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Date of Issue: September 23, 2009

Island loses voters, but county gains

Will the last person to leave Anna Maria Island, please, turn off the lights?

It might sound like a pun, but according to online figures from the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office, the Island has lost 17.6 percent of its registered voters during the past nine years. For the same period, Manatee County increased its voter rolls by 31,000 voters, a 15.4 percent gain.

Most Anna Maria Island elected officials said the Island is not losing population, but the rate of decline in registered voters is at odds with population figures.

Some of those officials say there are fewer voters, but the same number of people on the Island, because more houses are investment properties and part-time residences.

Since 2000, the number of registered voters in the three Island cities has dropped from 6,679 to 5,505, a loss of 1,174 voters (16.6 percent).

But the rate of decline has slowed since 2005.

That year, the Island had 5,857 registered voters. Compared with the August 2009 figure of 5,505 registered voters, the four-year decline is 6 percent (minus 352 registered voters).

The Anna Maria decline is not cause for alarm, at least at this point in time, said Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford.

“Our population is still about the same, so I believe the drop reflects the economy and the real estate market,” she said.

More people are coming to the Island and buying homes for investment, or becoming part-time residents, she indicated.

She also noted that many people in the boom years of 2004-2006 sold their Island home and moved inland, making a nice profit on the escalating real estate value of Island properties.

“The economy has done a lot of this. It’s not because people don’t like Anna Maria or the Island, and it’s not because people have lost interest in politics. It’s just the nature of the Island economy,” Barford said.

Anna Maria City Commissioner Dale Woodland, however, said the loss of registered voters shows the Island is changing.

“I grew up out here and so many of my friends have sold out and moved off the Island because they could no longer afford to live here. It’s distressing. I’m not overly concerned right now, but I am going to keep an eye on the issue,” he said.

Anna Maria City Commissioner Christine Tollette was more direct.

“Any time you lose that many voters, we should be concerned. It shows an economic trend,” she said.

Her concern is that too many homes are being bought for investment or a part-time home, or built as investment property. The city needs to attract more residents, particularly families.

“That’s why it is important to keep our duplexes. They retain the village atmosphere and provide affordable housing,” she said.

People still live on the Island, Tollette said, it’s just that more of them are only part-time residents and don’t register to vote here.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens was not overly disturbed about the decline in her city and attributed the loss to more than just economics.

“It’s not fully due to the economy because a few years ago, the number of homestead exemptions went way up,” she said.

Haas-Martens said a lot of people who bought 20 or 30 years ago on the Island have passed away or moved off the Island. Their children get the home and decide to rent it half the year and use it as a vacation home, she said.

The economy, taxes and investment potential are all part of the reason for the decline, she said.
        Haas-Martens did note that Holmes Beach has always had a large number of rental properties. “But people still come out and vote and we still have about the same population as five years ago,” she said.

Not so in Bradenton Beach, said Mayor Mike Pierce.

“When you lose that many voters in nine years, you have cause for concern. We barely have 900 voters. It’s just become too expensive to live on the Island,” he said.

Pierce is not ready to turn out the lights, but noted the tax disparity.

“You have to have a lot of money to afford to live on the Island. I paid $400 in taxes 20 years ago and now it’s more than $5,000, and I have a homestead exemption.”

The 2005 prediction of former Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie may be coming to fruition.

“Just look around at all the small properties that have been converted the past few years to condominiums for rental units or second homes,” Chappie said in a 2005 Islander story. “We are in serious danger of losing our voting and population base.”

According to available historical records, Bradenton Beach had nearly 1,400 registered voters in 1990.

The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 5.

By the numbers:
Anna Maria

Anna Maria had 1,357 registered voters as of August 2009, according to the SOE Web site, a drop of 128 (8.6 percent) from the 1,485 voters registered for the 2005 election.

Compared with the 2000 number of registered voters of 1,615, Anna Maria has lost 258 voters (16 percent) the past nine years.

Bradenton Beach

Bradenton Beach, which lost 189 voters (16.6 percent) from 2000 to 2005, when the number fell from 1,136 to 947, has lost just 38 voters the past four years. The city has 909 registered voters as of August 2009, a drop of 4.1 percent from 2005.

Since 2000, however, the city has lost 20 percent, or 229 voters from its registered voting population.

Holmes Beach

Holmes Beach fell from 3,425 registered voters in 2005 to 3,239 voters as of August 2009, down 5.4 percent.

Since 2000, when the city had 3,928 voters registered, Holmes Beach has dropped 689 registered voters (down 17.5 percent) when compared with the current number.