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Date of Issue: June 25, 2008

County budget cuts could affect beach renourishment

The old Henny Youngman joke was “Take my wife, please.”

Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker could just as well have told the Manatee Coutny Tourism Development Council June 16, Take the convention center, whether you want it or not.

Hunzeker informed the TDC at the meeting that the county is trimming its budget and would no longer be a funding source for the money-losing convention center or the Crosley Mansion. For 2007-08, the county provided the TDC $385,000 from general revenue for operation of the center and to keep it from going in the red.

For 2008-09, that line item will be zero, Hunzeker said.

That means the TDC has to assume all the financial responsibility. The TDC must now either find ways to make the center profitable by developing new revenue sources, or it might have to look at taking money from other projects and activities, said TDC chairman Joe McClash.

A third alternative not mentioned by McClash would be to close the center or sell/lease it to a private company.

 Among those choices McClash mentioned that the TDC should examine as funding sources for the civic center was beach renourishment.

 McClash suggested a TDC workshop to discuss where bed tax dollars should be spent and what programs should, or could, be eliminated or reduced, including advertising, beach renourishment and the civic center itself, among others. He emphasized that he was only making suggestions, not making any recommendation on what should be cut from the TDC budget.

The TDC did recommend a $2.35 million budget to the county commission, down $40,000 from last year’s budget.

But with no more county funding, supporting the civic center entirely with TDC funds will cause a “big change in our budget,” predicted TDC board member David Teitelbaum. For 2007-08, the county chipped in $385,000 to the total TDC operational budget for the civic center of $938,000.

Within the next two years the TDC needs new revenue sources, added McClash. The current reserve fund is enough to keep the civic center operating for at least another year, but that money will quickly evaporate with major budget changes or lacking a new revenue source.

Agreed, said Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Larry White.

One area of new revenue is that the CVB will no longer allow county and municipal departments free use of the center for meetings, conferences and similar events.

The TDC, along with every budget in the county, is facing a “terrible squeeze,” White observed.

“The times they are a changin’,” he added, echoing Bob Dylan’s protest song of the 1960s. The civic center and Crosley Mansion are money losers. It’s time the TDC changes the way it operates and the way it budgets money.

Absolutely, said TDC member Ed Chiles.

“It’s time for a ‘reality’ budget, but this is only going to get worse. We are going to have to cut. Maybe that’s the reality,” he said.

Four years ago, the TDC upped the bed tax by 1 percent to its current 4 percent level. That extra money has funded the CVB’s marketing program, but now, with the loss of county funding, those dollars may have to be allocated elsewhere, McClash suggested. In addition, the resolution for the 1 percent increase to the bed tax expires in 2009.

With the civic center and Crosley Mansion as white elephants on the TDC’s collective back, the question for future TDC budget planning is what programs can be funded and which ones have to be slashed or eliminated.

And beach renourishment will come under the TDC microscope.  

While the bed tax collected by the CVB has been used for beach renourishment in the past, the $7.5 million currently sitting in the renourishment fund could be tempting to the TDC to keep the civic center alive and operating.

Although the next beach renourishment project isn’t slated to begin until 2011-12, preliminary planning and feasibility studies have already begun.

Unfortunately for Anna Maria, some county commissioners are considering eliminating renourishment of Anna Maria’s beaches from the county budget. A slimmed-down budget could be all the impetus the county commission needs to drop the city project.

Because Anna Maria opted out of the 2002 renourishment project, it was not automatically eligible for state funding in the next renourishment cycle. In addition, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection indicated earlier this year the city was short on the required number of parking spaces to be eligible for full state funding.

If the city is short of the required parking spaces, the state would withhold about $375,000 in funding for the next renourishment project. However, Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford and public works director George McKay say that, following a DEP re-inspection of available public parking, the city meets the state requirements and there will be no loss of funds due to a lack of public parking in Anna Maria.

Old perceptions about Anna Maria, however, still exist, and at least one county commissioner, Ron Getman, has previously indicated he could not vote to fund Anna Maria’s shortfall with county funds because the city has been “uncooperative” with previous renourishment efforts. And Getman said that before Hunzeker dumped the civic center in the TDC’s lap.

But dropping any or all of Anna Maria’s beaches from the renourishment project is in the distant future.

“It’s a long way off,” said McClash, “but we are going to have to look at everything in every budget.”

Barford agreed that renourishment is still very much in the future, but the city is already behind the effort.

 There’s a new day in the city and a spirit of cooperation with county planners for many projects, including renourishment, she said.

 Furthermore, Anna Maria has solved the parking issue to the satisfaction of the DEP. There won’t be any DEP funding shortfall because of Anna Maria’s parking, she predicted, and the city’s beaches need to be included in renourishment.

Barford reminded the TDC and county commissioners that Anna Maria Island is the main focus of all tourist marketing and advertising for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, with scenes of Island beaches, particularly Bean Point, featured in its advertising and marketing campaigns.

The argument that Anna Maria should be left out of any future beach renourishment because it is primarily a residential community with only a few rental accommodations and fails to generate as much bed tax dollars as Holmes Beach or Bradenton Beach doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, Barford noted.

While the city might not have as many accommodation units as its Island counterparts, people have to consider that visitors to Holmes Beach or Bradenton Beach and those coming from the mainland invariably take the Island trolley or drive to Anna Maria.

The city’s appeal, Barford noted, is in its “Old Florida” ambiance and architecture.

That includes a visit to the city pier, Bean Point, the Sandbar and nearby locations for activities such as dining, fishing, swimming, browsing and buying at retail shops, just walking down Pine Avenue or combing the beach from the Gulf of Mexico to Bean Point.

As a prime attraction for Manatee County, “We are actively committed to beach renourishment,” pledged Barford.