to change the law is to lobby legislators before the 2014 session.

The next BIEO meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

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