Tag Archives: 07-30-2014

Summer storms: natural peril for sea turtles, shorebirds

Summertime in Florida means the occasional shower pouring from the sky on and off, like the shower faucet at home.

As people head indoors to avoid the downpour, nesting shorebirds are left exposed to the elements and sea turtle nests are unprotected — marked only by stakes and twine.

“We never have a problem with Mother Nature. We never want to see nests washed out, but that’s nature,” said Suzi Fox, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring. “We always have a problem with human intervention.”

Sea turtle nesting season began May 1 and continues to Oct. 31.

Fox said it’s typical to lose sea turtle nests to storms and estimated about a third of nests are lost each year. She said turtle monitoring organizations in Englewood and Naples also report about a third of their nests lost to storms.

“What’s most scary is everybody is out looking at waves and looking for turtle eggs. It’s just not safe,” she said. “People want to lay over the nests and save them. It’s a hard thing for people to swallow. Safety for my volunteers is my main concern.”

AMITW volunteers are instructed not to make their morning walk when lightning is present, and if a morning survey must be aborted, it is recorded in their data, which is sent to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Following heavy storms, the volunteers check for stakes that may have washed away. Fox said each area of the beach is marked in sections and the volunteers know how many nests are in each section.

If markers are lost, AMITW uses a GPS and triangulation system that uses fixed objects on the beach to relocate the center of the nest.

In the past, people have brought Fox turtle eggs they found following storms. “However sad, they’re just not viable anymore. Leave them. Let the birds eat them. Let them wash into the Gulf. Let nature do its thing,” she said.

If hatchlings are spotted, they should be reported to AMITW.

High tides also can wash out a sea turtle nest. If a nest appears too close to the water, AMITW will relocate the nest. But if a nest becomes exposed, attempting to remove the eggs usually results in the eggs popping due to suction inside the clutch, Fox said.

Sand provides an excellent drainage system, and during heavy rain, the water doesn’t necessarily overflow the nest. However, the eggs are permeable and too much water can drown the turtles in the nest.

Fox said summer storms have not impacted any sea turtle nests this year.

The most recent storm to heavily impact the shorebirds and sea turtle nests was Tropical Storm Debby in 2012. An estimated 100 sea turtle nests and large numbers of bird nests were wiped out during the storm.

“I know those big waves look fun, but boy are they dangerous,” Fox said.

Holmes Beach building official resigns ‘under duress’

Holmes Beach superintendent of public works Tom O’Brien has resigned following an absence related to health problems and poor job performance reviews.

O’Brien’s signed confirmation letter of July 15 stated: “I find that the tasks assigned to me as building official and superintendent of public works are interfering with my health issues, which have been exacerbated over the months, resulting in a recent hospitalization.”

However, in an interview with The Islander a week after his resignation, O’Brien said he was intimidated and resigned under duress.

According to the city’s human resource specialist, Mary Buonagura, O’Brien was given an opportunity to resign following poor performance reviews, health problems and complaints from staff and the public.

Buonagura said it’s her responsibility as the city’s human resource specialist to sit in on disciplinary meetings.

O’Brien was issued a “performance improvement plan” from Buonagura in March, and a follow-up PIP was conducted in July.

The PIP is a recently instituted procedure, to help city employees who may be underperforming based on their job requirements to get back on track, Buonagura said.

In addition to PIPs, Buonagura has instituted annual performance reviews, saying some employees have only had a few reviews in 20-plus years of city employment.

O’Brien is the only employee to have been given a PIP.

His PIP in March cites falsification of timecards; allowing his provisional building administrators’ license to expire; missing deadlines; not conducting staff performance reviews; poor customer service to the public; lacking supervision of staff; and rudeness, including outbursts of temper in the workplace.

Buonagura said the March PIP was intended to give O’Brien the opportunity to correct discretions.

The PIP conducted in July had been delayed due to O’Brien’s health problems, Buonagura said.

It states that while some discretions had been corrected, he continued to miss deadlines, the “city’s standard for customer service (was) not being met” and he lacked the ability to supervise his staff.

