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Date of Issue: May 19, 2005

City stuck on 50 and 5

The Anna Maria City Commission is stuck. Commissioners at their May 12 workshop couldn't agree on whether or not to change an ordinance that a homeowner can only improve his or her property 50 percent of assessed value in a five-year period.

The issue is "complex" said Building Official Kevin Donohue, who presented a review of the effects of the proposal to the commission.

Changing the 50 percent rule from its present five- year limit to one year would affect the city's total points that the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses to determine flood insurance rates. At present, city homeowners will qualify for a 15 percent premium reduction effective in October 2005 because the city has 1,752 points, well above the 1,500 needed to obtain the discount, Donohue noted.

If the city went to a one-year rule - or any year less than five years - in the ordinance, it would lose 61 points, but still have a "cushion" for the 15 percent requirement.

But the city is close to 2,000 points, which would qualify homeowners for a 20 percent reduction.

Donohue noted its up to the commission, but he suggested that if it wanted to change the ordinance, the best method would be on a "permit-by-permit" basis with no yearly rule. FEMA only gives points if the city has at least a five-year limitation. Below five years, for whatever length, FEMA doesn't award any points.

Commissioner Carol Ann Magill was opposed to any change in the ordinance.

"My concern is we don't have all the information. Don't rush ahead," she suggested.

Donohue noted that a 15 percent reduction saves city homeowners collectively about $150,000 a year in flood insurance premiums, while a 20 percent reduction saves around $200,000.

Commissioner Duke Miller observed that changing the five-year rule could be "taking a hit we might not want to take."

Commissioner Dale Woodland favored the change, noting that the proposed ordinance has "no impact" on the city's current flood insurance rating.

"But I'm concerned we haven't heard the other side," he added. He'd like to hear from members of the public who oppose the measure.

Resident Jamie Walstad said a 50 percent improvement in five years "is nothing" with the rising value of homes in Anna Maria. She said her house is like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

On the outside it looks great but on the inside, it needs a lot of work, including a new plumbing system, she said. "I'd like to fix up my home."

Resident Jeff Murray, a local contractor, favored the ordinance as it would allow homeowners to upgrade their property and increase the city's tax base.

Commissioner Linda Cramer sided with Walstad and Murray, sayd many older structures in the city need upgrading and homeowners should not be restricted by the five-year rule.

Commissioners did agree to change the definitions of "cumulative" and "substantial improvement" in the ordinance and make them exactly as defined by FEMA in its community-rating system for flood insurance.

Commission Chairperson John Quam and Magill favored keeping the five-year rule, while Woodland and Cramer wanted a change to "permit by permit" for improvements. Miller said he agreed with both positions, but was "leaning" toward the status quo.

Commissioners will revisit the issue at their June work session, when the new definitions have been put into the draft ordinance.

Donohue pointed out that if the commission passes a new ordinance, the city can't apply for a modification from FEMA until October. The city could wait until September to make a decision.

In other business, the long-running lawsuit by Susan Negele against the city regarding denial of a variance appears close to ending. City Attorney Jim Dye said he's received a settlement offer from Negele's attorney. A "shade" commission meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. May 26 to discuss the offer.

Commissioners also took up the issue of repairs at the city pier, including handicap parking and an entrance ramp that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 2002, the then commission had agreed to spend up to $10,000 to assist the pier lessee with repairs. The next year, following an opinion from City Attorney Jim Dye that the lessee was responsible for all repairs to become compliant with all government regulations, the commission nixed the deal.

Quam suggested the city consider spending up to $10,000 for an ADA-compliant ramp and handicap parking. Mayor SueLynn, however, said the ramp and handicap parking space may already be the city's liability, not the lessee.

Woodland and Miller asked for copies of commission meeting minutes where the commission voted to spend $10,000. "I want to know what the city has obligated itself for," said Woodland.

The commission also agreed to consider a request from the mayor at its May 26 meeting to hire a part-time city planner for the remainder of the fiscal year to deal with rewriting land development codes, many of which are outdated, confusing and repetitive. Funds for the planner are already in the 2004-05 budget.

The mayor added that the 2005-06 draft budget should be ready by June and she'll schedule individual meetings with each commissioner to discuss the budget as soon as it's available.

She suggested the commission hold three or four budget workshops in July because many commissioners won't be available in August. The commission agreed to try and get through the budget before Aug. 1, then set public hearing dates for September.