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Date of Issue: April 19, 2007

HB commission adopts EAR, backs pay raise

Holmes Beach city commissioners signaled last week that the lengthy assessment of the city's comprehensive plan is comprehensive and complete.

The commissioners voted 5-0 to adopt an evaluation and appraisal report, as required by state law and as one step in the process of modifying the comprehensive plan to reflect changes in the city and state.

The April 10 meeting also included a vote to raise compensation for future elected officials in Holmes Beach.

The first vote of the night was on the EAR.

State law requires local governments to assess the success or failure of comprehensive plans and adopt amendments to the plans to guide growth and development.

Holmes Beach adopted its comprehensive plan in April 1997.

Last August, the city planning commission signed off on the EAR and sent the document to the city commission for its approval.

Consideration of the EAR was postponed until after the November 2006 election and then delayed until after the commission approved in March a revised land development code and changes to the zoning map.

"It's been a while now," city planning consultant Bill Brisson said before the commission vote.

He said the EAR before the board "meets all the requirements."

Commissioner John Monetti, who was on the planning commission during the preparation of the EAR, said, "I think we have a fairly clean document" and encouraged its formal submission to the state.

In preparing the EAR, citizens, city employees and consultants explored a variety of issues, from the concept of mixed-use zoning to the existence of Australian pines, from the conversion of motels units to condos to structural intensity standards for certain land-use categories.

The assessment concluded that the city can expect the full-time population to be relatively static over the next decade. If all the vacant residential lands in Holmes Beach were to be developed during the next 10 years, the population would rise to about 5,300 people from 5,040 people.

Meanwhile, the EAR indicates, the winter season population might increase over the next decade from about 8,100 people to 8,500 people.

That increase means that some time after 2011, traffic levels on Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 and Gulf Drive east of Manatee Avenue will exceed recommended numbers.

In regards to the flash-point issue of Australian pines, trees deemed invasive exotics by state and federal agencies, the EAR calls for a new policy - the pines should be removed when they are considered a potential safety hazard and replaced with a more suitable native tree.

The document also embraces a "right tree, right place" policy that recommends planting trees to require minimal trimming to avoid power lines.

Another environmental element in the EAR deals with the city's Grassy Point project and changing the zoning from low-density residential to conservation.

In terms of preserving residential areas, the evaluation and appraisal report states that resort housing involving occupancy periods of less than 30 days should be prohibited in low-density residential areas.

And in terms of economic development, the review found transient-lodging facilities should be allowed for commercial land-use categories in mixed-use areas where a blending of commercial and residential can occur.

With the commission approval, the EAR will be submitted to the Florida Department of Community Affairs for review.

"We'll cross our fingers that nothing comes back," Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens said and then added that the state review is probably like a bank audit. "They have to find something."

The vote last week to increase the salary of future commissioners and the next elected mayor also was unanimous.

The commission briefly reviewed the pay raise ordinance on March 27 and then voted April 10.

The ordinance states, "The city commission finds that based on cost-of-living increases, time commitment and expense requirements for the mayor and the city commission members, the city commission should authorize an increase in the mayor's and city commission members' annual salaries."

Currently, commissioners receive $400 per month and the mayor $800 per month, the same amount that is paid to similar officials in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach. Longboat Key doesn't provide salaries to its elected officials, although the town employs a full-time town manager.

The new rates in Holmes Beach will be $500 per month per commissioner and $1,000 per month for the mayor.

Commissioners said the stipend helps cover a variety of costs, from travel to meetings to the nametags they wear at public events.

Initially, elected officials received reimbursement for expenses, but the payment system was changed to salaries to comply with Internal Revenue Service rules.

The increase would not apply to the current elected body, but rather to officeholders elected this November and in November 2008. Three commissioners will be elected in November 2007 and two commissioners and a mayor will be elected in November 2008.

"This was something that was brought to my attention last year," said Haas-Martens.

She added that the ordinance could be rescinded if the state Legislature passes measures overhauling the tax system, including setting spending limits for government.

City commissioners and Mayor Rich Bohnenberger have said some state legislative proposals could have disastrous consequences for Island municipalities.

Bohnenberger already has instituted a hiring freeze for Holmes Beach as a safeguard in the event the state makes serious changes to the tax system. The freeze means two empty posts in the public works department - a vacancy created by a recent death and a plans examiner position authorized in the 2006-07 budget will not be filled.

The last increase in compensation for elected officials was approved about 10 years ago, according to city treasurer Rick Ashley said.

With the commission's 5-0 vote on the raise, Haas-Martens said, "I don't think this is out of line."

The next commission meeting is April 24. The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the chambers at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. A work session will follow.