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Date of Issue: May 26, 2005

Island public should vote on consolidation
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The consolidation comet
Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore presented her plan for Island consolidation at the May 19 meeting of the Coalition of Barrier Island Officials. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Just like Haley's comet, the issue of consolidating all three Island cities into one government keeps coming back.

Haley's comet, however, only comes around every 86 years. The consolidation issue, which has been discussed since at least 1950, keeps resurfacing just about every year in Island political circles.

This time, it's Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore and Anna Maria City Commissioner Linda Cramer who are spearheading the effort for consolidation, along with Holmes Beach City Commissioner Don Maloney, who has been advocating some form of consolidation the past 10 years.

Whitmore made her plea to the May 19 Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting in Bradenton Beach.

Under her proposal, the Island would be divided into three districts, with two representatives each from Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria and three from Holmes Beach. Each "district" would keep some form of city government, but law enforcement, public works, building departments and other services would be combined.

Whitmore emphasized, however, that her plan is just that — a plan. "These are just ideas for now." Details can be worked out later if all three cities agree to move forward.

 What's needed first, she said, is a public vote on a non-binding referendum that the three Island cities should move toward some form of consolidation. The Island cities are wasting a lot of money just to govern a strip of land only seven miles long. Taxpayers would save a lot of money under consolidation, she maintained.

"We need to make government more effective. Let's let the public decide, then we can get specific."

While consolidation may "never happen as long as I'm alive," she said the three cities have to find a way to consolidate "without losing any identity."

Previous consolidation efforts, she said, have failed because "we are all afraid of losing our individuality."

She suggested each mayor take the issue of an Islandwide vote on consolidation to their respective city commissions. If all three agreed, a non-binding referendum could be ready by the November 2006 election.

Maloney, Cramer and Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn agreed the issue should be put to the voters.

"We need to move this to a ballot," said SueLynn.

The reception from Bradenton Beach elected officials, however, was lukewarm at best.

"I like looking at the idea," said Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, "but what are we giving up?"

All three Island cities are unique, yet closer than ever, he said. "We're like cousins. We're all from the same family, but that doesn't mean we want to be part of your immediate family." The Island is unique because there are three unique cities here, he maintained.

Chappie said he would at least bring the issue to the Bradenton Beach City Commission, but Bradenton Beach Commissioner Lisa Maria Phillips agreed that her city "would lose something" under consolidation.

Still, she said she's also willing to discuss bringing a referendum to the voters.

Whitmore asked elected officials not to take the consolidation issue personally, but Chappie said the issue "is personal. This is our home. This is how you want to live. I don't have a problem looking at it, but let's hear from the public."

Maloney said the Island cities "have to do a better job" of governing and some form of consolidation, such as a professional administrator or manager for the entire Island, is needed.

He also noted that a 1959 referendum in Anna Maria on consolidation failed by eight votes.

Since 1950, various consolidation efforts, such as incorporation of the three cities, combining law enforcement duties, and establishing a lone building department for the entire Island, have all failed to get past the respective city commissions.

Whitmore said this move toward consolidation might meet the same fate as previous attempts, but she believes it's worth the effort. "To do nothing is to ignore our citizens and our responsibilities. If we fail, at least we can say we tried."

In other BIEO business, Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash said the county commission has backed the idea of a water-borne taxi service from the Crosley Mansion to Bradenton Beach and will take the lead on funding.

"We're not asking any of the Island cities for funds, just a letter of support from each city," McClash said. "Hopefully, this can all be funded from outside sources, just like the trolley."

With support from the cities and the local legislative delegation in Tallahassee, McClash believes the taxi could be a reality in two years.

Mike Howe of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, agreed on the choice of Bradenton Beach as the Island location for the taxi terminal.

"It's an ideal spot," containing historic Bridge Street, the Gulf of Mexico just a few feet away, a pier already in place, and easy access to the Island trolley, he said.