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Medical marijuana dispensaries banned in Bradenton Beach

Bradenton Beach commissioners were given the opportunity to reconsider a proposed ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries in the city before a final reading, hearing and vote.

However, city officials stayed their course and unanimously approved the ban.

A supermajority of voters chose “yes” to constitutional Amendment No. 2 on Election Day, Nov. 8, legalizing the use and dispensing of medical marijuana in the state.

More than 79 percent of voters in Bradenton Beach voted for Amendment No. 2 — higher than any other precinct in Manatee County.

Voters in the three municipalities on Anna Maria Island —Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach — approved the amendment with supermajority votes.

The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, though the state is working on the regulatory details.

At a Jan. 19 meeting, Bradenton Beach commissioners were prepared to adopt a proposed ordinance to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

The ordinance, drafted by city attorney Ricinda Perry, also includes a “backup” 180-day moratorium if the state repeals the right to prohibition.

Before the vote, Perry presented the commission with an email from Margaret Good, an attorney with Matthews Eastmoore Trial Lawyers in Sarasota.

In the Jan. 18 email, Good wrote she is working with Igniting Florida, a medical marijuana lobbying group, “who is working with local governments throughout the state to ensure smart regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries.”

“I am concerned because an outright ban on medical marijuana would likely not stand up to a constitutional challenge, which could leave Bradenton Beach without any regulation of dispensaries.”

Good’s email included a proposed ordinance in which the number of dispensaries authorized in a community is linked to population size. According to “the most recent census or periodic demographic studies conducted by the University of Florida,” Good said Bradenton Beach’s population would allow for one dispensary.

Good suggested the commission consider her proposal and table the second reading of the marijuana prohibition.

Perry presented Good’s request on behalf of Igniting Florida to the commission for discussion.

Perry said Good claims her proposed ordinance would withstand constitutional challenges and told commissioners they could continue the second reading to their next meeting, after they consider the proposal.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner John Chappie said he did not want to stop the commission’s plans “this late in the game.”         “Do we need a dispensary?” Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon asked. “We don’t even have a drugstore here.”

“I strongly believe we need to pass this and see where it goes with the federal and state governments,” Shearon said, referring to the ordinance.

Chappie motioned to approve the ordinance and it passed Jan. 19 with a unanimous vote.

When asked Jan. 19 how residents who voted to legalize medical marijuana might react to the ban on dispensaries, Chappie said, “One would have to look at the ballot language.”

“The wording of the ballot question in no way talked about setting up dispensaries in their communities,” Chappie said. “I feel everyone should have access to medication, but that wasn’t the ballot question. So that’s not what the numbers reflect.”

When asked Jan. 19 about the possibility for residents to come forward with a referendum to overturn the ban, Perry said, “That is always a possibility.”


Reaction to the ban

“I think its bull—- that it got banned,” Bradenton Beach resident Reed Mapes said Jan. 24. “I don’t see how the commission can go against the public vote.”

Bradenton Beach resident Patty Shay agreed, saying, “Why would we want to ban it?”

Mapes and Shay voted for Amendment No. 2.

When asked Jan. 24 how a medical marijuana dispensary would affect the city, Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said, “It would change the focus of our city.”

“The focus of the city is for tourism and families and bringing in a marijuana dispensary is going to change the look of the city — it just doesn’t fit the type of city we are trying to portray.”

Amendment 2 was heavily backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan of Morgan & Morgan, P.A., and his work with the group United for Care.

According to United for Care’s website, Morgan contributed $8 million to push for the amendment’s approval.

When asked Jan. 24 what he thought of Bradenton Beach official’s recent decision to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, Morgan said, “If they defy the opinion of more than 79 percent of voters in their city, then it’s simple — they won’t get re-elected.”

Morgan said, “If they decide to do this, then all the revenue will go to another city — that’s their prerogative, but wait and see how the people react.”

The next commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.


HB planners give nod to pot, pet sale prohibitions

By Jennifer Sheppard

Islander Reporter

Two draft ordinances that would prohibit the sale of medical marijuana and pets were deemed consistent with the Holmes Beach comprehensive plan.

