Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn was not surprised to learn that the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau announced May 8 that tourism was up for 2012 and, for 2013, already ahead of last year’s pace.
“We know tourism is growing because we see the growth of cars on the streets, the number of pedestrians and reports from retail shops and restaurants,” she said.
What she and Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman would like to see is more of the resort tax money — the 5 percent resort tax collected in Manatee County from accommodation rentals of six months or less — coming back to island cities to help with infrastructure needs to accommodate visitors.
The barrier islands generated 62 percent of $8 million collected in Manatee County resort tax funds for fiscal year 2011-12, but the four barrier island cities receive no direct funding from the county to help accommodate visitors, SueLynn said.
“We have to provide good roads, not just for 1,600 residents, but the thousands and thousands of visitor vehicles that travel our streets every day. We have to pay for that upkeep,” the mayor said.
Additionally Anna Maria has to provide adequate public restroom facilities for the 5,000-plus people who might travel to the city on a high-season weekend.
“We also have to provide parking for the visitors, yet we get nothing back, except the resort tax funds the county’s share of beach renourishment,” she said.
SueLynn and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy have been lobbying county Commissioners John Chappie, whose district includes the islands, and Carol Whitmore, whose district is countywide, to discuss the issue at a county meeting.
Chappie and Whitmore are both island residents and should understand the problems, SueLynn said.
“I just don’t think the other commissioners realize what we have to do to provide for the visitors,” SueLynn said.
“We’d like to get a little help out here,” she added.
SueLynn has found a sympathetic ear: BACVB executive director Elliott Falcione, who inspected the Anna Maria City Pier with her recently and agreed it is in need of repairs. “(Falcione) said its condition was unacceptable,” SueLynn said, and he would look into what funds might be available for pier repairs.
SueLynn said county administrator Ed Hunzeker also was going to look at the condition of the pier, which is consistently a top tourist attraction.
All the BACVB international marketing and bringing sporting events to the county is great, but what people come for is the “old Florida atmosphere” found on Anna Maria Island, SueLynn said.
“Tourists can now find this island without any marketing scheme that costs millions of dollars,” the mayor said.
“We are the engine that drives the county economy,” Brockman added.
SueLynn said she sometimes thinks other county commissioners don’t pay enough attention to the island’s tourism-related problems.
“Just let them drive out here every day during the high season and come to Anna Maria and the city pier. They’ll soon know what it’s like to live through high tourist season,” SueLynn said.
The mayor made it clear she is not criticizing the work of the BACVB, just the distribution of resort tax funds. The bed tax money also supports the BACVB budget, its staff and the Bradenton Convention Center.
The state measure that established the resort tax allows the funding to go toward pier repairs and improvements, SueLynn said.
Before asking for assistance, the mayor wants a new marina and pier ordinance establishing a marina zone that is approved by Tallahassee, along with an agreement with the pier leaseholder to allow the city to repair the pier in exchange for a higher monthly payment.
The current leaseholder pays the city about $9,000 per month to rent the pier, bait shop and restaurant.
The TDC will next meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at the county administration building in downtown Bradenton.
TDC 2012-13 fiscal-year budget
• Tax collector commissions, 3.0 percent, $196,482.
• Marketing plan, 49.2percent, $3,159,073. (advertising, promotion)
• Administration, 12.5 percent, $803,307.
• South Florida Museum, 0.5 percent, $30,000. (second manatee)
• City of Bradenton /Pittsburgh Pirates spring training facility, 6.2 percent, $400,000.
• Bradenton area convention center, 9.3 percent, $600,000.
• Transfer for tourism-related projects, 7.8 percent, $500,000.
• Beach renourishment project,11.5 percent, $737,623.
Does not include transfers to reserves for disaster recovery, future projects, contingencies, and salary adjustments.