A common theme among city commission candidates at The Islander’s Popcorn & Politics event Oct. 20 was the increase in the number of vacation rental properties in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach and the accompanying problems for residents.
The candidates from Anna Maria and Holmes Beach gave 3-5 minute addresses to the estimated 75 people who showed up for free popcorn, entertainment and politicking.
Island musician Mike Sales provided entertainment and The Islander provided popcorn, refreshments and the political forum.
The consensus among Holmes Beach candidates Jean Peelen, Andy Sheridan, Pat Morton, David Zaccagnino and Al Robinson was that the vacation rental problem is growing, and they don’t want to see the city turned into a weekend vacation destination at the expense of residents.
Anna Maria candidates want to keep the village atmosphere of the city, while at the same time avoid being over-run by visitors.
Four candidates — Commissioner Dale Woodland and John Quam, former Mayor SueLynn and Nancy Yetter — are campaigning for the three seats in Anna Maria. Quam sent regrets for the forum.
The five candidates running in the Holmes Beach election also are campaigning for three available seats.
While the candidates spoke and Sales sang at Popcorn & Politics, the League of Women Voters of Manatee County conducted a straw poll.
Anna Maria candidates
SueLynn named her No. 1 concern the increase in vacation rentals in Anna Maria and the increase in the number of businesses since she left office in 2006.
At the same time, the city is experiencing a decline in permanent residents, she said.
Instead of a resident having a neighbor next door, SueLynn said many people now live next to a rental and have a weekend visitor as a neighbor.
She said as commissioner, she would work to strike a balance between visitors and businesses and the “quality of life” enjoyed by residents.
As commissioner, she would work to ensure residents are not ignored at the expense of tourism, and she would get all Island cities involved in addressing the vacation rental issue, not just Anna Maria.
With four years experience as mayor, SueLynn said she has the knowledge and experience to be a good commissioner.
She wants to look for new revenue streams, either from a cell tower on city property, the 500 rental units in the city, or both.
“Right now, we get nothing from renters,” she said.
Anna Maria Commissioner Dale Woodland is seeking his fifth term in office.
He proposed three voluntary plans for more revenue in the city treasury. One is a public-private partnership to finance the city’s recent purchase of the six lots across from the city pier.
Another plan is for businesses to voluntarily add 1 or 2 percent to their gross sales at the time an item or service is sold. The extra revenue would be for the city’s reserve fund.
A third idea is for residents to voluntarily give more to the city for its annual budget. The extra money from citizens would go in the city’s general fund. At present, the city gets back about 10 percent of the property taxes paid to Manatee County by a property owner.
Nancy Yetter of Anna Maria is running for the first time for public office.
A member of the city’s planning and zoning board, Yetter said her “learning curve” would not be long, and she would bring new energy and focus if elected to the commission.
Immediate problems the city must address are the trash, beach parking and beach traffic issues, she said.
As commissioner, she would work with rental agents and property owners to educate them and their renters on trash and parking issues.
The “health and safety of the citizens is of major concern,” Yetter said.
She believes in communicating with people and investigating for answers to problems. Yetter said she is a good listener, especially at budget time.
She wants Anna Maria to remain “a small-town village,” with a few guests, not “hordes” of tourists.
Holmes Beach candidates
Commissioner Pat Morton is running for his fifth term on the commission.
Immediately addressing the vacation rental problem, he said the time has come to stop some weekend vacationers from “terrorizing residents.”
Morton said the city is losing residents as homes are converted to vacation rentals, or new duplexes are built for vacation rentals. This is driving some residents away from the city.
Some weekend visitors leave trash out on the street or lawn, put the trash by the curb before a scheduled pickup day, ignore the noise ordinance and create parking problems for permanent residents. Morton wants to solve those issues quickly.
“I won’t promise what I can’t keep, so I need the whole commission working together and with rental agents,” Morton said.
Holmes Beach resident Jean Peelen is a semi-retired attorney. She said she’s talked to hundreds of residents and all agree that the recent construction of giant duplex houses is “a great tragedy.”
Peelen wants to know why the duplexes were permitted. If the code needs to be changed, the commission needs to take swift action so these duplex rentals “are not permitted in the future.”
She believes the commission needs to do a better job of communicating with city residents and hold meetings with the public on specific issues. The commission needs to “reach out” to city residents.
All three Island cities should work together on common issues such as trash collection, beautification and grants, Peelen said.
Commissioner Al Robinson, seeking his second term in office, also noted that the vacation rental problem is “out of control.” Every commissioner and candidate recognizes this fact.
He said that regardless of who is elected, the new commission “will take care of it.” Unfortunately, it’s been “festering” but the mayor is taking positive action, he said.
As commissioner, Robinson said he always looks at city spending and the bottom line. He wants the city to look at the cost of the police department and would seek a raise in pay for the mayor’s position. If re-elected, he would raise those issues with the commission.
More people need to come to commission meetings to discuss problems, he said.
Robinson also wants more people to attend the West Manatee Fire Rescue District monthly meetings.
“I am the only attendee from Holmes Beach” at the WMFR meetings, he said, and WMFR district residents are “being abused” by the cost of running the fire district.
Holmes Beach commission candidate Andy Sheridan sees vacation rentals as the major problem in the city because, he said, it is affecting “our quality of life.”
Somehow, things have gone wrong for the city because affordable housing for service industry employees has disappeared, said Sheridan. It’s been torn down and turned into vacation duplexes and Sheridan doesn’t want Holmes Beach to become a “weekend party destination” at the expense of lower-income residents.
“Many people can no longer afford to live on the Island,” he said.
He wants to become involved as a commissioner because he doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines.
But very few problems are solved alone, he said. More people need to attend commission meetings.
It’s only when people start complaining to the commission that “things get done,” he said.
Sheridan said that, if elected, he would be open-minded and work with other commissioners.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino is seeking his fourth term as commissioner.
The commissioner said the vacation rental problem is “No. 1” on his list of city problems.
“I’ve seen it first-hand,” he said, and it’s time to “think of the well-being of citizens.”
He disagreed with Robinson about the police department, saying it was “a good bang for our buck,” and noted the city’s ad valorem millage rate is the lowest in the county. “And there’s no cut in emergency services,” he said.
As a commissioner, Zaccagnino said he listens to people and seeks solutions to problems.
He said that since he’s been a commissioner, he’s been involved in creating a solid police pension fund, written a grant that helped bring parks to the city and worked with the parks and beautification committee.
But the vacation rental problem is still No. 1 on his list of issues to deal with if elected to the commission.
If there are loopholes in existing building codes, the commission needs to rewrite the codes to halt more vacation rental construction, he said.