The planning commission met Feb. 1 to discuss the proposed prohibition on the sale of dogs and cats and a proposal to ban the sale of medical marijuana.

City planner Bill Brisson said both proposals are consistent with the comprehensive plan, which was developed to address long-term land use programs and activities in the city.

On the proposed ordinance relating to the retail sale of dogs and cats in the city, commissioners discussed exemptions to the prohibition, including animal shelters, home-based breeders and adoptions from by animal welfare organizations.

The city is considering banning commercial pet sales after a ban was enacted in January in Sarasota County.

Commissioners also discussed a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the growing, cultivation, processing, distribution and sale of medical marijuana.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that allows certain individuals to use medical marijuana.

According to Brisson, the pot prohibition is consistent with the comprehensive plan because, under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug.

But Commissioner Barbara Hines, during the meeting, said prohibiting medical marijuana sales is not consistent with good health care policy.

“I believe that medical marijuana saves lives and prolongs lives,” said Hines, a self-proclaimed non-smoker. “I don’t want to be out there on the street corner trying to figure out how to buy marijuana from some illegal source.”

But alternate Commissioner Jayne Christenson disagreed. “It’s not appropriate” to have marijuana dispensaries in the city, she said.

“This is a community and it is primarily a resort community,” Christenson said. “This could lead to other seedy-type people, unfortunately.”

Alternate Commissioner David Lester backed the prohibition.

“This is the first hurdle,” Lester said. “Knowing our commissioners. I would bet that our commissioners would not approve the sale of marijuana on this island, in Holmes Beach.”

The planning commissioners recommended both ordinances, with Hines opposed to the prohibition of marijuana.

The ordinances will go to the city commission for consideration.

A joint planning commission and city commission meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 1, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

Center board members discuss budget, fundraising events

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Kristen Lessig, executive director of the Center of Anna Maria Island, and Joan Pettigrew, hold up this year’s quilt — a donation that is auctioned at the center’s annual tour of homes. The quilt is titled “The Mermaid’s Journey.” Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

A number of programs, events and initiatives are in the works to fundraise for the Center of Anna Maria Island.

At a meeting Jan. 30, the center board of directors reviewed its year-to-date financial status — the nonprofit continues to operate in the red — and events on the calendar.

Events include a dinner theater presentation of “Shag Another Day: The Convention of Evil-Doers,” Feb. 17-18 at the center; a rat pack dinner tribute March 11; and the annual tour of homes March 18.

Executive director Kristen Lessig said the murder mystery is expected to earn the center $30,000 from tickets and sponsorships, the tribute concert is projected to bring in $5,000 and the annual tour of homes is expected to net $35,000.

However, the events and the revenue anticipated do not appear sufficient to cover the center’s monthly expenses — almost $100,000 in December — or to address the $135,000 deficit.

Lessig said she plans to address the Anna Maria City Commission Feb. 9 to request city funding.

While the city allocated $20,000 for the municipal budget year that began Oct. 1 for institutions like the center, Anna Maria has not dispersed money to the center. In August 2016, the city commission approved a resolution requiring approval from the commission for donations over $2,500 and the city may require a formal request before disbursing funds.

In a presentation, board member Sam Pakbaz asked board members to encourage businesses to take part in a new fundraiser. As conceived by Pakbaz, businesses would reduce the cost of a customer purchase by accepting center tokens for payment.

In an email, Pakbaz said he hopes to launch the “Sandollar” initiative and begin selling sand dollar tokens in March at the center and at participating businesses. He expects the tokens to sell in packs of 100 for $20.

The center makes $20 and businesses make up the rewards.

The initiative allows businesses to help fundraise for the center on their own terms, Pakbaz said.

“No one I’ve talked to about this has said no … they’re all receptive to it,” he said.

Lessig also announced the following grants: a $30,000 William G. and Marie Selby Foundation grant awarded Dec. 31, a Rotary Club of Bradenton grant Jan. 23 for the Center Moves initiative and an Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Giving Back trolley grant Jan. 25.


