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Date of Issue: September 23, 2009

Annexation talks to begin

Negotiations for annexing the Kingfish Boat Ramp and the vicinity into Holmes Beach will soon begin.

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Shipping out
Boaters arrive with the dawn to the Kingfish Boat Ramp, operated by Manatee County government and in unincorporated Manatee County. The city of Holmes Beach wants to annex the land, but not manage the ramp.
Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Manatee County commissioners on Sept. 15 approved a resolution to enter talks with Holmes Beach officials, who want to incorporate the area west of the Anna Maria Island Bridge to the city line.

The county operates the boat ramp and a survey shows the ramp lies in unincorporated Manatee County but on the Florida Department of Transportation right of way.

County commissioners not only agreed to enter a discussion on the issue, some suggested that Holmes Beach consider extending the possible annexation area to include the bridge on Manatee Avenue.

That idea was raised by Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, who addressed county commissioners prior to their discussion on a resolution to negotiate boundaries.

Steube attended the meeting in Bradenton to clarify the record on claims that public safety is a significant concern in the boat ramp area.

During a county board meeting several weeks ago, commissioners discussed annexation with Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger and Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine.

Bohnenberger and Romine said their push to annex the area is based on concerns about public safety — the HBPD is closer to the boat ramp area and for years policed it based on assumptions that the land was within city limits.

The boat ramp and unincorporated area just east of Holmes Beach are under jurisdiction of the MCSO, but the Florida Highway Patrol has jurisdiction on State Road 64/Manatee Avenue on the bridge. Bradenton has jurisdiction for most of Perico Island and on the east end of the bridge.

Some commissioners, during that earlier meeting, relayed complaints from people who said they were involved in accidents on Manatee Avenue near the boat ramp or on the bridge and waited as long as two hours for law enforcement.

Steube did not focus on annexation, but instead provided commissioners with statistics showing public safety is not an issue in the area and that response times for accidents in recent years were not extraordinarily long.

In 2006, there were 35 calls for service to the boat ramp — about one service call every 10 days — according to the sheriff.

In 2007, Steube said there were 38 calls for service or one service call every nine days.

There were 63 service calls in 2008 — one every six days.

So far this year, the statistics show one service call every four days, but, the sheriff said, a majority of the service calls were initiated by MCSO deputies and only 12 resulted in written reports.

“There were 21 calls for service that actually went to 911,” Steube said, adding that the average response time to a call in 2009 is six minutes.

“Here’s my problem,” Steube said. “If we are talking about one call for every four days, I’m not sure we have a crime problem here.”

Steube also provided some statistics for FHP responses to accidents in the area. The average response time is 17 minutes, he said, adding, “I don’t think that this is a long time to be waiting for the FHP.”

Steube challenged complaints that during an accident on Manatee Avenue or the bridge, disabled vehicles cannot be moved until law enforcement arrives.

FHP, he said, will get wreckers on the way when the road is blocked, the sheriff said.

“People keep saying this is a public safety issue,” Steube said. “I don’t see that. …It is ultimately your decision, but as far as being a public safety problem, I don’t see that.”

Steube added that by annexing just the area west of the bridge to the city line, Holmes Beach would still be leaving the small area under multi-jurisdictions.

Why not go all the way across the bridge? Steube asked.

When the sheriff concluded, Commission Chair Gwen Brown said, “I believe we hit a nerve.”

The commission next took up a resolution on an interlocal service boundary agreement provided by deputy county attorney Maureen Sikora.

The resolution, approved by the commissioners, authorizes county staff to negotiate with Holmes Beach officials on annexation.

Commissioner Joe McClash suggested that those negotiations include a discussion on Holmes Beach annexing the bridge.

“Is it possible?” Commissioner Ron Getman asked, posing a question no one was prepared to answer. “If we are going to do this, I would support this if they would include all the way to Bradenton.”

Commissioner Carol Whitmore, former mayor of Holmes Beach, said perhaps the city doesn’t want to annex as far as the east end of the bridge.

“All Holmes Beach wants is what they thought they had jurisdiction of,” she said. “They didn’t ask for any more.”

Whitmore said pushing to annex more might open “a whole bigger can of worms,” especially with the Florida Department of Transportation working on long-term plans for a replacement bridge.