O’Brien was contracted by Mayor Carmel Monti in December 2012 following the retirement of former superintendent Joe Duennes.

O’Brien said he is pursuing consulting work in Manatee County. “I’ve done it for the last 30 years in this county,” he said.

Long-awaited Bradenton Beach pier work to start

Long-awaited repairs to the Historic Bridge Street Pier are slated to begin in less than two weeks.

A portion of the pier has been closed to the public since storm damage occurred in July 2012, but it should finally reopen after about five months of work.

At a special July 21 meeting, Bradenton Beach commissioners unanimously approved the third draft of a 28-page contract between the city and contractor Duncan Seawall Dock and Boat Lift LLC.

At the July 17 city meeting, Perry led city commissioners through a page-by-page review of the contract, resulting in some recommended changes.

The contract still has to be signed by Duncan. However, general manager Steve Porter later said he was OK with the changes.

Porter said Duncan plans to start work Aug. 11.

Also at the July 17 meeting, commissioners granted Mayor Bill Shearon authority to approve up to $14,837 in possible change orders and unanticipated cost increases. Any expenditure costing more than that will require commission approval.

Shearon is expected to work with the pier team advisory board that has authority to approve or deny pier expenditures.

Duncan will have up to 16 days of additional time to complete the project without having to pay a penalty fee of $1,000 per day. Any penalty will be deducted from the final payment, which will be made after the project has been fully completed.

Duncan has 161 days to complete its work once both parties sign the contract and the clock begins.

Renovation plans include expanding the outdoor dining area at the pier restaurant by 9,700 square feet, installation of light-gray composite decking, the addition of water lines to new fishing stations and installing 21 new pilings in addition to the 151 pilings already in place.

The added pilings will extend into Sarasota Bay from the floating dock adjacent to the pier and form a protective barrier to prevent damage from boats breaking loose from the nearby anchorage.

The pier renovation will be funded through a joint effort by the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and Manatee County government.

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council will match up to $1 million of the pier cost from its tourist tax funds.

Anna Maria cancels budget meeting

At their July 24 meeting, Anna Maria commissioners set the tentative millage rate for fiscal year 2014-15 at 2.05 mills, and scheduled the first public hearing on the budget for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

The 2014-15 budget proposed by Mayor SueLynn July 16 is $3.38 million at an ad valorem tax rate of 2.05 mills.

Commissioner Dale Woodland voted against the hearing date. He said previously he wanted to first discuss spending.

Commission Chair Chuck Webb said the tentative rate is “not the final word on the millage.” The commission can’t raise the millage above 2.05, but can approve a lower millage.

Millage is the percentage of the taxable value of a property that the city charges a property owner. If a property owner has a home appraised for tax purposes at $500,000, with millage rate of 2.05, the owner would pay $1,025 in property taxes.

With only three Anna Maria commissioners available, Commission Chair Chuck Webb canceled the budget work session that was set for July 23.

Webb said the budget is the most important issue the commission takes up every year, and have as many commissioners as possible participate in discussion of the budget is almost a necessity.

Commissioners had planned a line-item review at the July 23 session, but that will have to wait until the regular Aug. 6 work session, city clerk Diane Percycoe said.

The commission must establish a tentative millage rate before public hearings on the budget begin in September.

Bradenton Beach faces $400K-plus shortfall in budget plan

Bradenton Beach officials are scratching their heads over a projected $441,458 budget shortfall.

At the July 22 city meeting, city treasurer Sheila Dalton presented the commission with a 2014-15 budget of $3.254,005, using the current millage rate of 2.3329. The 2013-14 budget is $2,805,372.

The $3.25 million budget includes the spending needed to operate the city, but it also is $440,000 more than the anticipated revenue.

Dalton said the commission has to decide what to adjust in the budget to bring it into balance.

With a 1.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for city employees, and several proposed capital improvement projects, the city is slated to spend more than it expects in revenue.

The projected millage rate of 2.3329 exceeds the rollback rate of 2.2323, amounting to a tax increase for taxpayers.