Financial picture

An overhaul of the center’s accounting method in November and December 2016 allowed the nonprofit to divide expenses into six cost centers, treasurer Jim Froeschle said at the meeting.

“This is an enormous step forward in terms of accuracy,” Froeschle said.

Froeschle also noted that the center switched its accounting firm to Ellenton CPA to lower costs.

“Kristen does a great job handling details,” Froeschle said. “This overhaul more easily allows us to see the big picture.”

The board reviewed the center’s November and December financials.

In November, the center reported $57,000 in income, but the month ended $49,200 in the red.

In December, the center reported $192,300 in income, including more than $100,000 raised from an anonymous donation and matching fundraiser. After expenses, the center’s net income for December was $80,900, the first month of this fiscal year to produce a positive net income.

Year-to-date, however, the center is $135,000 in the red. More than $300,000 of the center’s $479,000 in income in this fiscal year came from fundraising initiatives.

“We are more dependent on private donations than we’ve been in a long time,” Froeschle said.

Sunken boat removal, remnant of former mayor

John Banyas, owner of Cortez-based N.E. Taylor Boatworks, stands on the 46-foot Tayana sailboat he salvaged Jan. 30. The boat sank in the Bradenton Beach anchorage near Bridge Street some time during September 2016 storms. According to BBPD Lt. John Cosby, former Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti was the registered boat owner when the city ordered the vessel removed. Monti says he sold the boat to another person but failed to change the registration. He previously attracted complaints that the boat was a derelict in the canal behind his former Key Royale home. Bradenton Beach will be reimbursed for the removal cost by a derelict vessel program. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Local leaders discuss island living, island water taxi

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Jean Peelen, Homes Beach city commissioner and co-founder of Home Sweet Home, speaks Jan. 31 at the Manatee County Council of Governments meeting at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Sherman Baldwin, owner of Paradise Boat Tours, presents information about a water-taxi service Jan. 31 to the Manatee County Council of Governments. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Gulfport 65 is a 125-passenger water taxi being considered by operators of Paradise Boat Tours to shuttle passengers between Marina Jack in Sarasota and the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy Sherman Baldwin

Concerns regarding a diminishing residential population and increasing tourism have driven some islanders to find ways to keep residents on Anna Maria Island and attract new ones.

Locals also have been researching and implementing alternative transportation, including water taxis, to get increasing numbers of people to and from the island without adding to existing traffic problems.

At a Manatee County Council of Governments meeting Jan. 31, Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen spoke about the grassroots organization, Home Sweet Home.

The council is a quarterly meeting of representatives from local governments and districts to promote positive relations and discuss items of mutual interest and concern.

Peelen said she and Home Sweet Home co-founders Anna Maria Commissioner Carol Carter and former Bradenton Beach Commissioner Janie Robertson are “committed to attracting and welcoming permanent residents to come home to Anna Maria Island and to inspire our residents to love living here,” according to their mission statement.

“What can we do in a positive vein?” is the question that first prompted discussion among the group. “So we looked at the data and we are at a tipping point between whether we will be a residential community, a tourist hot spot or a balance between both.”

Peelen said the group has a three-pronged approach to attracting and retaining residents. She said the group’s focus areas are “promotions, connections and social media.”

Promotions include brochures, business cards and T-shirts with the slogan, “Do you live here yet?”

The group is connecting with other island organizations, including the Anna Maria Island Historical Society, the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce and the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

Peelen said her group is contacting large businesses in the county — hospitals, colleges and companies with more than 400 employees — to be a part of their relocation package for new employees.

“We’ve been getting wonderful feedback from all of them,” Peelen said.

Peelen said HSH is using social media, including Facebook and Pinterest, to attract residents. “Our focus on social media is showcasing the true spirit of our community,” Peelen said.

This includes island-centric blog posts and personal photos posted by island residents and business owners.

Peelen said her group has had 33 inquiries about moving to the island, and four families came to visit and tour the island as potential residents.

She said HSH also put together a list of local businesses that offer incentives for residents.

