Utility theft stirs up discussion among Holmes Beach officials

An alleged incident of utility theft at a Holmes Beach property has prompted discussion among city commissioners.

Commissioner Jean Peelen introduced the subject at an Aug. 12 commission meeting.

“There are two lines of inquiry I want to follow here. I understand there’s nothing in our code that dictates how builders get their power on building sites … I’m really troubled no one was arrested,” she said.

Dorothy Pon arrived at the rental property she owns on 65th Street in Holmes Beach in July and found a construction crew from a neighboring building site using her electricity. She also found the screen enclosing her pool had been damaged.

Pon called the Holmes Beach Police Department and officers addressed the problem, although no one was arrested and no charges were filed.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer told commissioners at the meeting, he determined there was insufficient evidence to make an arrest, and he further consulted with the state attorney.

“The way this happens without admission, we have to be able to show they knowingly did it, and in this case we can’t,” Tokajer said. “The state attorney does not tell us who we can arrest and who we can’t. They only advise what is prosecutable.”

Tokajer said in a case such as this, there is not enough for the state attorney to prosecute the contractor, project manager or any of the workers.

But Peelen wasn’t satisfied. She contacted state attorney Lon Arend for further clarification on the issue following the Aug. 12 meeting.

Arend stated in an email that while the state attorney’s office does not give opinions on probable cause for arrests, they frequently discuss with law enforcement officers “whether a potential case is likely to meet the threshold of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’” for prosecution purposes.

“As I discussed with the chief, although circumstances seem straight-forward that someone did indeed unlawfully use the electricity … the issue is how to prove which person is responsible … a general complaint against a contractor or company would potentially be sufficient in a civil case, but we are held to a much higher standard for a criminal charge.”

Tokajer also emailed city attorney Patricia Petruff about the case, in an attempt to ensure future cases were easier to prosecute.

According to Tokajer, Arend suggested the city enact an ordinance mandating that before permits are issued the contractors have a T-pole — a temporary power source provided to the job site by Florida Power and Light — or a written agreement to use utilities from neighboring properties.

Commission Chair Judy Titsworth said the issue of requiring T-poles at building sites is on her list of future agenda items.

Anna Maria building official, Bob Welsh, said permits for demolition or construction in Anna Maria first require a T-pole onsite and, in some cases generators are allowed upon approval by the building official.

“There’s usually no excuse for not having power at sites in Anna Maria,” Welsh said. He said in 2011 the city “had to scramble around to make some tools.”

Steve Gilbert, building official for the city of Bradenton Beach said there’s nothing in Bradenton Beach’s code requiring contractors to prove a source of power at the building site.

He said typically builders use a T-pole or generators. In some cases they have arrangements with neighbors. Gilbert they don’t require power at the site,  but they are inspected.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to sitting down with the other (building officials) to try and make standardized policies we could institute across the board,” said Gilbert.