The rollback rate is the rate needed to maintain the same revenue as the current year’s budget.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said he would not support a millage increase, but said the proposed CIP “wish list” of endeavors the city hopes to take on has been neglected for too long.

“These projects were neglected in the past few years and need to be addressed,” he said. “But taking them all on at once is not really an option either.”

The list includes road improvements and a two-year $900,000 stormwater project that must be completed or the city will lose the commitment for matching funds from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The expensive undertaking will most likely mean putting routine maintenance projects, such as street repaving, on the back burner.

“What we need to decide here is are we going to appropriate this kind of money to catch up or balance the budget,” said Commissioner Jack Clarke. “If we decide to focus on the latter, the citizens are going to have to understand they are going to be dealing with crumbling streets for another year.”

The major revenue stream for the city is ad valorem taxes; the city is projecting a collection of $994,000.

Other forms of revenue for the city come from electrical, telephone and other franchise fees and state taxes, to name a few. The total anticipated revenue amounts to $1.65 million.

Other expenditures draining the city’s general fund are increased insurance and attorney’s fees.

Dalton said employee health insurance is increasing by $76,000 this year.

Attorney’s fees are expected to increase next year by $60,000.

The police department also is asking for more money, requiring a 3 percent budget increase or around $30,000.

All police department employees would receive a 2 percent raise, according to Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale.

Despite the shortfall, commissioners said this year’s budget process has been easier than it has in two decades thanks to the efforts of Dalton, who joined the administrative team in February.

“We used to have several meetings for each department, which could run for hours,” said Commissioner Ed Straight. “This year it’s been a breeze.”

She told commissioners it will be up to them to decide how they want to proceed, and she contributed several cost-saving ideas, including discontinuing coffee service and recommending the treasurer drop off the daily deposit on the way home from work instead of making a special trip.


Holmes Beach wants to spend more, plans tax increase

Holmes Beach elected officials discussed ways for the city to get its cake and eat it, too, during the July 22 budget discussions.

“When we started the budget process, we were about $350,000 over budget. We had to cut to maintain the current millage. We are probably one of the lowest rates in the area,” said Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti.

But millage is the percentage the city collects from the overall property values — maintaining the rate does not reflect a raise or drop in taxes.

The proposed budget for the city’s 2014-15 fiscal year totals $9,777,016, which amounts to $773,289 more revenue and spending than the current budget.

According to city treasurer Lori Hill, the bulk of the budget’s increases derive from:

• Adding a human resource analyst position.

• Designing a new city website.

• Purchasing Citizenserve software.

• Hiring an additional police officer.

• Buying two trucks for public works and one for code enforcement.

• Improving Grassy Point Preserve and stormwater systems.

• Increasing reserves.

The proposed budget also includes a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase for employees and legal costs increased to $13,000 a month. Hill said the increase is due to commission meetings running longer than in the past and possible unforeseen litigation, as well as stormwater issues.

The budget includes a projected $93,000 increase for the additional police officer.

“I appreciate the extra officer. It helps with the extra overtime,” said Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

The chief said the force currently has 14 officers, and when officers are sick or go on vacation, it’s difficult to avoid overtime. There are two officers and a sergeant required on each of two day-shifts and two officers on each of two night-shifts.

Tokajer also requested the city enter into a vehicle leasing program, which he said is a less expensive way to replace police vehicles.

Hill did not include new police vehicles in the proposed budget, but Tokajer addressed the commission regarding the leasing program, coupled with a program allowing officers to take their vehicles home.

“It’s pay me now or pay me later. If we don’t replace the cars now, the maintenance fees will grow,” said Tokajer.

He told commissioners he requested $45,000 in funding assistance from Manatee County for the patrol of the county-maintained Kingfish Boat Ramp, as well as funding assistance from the school board for the Anna Maria Elementary School resource officer. Tokajer said if the assistance is granted, it would help offset the cost of new police vehicles.

“Get to work, chief. Go find some money,” said Commission Chair Judy Titsworth.

Responding to increased pressure from Florida Communities Trust, commissioners and the public, a reserve account is established in the new budget year for Grassy Point Preserve. In the proposed budget, $100,000 is allocated for improvements.