Peelen said Home Sweet Home recently received nonprofit status as the AMI Community Development Fund Inc. She said HSH would partner with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast to provide historic homes as annual rentals for low-income seniors and people employed by island businesses.

Peelen closed her presentation saying, Home Sweet Home will host a “hometown celebration” event at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 19, at the City Pier Park at the corner of North Bay Boulevard and Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.    The event will include presentations by the three island mayors, food and family entertainment.


Water taxi motors to Bradenton Beach

Following Peelen’s presentation, Sherman Baldwin, operator of Paradise Boat Tours on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, spoke about the water taxi he plans to run, connecting people by boat from Marina Jack in downtown Sarasota with the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

“This is a discussion about the inevitable,” Baldwin began. “There will be a time where large amounts of people use the water for public transportation because our land-based infrastructure is stressed.”

Baldwin said, “We’re fortunate as a community to have a water-based system like we do, specifically, the Manatee River and the Intracoastal Waterway.”

He said it is important to have a company like his or similar businesses with “experience moving people across the water” to spearhead such a venture. Baldwin said he thinks previous studies on water-taxi transportation did not take into account the private sector.

“If they had, I think they would have realized they need to keep it private. Like airlines — I think that’s critical in all this because we face a different set of challenges.”

He said his captains and crew “undergo extensive training before they ever get at the helm of the boat.”

Baldwin said his service would run hourly, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week.

“This is not targeted for tourists, this is targeted for residents and day-trippers — the tourists would be icing on the cake,” Baldwin said.

He said he has plans to expand and provide commuter service from other parts of the county, including downtown Bradenton.

“I think adding other parts of Manatee County will be critical to our overall viability and serving the community we live in,” Baldwin said.

Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac, the council chair, thanked Peelen and Baldwin for the work they are doing on the island.

After the meeting, County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said, “There isn’t any room on the island for more cars — a water taxi just makes sense.”

The next COG meeting will be at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.

Cortez woman pleads no contest to DUI

A no-contest plea to a charge of driving under the influence in November 2016 has ended in an order for a 12-month probation and assessment of $2,366 in fines and costs.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Doug Henderson sentenced Alicia Moore, 30, to the DUI probation and time served in jail for driving on a revoked license.

The judge suspended Moore’s license for six months, impounded her vehicle 10 days and ordered an ignition device installed for six months.

Moore was ordered to complete 50 hours of public service, a DUI program and a victim-impact panel. He allowed public service work in lieu of fines and costs.

Moore was stopped by Holmes Beach police Aug. 26 for failing to drive in a single lane. She provided authorities with breath samples about three times the legal blood-alcohol limit.

HB approves ‘no-change’ offers to Harris claimants

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After a Jan. 31 meeting, Commissioner Marvin Grossman shows his art to Holmes Beach vacation homeowner Mike Kluiber.

Holmes Beach commissioners unanimously voted Jan. 31 to stand behind the city ordinances attacked by three Bert Harris claimants.

City attorney Patty Petruff presented three letters addressed to claimants meant to comply with the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act.

Two letters offer no settlement and no change from a Sept. 8, 2015, ordinance, which imposes bedroom and occupancy limits, to Robin Rokisky and Lizzie Lu’s Island Retreat LLC. They allege the ordinance inordinately burdened their property rights and caused losses of $345,000 and $730,000, respectively.

Similarly, Petruff’s third letter indicates “no changes” to Holmes Beach property owners Bob and Ellen McCaffrey.

The McCaffreys allege a $106,000 loss in a two-count complaint filed Jan. 20 in the 12th Circuit Court.

In a Bert Harris count, they claim six city ordinances violated their rights to a reasonable investment-backed expectation from their 7003 Holmes Blvd. property.

The other count alleges the city violated the Sunshine Law when Petruff sent them a response letter without prior commission approval.

When served with a Bert Harris claim, state law requires the city to respond within 150 days.

The response can be a settlement offer or a letter of no change — the latter being the only Holmes Beach response thus far.

About the “no-change” letter sent to the McCaffreys, Petruff said she sent it after the commission discussed the Bert Harris claims against the city “on a global basis.”

