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Date of Issue: August 11, 2005

Citizens lament consolidation standstill, standoff, solutions

First study, then vote?

Holmes Beach Commissioner Don Maloney headed a meeting at Beach Bistro with constituents who share the common goal of consolidation of the three Island cities Saturday - an open meeting and luncheon that few folks other than media representatives attended.

It was, just the same, a good discussion surrounding the future of consolidation of the Island cities, Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.

And lunch was excellent.

Maloney emphasized that "positive leadership" for consolidation was his "mission." He pointed out that the three cities have a $13-plus million combined budget and Longboat Key's budget of slightly more than $14 million also includes the town's fire and rescue services.

Maloney had further concerns that the mayors of Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach had not yet put the referendum language on a meeting agenda for consideration, although Holmes Beach would address the topic Aug. 9 and Anna Maria agreed to hold two public workshops on Aug. 23.

Don Knode took The Islander's lead and followed up on reporter Rick Catlin's conversation with Harry Hayes of the Georgia Institute of Government, who had said his office has done numerous consolidation studies. Knode said Hayes would be willing to "preview" the three cities' budgets and then make an "issues assessment" on a visit to Anna Maria Island where he would expect to meet with individuals from the cities appointed to a joint consolidation study committee.

Knode said Hayes could accomplish a preliminary report in time for the November election - if the three cities can "agree."

However, Maloney was somewhat convinced by conversation at the meeting that focused on elected officials taking responsibility for authorizing the study process and funding - which was loosely estimated by Hayes to be $35,000 for an in-depth facilitation report.

"Elected officials should first study, then ask voters for a decision," said committee member Bonner Joy, publisher of The Islander. "You're elected to make those decisions."

Maloney agreed to first approach his commission at its Aug. 9 meeting, and then proceed to attend the other two cities' upcoming commission meetings with a new consolidation concept.

He later said that of those constituents "indicating their concerns" to him, it appeared to them a "yes" vote would give elected officials of each city "free rein to expend funds to retain consultants to analyze the consolidation pros and cons. And so they asked me, ‘Instead first tell us what that consultation would cost.'"

Maloney said he would ask his commission Tuesday not to vote on the current referendum question, and to instead "offer a resolution that would not require any vote except from us, a resolution that would allow us to look into the cost of a feasibility study, perform the necessary study and THEN ask for voter approval of consoldiation."