If the preserve money is not spent in one fiscal year, it will roll over into the next year’s budget.

Hill said the proposed budget is based on an ad valorem millage rate of 1.75, the same rate as the previous three years, amounting to a tax increase for taxpayers.

An ad valorem millage rate is the percentage of the taxable value of a property that the owner pays in annual property taxes.

With a millage rate of 1.75, a Holmes Beach homeowner with a house valued for tax purposes at $500,000 would pay $875 in property taxes for one year. If the city adopts the rollback rate of 1.6352, that property owner would pay $817.60.

The rollback rate is the percentage needed to produce the same amount of ad valorem tax revenue as the current fiscal year. According to state statutes, anything higher than the rollback rate is a tax increase.

According to Hill, a 1.75 rate for the next fiscal year will reflect an 8 percent increase in ad valorem revenue, or approximately $174,000.

Commissioner Jean Peelen said, “I don’t want to keep the millage rate the same. When I look at our history with the millage, the commission before us lowered the rate when the city was going into the toilet and the city suffered.

“I understand where we were in the past few years, keep it the same, which meant a slight increase of what people are paying, but why would we not reduce it as a clear good faith sign that we are understanding that money is tight for everyone?”

However, the remainder of the commission and mayor did not agree with Peelen.

“I don’t feel comfortable going to the rollback rate because the budget is $350,000 over. We have to cover expenses,” said Commissioner David Zaccagnino. “We passed 25 ordinances this year. We tell our staff to go out and do it, and then don’t give them the resources.”

Monti suggested the city find alternative routes to raise money. However, he agreed the millage rate should increase over the rollback rate. Monti suggested looking for funding from the county, or instituting paid parking as a revenue source.

“I can’t believe I’m the only one up here arguing for the city,” said Peelen.

The commission voted unanimously to set the maximum millage rate at 1.75. It can be lowered, but not raised at subsequent hearings.

The first public hearing for the proposed budget will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

HB traffic committee seeks parking relief on some streets

The Holmes Beach Traffic Committee is proposing a plan to give relief from street parking to some homeowners near the beach.

The committee claims it has discovered areas for public parking that haven’t been accounted for in the past in order to maintain the total number of public parking spaces provided in the city.

But the newly identified parking areas are apparently already in use by visitors, beachgoers and business patrons for parking.

The plan presented to commissioners July 22 includes relocating signs for public parking spaces from residential areas to commercial streets — musical chairs for signs.

Before going to the commission, committee members met July 21 to discuss their plan to reassign parking, paying particular attention to the required number of public parking spaces for Manatee County to qualify for future beach renourishment funding.

The committee learned the renourishment funding does not call for an actual count of parking spaces, but rather parking spaces with signs designating public spaces.

Committee chair Carol Soustek contacted Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, and committee member Jaynie Christenson consulted with Erica Carr-Betts, civil engineer with Coastal Planning and Engineering, contracted by the county to perform a renourishment-related parking study on Anna Maria Island.

The committee also canvassed the city, counting signs and accounting for unsigned spaces. Members provided commissioners with a list of residential streets with public parking signs, and a list of commercial streets that lack signs.

The committee’s plan is to prohibit public parking on the streets and rights of way in residential areas. Committee members have cited complaints from residents related to beachgoers parking in front of their homes.

“People are parking on any and all available streets, including sidewalks, and it’s a safety factor. People are too close to stop signs, and you can’t get a car down the street, much less an emergency vehicle. And people are parking the wrong direction,” Soustek said.

“There are a lot of places to park not in residential areas, and people are already parking there. They’re just not signed,” said Soustek.

In Holmes Beach, street parking is allowed. According to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, it is only illegal to park on streets that are posted “No Parking.”

The traffic committee suggested prohibiting parking in residential zones, eliminating 41 spaces. They accounted for 52 existing spaces in commercial zones that they suggest the city post with parking signs.

The committee estimates the city needs a minimum of 364 spaces to earn maximum funding for renourishment, and members found 422 eligible spaces.

Committee members also proposed issuing decals or residential parking tags, so residents can provide guest parking on their streets or rights of way.