“I did think I had the authority to send the letter,” she said. Each letter, including the ratification letter, was approved 5-0.

The letters are backed by the opinion of attorney Jay Daigneault, handling claims for the city insurer, who told Petruff the city has valid defenses.

The Clearwater attorney of Trask Daigneault LLP was hired to defend the city in the Harris act lawsuit filed by 306 Clark Drive LLC. That suit seeks relief from the city ordinance that halted two duplex units with four bedrooms each.

The Daigneault firm also defended a case filed by Leah Marie Enterprises LLC and Kathleen Morgan against city building decisions at 626 Key Royale Drive.

A March 9 hearing is set for a city motion to dismiss on 306 Clark.

Also related to 306 Clark, the city is expected to reply in mid-February to a Jan. 19 letter from its attorneys. In it, Najmy Thompson, P.L., of Bradenton, asks the city to settle the case by allowing a fourth bedroom and an additional bathroom in both units.

The Leah Marie case is pending a decision from 12th Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr.

Commission Chair Judy Titsworth asked Petruff if other letters needed ratification.

Petruff responded “no.” One case was in litigation with no challenge and the claimant and city officials in another have gone “back and forth.”

After the meeting, Titsworth acknowledged three prior responses.

Nineteen Harris claims thus far have been made against Holmes Beach for damages due to the city’s vacation rental ordinances — mostly complaining of the imposed two-person-per-bedroom or six-occupancy limit.

Other claims include challenges to city land-area-ratio restrictions, detached duplexes, pool and patio setbacks and bedroom size.

More Bert Harris letters are expected in the coming months, Petruff said.

Awaiting a city response are the following claims:

113 36th St. Unit B, VM Seaside LLC, $210,000.

309 65th St. Unit B, Christopher and Karen Norton, $275,000.

106 75th St., Swackhammer Investments VI LLC, Bmeehan Investments VI LLC, Kmmehan Investments VI LLC, $225,000.

316 63rd St., Jeffrey and Annette Gutzwiller, $195,000.

205 N. Harbor Drive, Manatee AMI LLC, $195,000.

301 74th St., Stephen and Karen Travill, $195,000

206 N. Harbor Drive, Cove AMI LLC, $345,000.

4804 Gulf Drive, Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes, $270,000.

211 54th St., Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes, $395,000.

104 75th St., Fred Hutchinson Trust, $552,000.

6906 Holmes Blvd., Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes, $395,000.

6422 Gulf Drive, Unit 5, R. Carlile Roberts, $380,000.

204 69th St., Tyler and Melissa Prout, $355,000.

Commission seeks Ugly Grouper site-plan revisions

Growing the Ugly Grouper is proving difficult.

Even with a special exception for remote parking, there’s apparently still not enough parking for the expansion plans at the mostly outdoor restaurant-bar.

Holmes Beach commissioners met Jan. 24 during a work session and discussed the site plan for the Ugly Grouper, 5704 Marina Drive. Up for consideration is and addition that increases the number of seats to 300 — 130 seats inside and 170 seats outside. Currently, there are 10 inside seats and 86 outdoor seats, according to the Grouper’s amended site plan, submitted Jan. 19 by Allison Engineering, Inc. on behalf of the restaurant.

Commission Chair Judy Titsworth said her biggest concern with the expansion is the lunchtime crowd and the small number of parking spaces. The city requires one parking spot for three seats at restaurants. Based on a parking study completed by the restaurant, the site plan includes parking for cars, golf carts and bicycles, but there is a shortage of 14 vehicle spots.

City planner Bill Brisson said he also had issues with the site plan, including the lack of a required loading zone, the presence of a grass parking lot and the shortage of parking spaces.

“I found it to be close,” Brisson said about the number of parking spots meeting peak demand. “They could probably accommodate the parking. Some people will walk or trolley or bike in the afternoon.”

Commissioners discussed reducing the number of parking spaces required by the code based on the varied modes of transportation. However, the city commission reduced restaurant seating several years ago to account for alternative transportation, including the island trolley.

