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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Island incumbents returned to office, fire tax nixed

Incumbent candidates in both Anna Maria and Holmes Beach were returned to office by voters in yesterday's elections while the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District's ad valorem tax issue suffered its third defeat this year at the hands of the voters.

All ballots cast, including early votes and absentee ballots, are included in these final tallies.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn easily defeated rival and former Mayor Gary Deffenbaugh, 877 to 305.

In Holmes Beach, incumbent City Commissioners Sandy Haas-Martens and Roger Lutz received 1,480 (32 percent) and 1,250 votes (27 percent) respectively of the ballots cast.

Only two seats were up for election in Holmes Beach and former Mayor and City Commissioner Pat Geyer, seeking a return to the commission, finished a close third with 1,162 votes (25 percent). David Zaccagnino ended with a respectable 705 votes (15 percent) to finish fourth.

The fire district ad valorem tax issue lost again, with 9,583 (52 percent) voting against the measure, while 8,968 (48 percent) were in favor of the tax. It was the third time this year the district had brought the issue to the voters, with the two previous ballot requests suffering narrow losses: by 122 votes in March and 52 votes in August.

This time the fire district, which includes Anna Maria Island, Cortez and West Bradenton, asked for a maximum .5 millage rate for an ad valorem tax to raise additional funding for the district. The strict language of the ballot question - limiting the tax to .5 mils - didn't impress voters.

For SueLynn, it will be her second term as mayor.

"I'm really excited and I want to thank everyone who voted for me," she said. "It shows that we're on the right track with the direction the city is headed. I look forward to another two years in office." She took time to thank Deffenbaugh for running a fair campaign.

Deffenbaugh congratulated SueLynn on her victory, promising to assist her administration any way possible and to remain active in city government.

Geyer, who has been either mayor or a city commissioner in Holmes Beach for 22 years, lost her second straight election. It was Zaccagnino's first race for public office.

WMFR Chief Andy Price said he was disappointed the measure lost for the third time this year, while similar measures in other county fire districts have passed handily. Without the additional revenue, fire services and possibly a fire station may have to be cut from the district budget, he said.

"People are going to have to understand that we might not be able to provide all the fire services they want. It's going to be up to the board to consider all the options, but they've already talked about closing one station" if the ad valorem issue failed again, said Price.

The district's revenue-raising assessment to home and business owners will hit its maximum next year, he said, and the district is already preparing a request to the Florida Legislature for an increase. Price conceded, however, that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has already indicated he's prepared to veto any such legislation.

Another vote on the ad valorem tax won't tax place for at least another two years unless the district calls for a special election.