City planner Bill Brisson advised the city commission at the July 22 meeting: “I have been involved in this with one other community. Normally you don’t use zoning districts, you use a distance. Zoning districts are nothing but a confusion. It should be something like west of Gulf Drive.”

Commission Chair Judy Titsworth delayed taking any action. “My suggestion is to give us all the information and let it soak in. There’s going to be public that want to speak. I think we should address it again real soon at another work session and get more public comment,” she said.

The city commission will again discuss the traffic committee’s parking proposal at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

MCSO detectives on hold for homicide

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office homicide detectives are waiting for the autopsy report on the July 16 death of Pamela Doster, 45, of Land O’Lakes.

The case is a “possible homicide,” MCSO Detective John Kenney said.

Doster died at Blake Medical Center three days after she was found injured at Passage Key by law enforcement and taken to the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria for transport to the hospital.

At that time, she told the response team her husband had pulled her by the hair from their personal watercraft several times during an argument and that her head struck the PWC.

Michael Doster, 50, was arrested July 13 by deputies and charged with domestic battery. He posted a $5,000 bond and was released.

Pamela Doster was treated at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton and released, then spent the night at a woman’s shelter in Bradenton. The next day, she complained of a severe headache and returned to Blake, where she died the morning of July 16.

Kenney said the results of the autopsy are key to the case.

MCSO is seeking witnesses who may have had contact with the Dosters July 13, the day of the confrontation at Passage Key, when Pamela Doster allegedly saw her husband engaging in oral sex with a man on the sandbar.

Kenney urged anyone with information about the Dosters to contact him at 941-747-3011, ext. 2216.

Elderly Holmes Beach woman thwarts burglary

An 80-year-old Holmes Beach woman scared off thieves attempting to burglarize her home July 16 by threatening them with a gun.

Around 10 p.m., the woman reported hearing a loud crash and voices coming from a doorway on the lower level of her home in the 3800 block of Sixth Avenue, according to the police report.

After calling 911, the woman grabbed her gun and walked toward the doorway, warning the intruders she would shoot if they tried to gain entry.

The would-be burglars ran off before police arrived, the report said.

The suspects had thrown a large rock though the glass bottom of the door in an attempt to gain entry, the report said.

A Holmes Beach Police Department officer observed the screen on the outer door also had been cut, the report said.

The officer estimated the intruders caused about $500 worth of damage to the doors.

2 arrested after public sex display at beach

Two people were arrested July 20 after they allegedly engaged in sex on the beach — in daylight and in full view of a number of families with children.

Jose “Benny” Caballero, 39, and Elissa Alvarez, 20, both of Bradenton, each face a charge of lewd and lascivious behavior.

A witness told police she saw the couple “go at it” for about 25 minutes on their beach towel, break for a quick swim and then fall asleep for what seemed like hours at Cortez Beach in the 400 block of Gulf Drive South in Bradenton Beach.

The complainant was upset because her 4-year-old daughter witnessed the scene and started asking questions, according to the police report.

She said the couple woke up, fondled each other and started having sex again. At this point, the woman said, the onlookers called police.

Another witness confronted the couple before police arrived.

In the 911 call, a witness told the dispatcher the couple “cannot stop getting naked.” She described the man as “muscular” and wearing a “Speedo.”

According to his Facebook page, Caballero is a bodybuilder. He was described in the BBPD arrest affidavit as having a large 5-foot-5-inch build and weighing around 185 pounds.

At least six people filed complaints with the Bradenton Beach Police Department.

Alvarez and Caballero denied having sex on the beach, although Alvarez admitted to taking off her top, saying she was “just having fun.”

One of the witnesses filmed the couple with a camera phone, and turned the video over to police to be used as evidence.

However, BBPD Chief Sam Speciale said the footage “doesn’t really show anything” because the couple were still wearing bathing suits.

“All you can really see is grinding,” he said.

Both Caballero and Alvarez were arrested and taken to the Manatee County jail, where they each posted a $7,500 bond and were released.

Their arraignment will be held at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 8, at the Manatee Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.