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Date of Issue: August 11, 2005

Island voters disappearing

The Kingston Trio had the right "note" for the Island's electorate with their 1960s anti-war ballad, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

With the initial filing date for candidates seeking political office in any of the three Island cities just four weeks away (Sept. 6), Island politicians could easily be humming, "Where have all the voters gone?"

While Island population has remained stagnant since the 2000 census, Island voters have been disappearing from the political radar like Amelia Earhardt.

From 2000 to 2005, the three Island cities lost a total of 822 registered voters, a drop of 12.3 percent, according to figures supplied by the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Bradenton Beach suffered the hardest hit, falling from 1,136 registered voters in 2000 to just 947 at present, a decline of 16.6 percent for its upcoming November elections.

Holmes Beach has also lost a considerable portion of its electorate, declining from 3,928 voters in 2000 to only 3,425 for 2005, a loss of 13.5 percent.

Anna Maria fared slightly better, going from 1,615 registered voters five years ago to 1,485 this year, down 8 percent.

While the Island was losing voters, Manatee County was gaining them at a phenomenal rate.

The total number of registered voters in the county increased 11.8 percent between 2000 and 2005, jumping from 170,578 five years ago to 190,541 heading toward the November elections.

 At the same time, U.S. Department of Commerce population estimates as of 2003 for Island cities compared with the official 2000 census count show Anna Maria Island has had stagnant population growth the past three years.

Overall, the Island's population increased by just 57 residents between 2000 and 2003, inching its way up from 8,262 to 8,320, a gain of just 1.3 percent, according to the census bureau.

The population estimates showed Holmes Beach increased from 4,966 residents to 4,983, a jump of less than 1 percent.

Bradenton Beach had the biggest population explosion on the Island, rising from 1,482 people to 1,513, an increase of 31 people, but under a 1-percent gain.

If that sounds like a people boom, it isn't. The 1990 U.S. Census counted 1,657 people in Bradenton Beach. The current population estimate represents a 10-percent decline since 2000.

Anna Maria had no significant increase in population, climbing from 1,814 people to 1,824 people in three years.

During the same period, the population of Manatee County has risen 13.6 percent, going from 264,002 to an estimated 300,000 residents at present.

So, where did the voters go?

"It's a bit strange," said Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore.

"We don't have a lot of families moving in on a permanent basis. Maybe it's because people are buying a second home in Holmes Beach, but are registered to vote elsewhere, and they were counted in the unofficial census estimate as living here."

Whatever the answer, Whitmore is concerned.

Investors, she believes, are constantly buying homes and essentially converting them into seasonal or weekly rental units. "I've been trying for years to restrict this type of activity so that our city's homes can't function as motels," she said, all to no avail.

Whitmore is also worried that fewer and fewer voters are deciding on important issues and electing candidates to office.

"Will the day ever come when there's no one left to vote or run for office? I hope not," she said.

The dramatic drop in voters on Anna Maria Island in the past five years could give some credence to those who are worried the Island will one day be just a gigantic condominium for investors and winter visitors.

"I think it's all indicative of the fact that the Island is losing population to investors," Holmes Beach City Commissioner Don Maloney has said.

And he contended, it's all because of property values.

A house purchased on the Island in 2002 for $200,000 is today worth well above $500,000, according to one local real estate agent. The value is not in the house, but in the land it occupies, the agent noted.

"People are selling their Island homes to investors, taking the money and paying cash for a brand new home in east Manatee County," and putting the remaining dollars in the bank, he added.

Indeed, said Maloney, "A lot of Islanders have their retirement in the value of their homes. When the time comes, they're going to sell out, take that money and retire somewhere less expensive. It's something we all have to think about."

Mayor John Chappie of Bradenton Beach, whose city has fewer than 1,000 registered voters and barely 1,500 residents, once said the city is in danger of becoming one large condominium.

"Just look around at all the small properties that have been converted the past few years to condominiums for rental units or second homes," he said. "We are in serious danger of losing our voting and population base."

Mattick considering, Barford says no

Former Temple Terrace Mayor and current Anna Maria planning and zoning board member Fran Barford has no plans to run for the city commission this November, even though current commissioner Carol Ann Magill has announced she will not seek re-election this fall.

Barford said that although she's owned a home in Anna Maria for 18 years, she's not sure she meets the two-year residency requirement for a commissioner. She and her family moved here permanently last year. Rather than have that as an issue in this year's election, she said she'd wait until there was no question of residency.

"But I do think I will run at some point in the future," she added.

Resident Jo Ann Mattick, however, indicated she may throw her hat into the ring on Sept. 6.

"I'm debating whether or not to run. I'm waiting to see who else will run, then I'll make a decision," she said.

Three commission seats are up for election in Anna Maria. Current City Commission Chairperson John Quam said he has not made a decision to seek a third term. "It's still too early," he said. Commissioner Dale Woodland has indicated he will seek another term.

In Holmes Beach, the three city commissioners whose seats are up for election all indicated they would seek another term. Commissioners Don Maloney, Patrick Morton and Rich Bohnenberger all indicated they would seek another term.

Incumbent Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said he will run for re-election, while Commissioner John Shaunessy said he thought he would run again, but was not definite. Commissioner Rob Nachtigal said he would make a decision in early September.

If Chappie is elected, it will be his last two-year term in office. In Bradenton Beach, commissioners and the mayor can serve only three consecutive terms before they must sit out at least one year before seeking office again. There are no term limits in Anna Maria or Holmes Beach.

Candidates seeking election in either Holmes Beach or Anna Maria can qualify from noon Sept. 6 to noon Sept. 20, while in Bradenton Beach, the qualifying period extends only from noon Sept. 19 to noon Sept. 23.

The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 8 elections is Oct. 10.