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Date of Issue: April 13, 2006

Consolidation consideration ends on Island

The latest round of talks of consolidating the three Island cities has ended.

And the end of the story is apparently the result of a trickle-down effect that began in Anna Maria City.

Bradenton Beach city commissioners last week opted out of helping fund a study of consolidating services on Anna Maria Island, agreeing that without the involvement of Anna Maria any merger consideration was moot.

Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach voters last November agreed that the consolidation issue should be studied. Anna Maria city commissioners demurred on placing the matter on the ballot in that city.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government in Georgia had offered a proposal to study the consolidation issue of the three cities, at a cost of $19,000-$25,000, plus travel expenses. The study would be "to assist the cities of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach in assessing the potential for the cities to provide services to Anna Maria Island more efficiently through the change in governance."

"I don't think the voters of Bradenton Beach were voting to be consolidated with Holmes Beach," Mayor John Chappie said. "I believe they were looking at having one city on Anna Maria Island."

Chappie said that he and Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore and Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn have been meeting regularly since the vote to discuss the matter, with SueLynn serving in moderator role. The result of those meetings was the decision to request the funding for the study.

"The ballot language said all three Island cities should be considered" for consolidation, Chappie said. Without Anna Maria being a part of the equation, "I believe that is a hurdle and Anna Maria needs to step forward."

City Commissioner Janie Robertson was more blunt in her remarks. "I do not feel we should spend any money without the support of Anna Maria."

Vice Mayor Lisa Maria Phillips was equally terse, asking, "Why should we include Anna Maria in the study without their support?" She said two cities going forward on the issue without the support of the third "could look like bully tactics. Without all three municipalities involved, the matter is moot."

City Commissioner John Shaughnessy echoed his colleagues' comments, stating that all three cities should share the costs of the consolidation review. "It was supposed to be a consolidation study of the Island, not two-thirds of the Island," he said. "For two cities to bear the cost of the consolidation study is ludicrous. The minority has made a decision for the majority in this case."

City Commissioner Bill Shearon also said he could not support the expense. "I believe Bradenton Beach has met the obligation of the voters," he said. "We looked into it, and I can't see spending city taxpayer dollars without all three cities participating."

The commission agreed unanimously that no further discussion on the matter would take place until and unless Anna Maria steps forward as an active participant.

Holmes Beach city commissioners still have the funding issue matter before them for debate, but with Anna Maria and now Bradenton Beach dropping out of the debate, any decision made there is probably meaningless.

The matter of combining services of the three cities on the Island is a recurring issue which, in the past, has never really gained support. Last year's majority vote of the two southernmost cities to pursue the matter, or at least investigate the issue, was the furthest the matter has ever reached.