Another problem addressed by Brisson, the Grouper’s proposed golf cart parking area, fronting on 57th Street, is on grass, and “three is no provision in the (land development code) for grass parking,” Brisson said.

Building official Jim McGuinness said there is room to add more parking spaces. Owners of the Grouper purchased four properties adjacent to the restaurant to provide additional parking, including a real estate office and car wash on Marina Drive, along with two vacant commercial lots on 57th Street.

Bob Dwyer, renovation project manager for the restaurant, told commissioners the Grouper can add more parking.

“There’s never been a parking problem,” Dwyer said. “We’re just dying to get things cleaned up over there,” he added.

Dwyer pleaded his case to get the restaurant plan approved before the 2017 tourist season ends in April.

He asked to have “some of the site-plan approved. We’ve been working for a couple of years . …We’ll lose the season if we don’t get it.”

City attorney Patty Petruff agreed the biggest issue seemed to be the parking and suggested the Grouper maximize the number of parking spaces to accommodate the number of seats requested.

Another option, Titsworth said, is to reduce the number of indoor seats to accommodate the parking shown in the site plan.

Commissioners agreed to consider the site plan approval at the next meeting if the Grouper meets stipulations outlined by the commission before its next work session, including adding additional parking, moving a performance stage and outside tables a required 25 feet from the property line and providing a required off-street loading space.

“We can get more parking,” Dwyer said. “We don’t expect to fill all the seats, but we want the opportunity to do it.”

Commissioners will meet next at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Swimming halted in Palma Sola Beach South

Due to elevated bacteria, a “No Swim Advisory” is in effect for Palma Sola Beach South in Manatee County.

        The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County lists two areas of Palma Sola Beach South, 100 feet west of 81st Street on the south side of the Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 causeway, with elevated levels of enterococci bacteria. The advisory cautions against water contact at these sites due to the increase risk of infectious disease.

All other areas monitored by Manatee County’s Environmental Health Division are safe for bathing, according to Thomas Iovino, communications director for Florida Department of Health in Manatee County.

        Officials received test results from Palma Sola Beach South Jan. 26 and the advisory was issued Jan. 30. At press time, both sites were listed as poor quality on floridahealth.gov.

        The advisory will remain in effect until additional water testing has been conducted to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency safety guidelines.

        — Jennifer Sheppard

Center flounders, $135K in the red

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Kristen Lessig, executive director of the Center of Anna Maria Island, talks Jan. 23 to Susan Little of Anna Maria about the financial situation at the center. Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

Everything is not coming up roses for the Center of Anna Maria Island as the calendar shifts to February.

The center’s year-to-date net income is in the red to the tune of $135,000, with $235,000 in revenue and $370,000 in expenses since the fiscal year began July 1, 2016.

Kristen Lessig, executive director of the Center of Anna Maria Island, called a Jan. 23 meeting at the center to update the community on center affairs, but only one center member, Susan Little, attended.

Lessig told Little the center’s income is 26 percent below budget and expenses are 6 percent over budget.

The problem stems from a lack of government support, Lessig said, as well as difficulty balancing program expenses while keeping fees low.

Lessig said governments in Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach have not provided the center with funds this fiscal year.

“People assume their tax dollars must be supporting this place. Not so,” said Lessig.

The city of Anna Maria provides a $1-per-year land lease for the organization based on a long-ago donation of the property to the city by the school district when Anna Maria Elementary School was relocated to Holmes Beach.

Anna Maria’s 2016-17 fiscal budget includes $20,000 for donations, but the city commission has yet to approve disbursement to the center.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said the city of Bradenton Beach placed a check for $5,000 to the center in the mail in the past week, but added he opposed the donation due to the center’s lack of financial disclosure.

Holmes Beach commissioners heard Lessig’s presentation on the finances at their Jan. 24 meeting but asked for “time to digest all of this.”

Chair Judy Titsworth suggested the city could consider funding projects and commissioners agreed to move the discussion to a future work session.

Lessig told Little, the only attendee at the community meeting aside from media, the center’s financial system was overhauled in recent months, providing staff a better picture of center use.

