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Date of Issue: July 16, 2008

Commissioner holds state-of-county chat

Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann discusses the "state of the county" at Ginny's and Jane E's at the Old IGA in Anna Maria July 9. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann met with about three dozen people July 9 in Anna Maria to offer her assessment of the “state of the county.”

And to gage the opinion of others.

The informal meeting took place at Ginny’s and Jane E’s at the Old IGA, 9807 Gulf Drive, with the audience sipping soda pop, water and coffee.

A number of elected officials sat in the audience, including Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Janie Robertson and Bradenton Beach Vice Mayor John Chappie. Chappie is challenging von Hahmann for the District 3 seat that will be decided Aug. 26.

Von Hahmann opened the discussion with a “thank you” to her hosts and then reviewed the county’s budget process for fiscal 2008-09, which begins Oct. 1.

The commissioner said the process, which involved working with zero-based budgeting, was more open and systematic than in past years. Essentially, the budget began at zero and was built up with necessary programs and services and people to implement them.

“The budget was cut by $44 million with no significant impacts on our employee base,” von Hahmann said.

An additional public hearing and a final commission vote will be needed on the budget, but “we have very few items to bring back for discussion,” she said.

One matter, the decision to return responsibility to the state for monitoring air quality, may get another look, the commissioner said. “If the state cannot do it at a level I can accept, I’ll probably be out there fighting for funding,” the commissioner said.

Von Hahmann reviewed a recent successful local campaign to reroute a natural gas pipeline away from beach renourishment sand in Tampa Bay, but added, “For me there are some questions to be answered about the pipeline.”

The commissioner said she remained concerned about the pipeline’s environmental impact.

During a brief question-and-answer period, the commissioner fielded questions related to alternative energy, taxes and transportation.

Asked by Steve Robertson of Bradenton Beach what could be done to keep the Island’s trolley fare free, von Hahmann suggested another expansion in service.

“We are going to be out of the grant dollars,” she said. “What we would have to do is find a way to expand [the trolley] to go after expansion grants.… What we need to do is build a better system from the mainland, like park and ride.”

Anna Maria resident Bob Barlow asked whether von Hahmann thought the Island received its “fair share” of tax dollars paid to the county and also, “What do we need to do to make certain we are getting more of our fair share?”

“I agree with you that you are donors to the system,” von Hahmann said. “I don’t know what the answer is.” She added that the county, for years, has been a donor to the state, not receiving a $1 back for every $1 sent.

Forum host Ginny Dutton posed a question regarding alternative energy, asking von Hahmann what the county could do to offset rate hikes from Florida Power & Light and other increased fuel costs.

Von Hahmann said she has seen innovative proposals for the state to develop alternative energy sources. At the county level, she said perhaps an incentive program could be created to encourage alternative energy use in new or remodeled structures.

The meeting lasted about an hour.

Later in the week, on July 12, von Hahmann hosted a “political fun raiser” for her re-election campaign at the Star Fish Co. Restaurant and Seafood Market, 12306 46th Ave. W., Cortez.

The Islander will host an Aug. 13 candidate forum at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5701 Marina Drive, with county commission candidates on the Aug. 26 Island ballots.