What did it reveal? The most popular programs at the center are its biggest financial losers. Sports, the center’s most popular program area, lost $142,000, while the fitness and youth programs, second and third most popular, lost $72,000 each.

The bulk of expenses came from direct and indirect staffing, including salaries of class leaders, front desk and janitorial help, Lessig said. Program fees only typically cover the cost of equipment.

She also said fundraising made up 88 percent of the center’s income thus far in the fiscal year.

The rest of the center income came mostly from memberships. Since July, the center sold 1,173 memberships, including day passes, monthly and yearly memberships and one lifetime membership.

Despite the center’s deep dip into the red, Lessig said community support and donations to the center “are coming back.”

“There is a need for what we’re doing or we wouldn’t be here,” she said.

From November to Dec. 31, 2016, the center held a challenge to match a $50,000 anonymous donation. Although final numbers won’t be declared until the next board meeting, the center reached the $50,000 goal, earning another $100,000 in income, which was included in the year-to-date report delivered at the community meeting.

Little said she supports the center’s efforts. “I’ve been here since 2000 and I’ve seen tremendous changes. You’re doing a good job to keep up with a lot of changes that are pretty drastic,” she told Lessig. “I’m glad I came to see this.”

The Islander’s records requests for November and December 2016 financial statements from Lessig and board chair Bill Shuman were unsuccessful.

A center board of directors meeting, including a review of the year-end financials and a change in accounting firms, will be at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30, after The Islander goes to press. The meeting will be at the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Islanders react to senator’s rollback plan for rental regs

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State Sen. Greg Steube
Frank Harrison
Ron Travis

“This is the final straw,” Bradenton Beach resident and planning and zoning board member Frank Harrison said Jan. 25. “If you’re tired of the war, lay down your sword and it’s over for you.”

Harrison, who has lived in Bradenton Beach for 42 years, was referring to the fight to regulate short-term vacation rentals he and others claim are taking over island neighborhoods and driving out residents.

Harrison said he and his wife have a date to close the sale on a new home on Longboat Key in March. “We built our house here with our own hands, but we just can’t take it anymore,” he said.

State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, filed a bill Dec. 16, 2016, that would prevent local governments from enacting new regulations for vacation rentals and would remove vacation rental ordinances adopted after 2011.

Steube’s bill — SB188 — states, “A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not restrict the use of vacation rentals, prohibit vacation rentals, or regulate the duration or frequency of rental of vacation rentals based solely on their classification, use, or occupancy.”

Currently, cities can adopt ordinances to regulate vacation rentals, stopping short, however, of regulating frequency and duration of stay.

When asked Jan. 19 what he thought of Harrison’s claim that large vacation rentals are destroying residential neighborhoods on Anna Maria Island, Steube said, “Let them make ordinances, but they have to be the same for everyone, not just vacation rentals.”

Steube said local regulations on short-term rentals violate an owner’s property rights.

Island residents say the constant flow of visitors is ruining the character of the island.

Sissy Quinn is a 25-year resident of Anna Maria and president of the Anna Maria Island Preservation Trust, a nonprofit that has been documenting historic sites on the island since 2009.

“I have friends that live alone and they are worried because they don’t have neighbors next door anymore — just people that come and go from week to week,” Quinn said. “Your neighbors are your community and now that’s being taken away.”

In a Jan. 23 email to Steube, Ron Travis, Holmes Beach resident and co-owner of ReMax Alliance Group of Bradenton, said the issue with short-term rentals on the island is a “private property rights battle between homeowners and investors.”

In an interview Jan. 26, Travis said, “I have nothing against rentals, I’m just opposed to putting 16 people into a duplex.”

“I have six of these rental houses around me and the Holmes Beach Police Department is wonderful, but they can only do so much about the noise complaints with new groups of renters coming in every week,” Travis said.

“I really don’t understand why the state would want to interfere — the cities know what is best for their residents and local rule should win out.”

Harrison said, “If your mind-set is the people in a community don’t have the right to determine their own rules and regulations, that’s really sad — you’re basically threatening a dictatorship.”