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Date of Issue: August 18, 2005

Consolidation language simplified in Holmes Beach

Holmes Beach city commissioners at their Aug. 9 meeting approved language for a non-binding referendum on Island consolidation that the city hopes to have on the November ballot, but rejected asking the voters in the same question if they want the city to spend money.

The proposed ballot language had originally asked voters for approval to "expend funds" for consultants and studies on consolidation.

Although a non-binding question, Commissioner Roger Lutz rejected the inclusion of costs in the language.

"The idea is to simply get a non-binding referendum before the citizens. It's not to spend money. Let's get a feel first," before talking about funds for studies and consultants. "Don't turn this into a money issue," he said.

Commissioner Pat Morton agreed. "We need to find out from the people first."

Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger, however, said he is "not in favor of giving away my city," although the vote is non-binding.

The commission also rejected a plea by Commissioner Don Maloney, a consolidation proponent, to table the current proposed language and have the commission pass a "simple resolution" authorizing the commission to "look into the cost of a study" on consolidation before sending the issue to the voters. After the costs of such a study were determined, the city could then ask for voter approval to spend funds.

Maloney said he wasn't changing his stance on consolidation, but a number of citizens he's contacted have expressed "reluctance" to give Island officials a "free rein to expend funds to retain consultants to analyze the consolidations pros and cons." People wanted to know the cost first, he explained.

Lutz said that "with all due respect, it's an awful idea." The commission needs to find out first what the people think.

Maloney said he initially agreed with the original ballot language, but people kept coming back to him about study costs, information that he believes should be obtained first before any ballot question is sent to the public.

Commissioner Pat Morton said Maloney's idea was "putting the cart before the horse," and Mayor Carol Whitmore agreed. "I just want to find out from the citizens first," she said.

The commission defeated Maloney's motion to table the present resolution by a 3-2 vote and instead, opted for ballot language presented by Lutz that eliminated any mention of costs and just asked voters if they want the commission to study the issue (see separate story).

Maloney and Bohnenberger voted against the motion, while Lutz, Morton and Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens approved the measure.

County cable TV consortium

In other business, the commission rejected a resolution that would have joined the city with Manatee County in a cable TV consortium to handle new contracts from such companies as Verizon and Comcast.

Lutz said he didn't think there was much in the contract for the city, while Bohnenberger pointed out that the City of Bradenton had voted not to join the consortium.

In addition, said City Attorney Patricia Petruff, the city's charter requires the commission to approve any franchise agreement. An inter-governmental agreement with Manatee County doesn't override the charter.

The commission dropped the consortium resolution, but did approve a new lease with Tidemark LLC for the city's portion of the boat basin along Marina Drive. Tidemark proposed an $11,200 annual payment and the commission quickly agreed. The new figure represents a 1,110 percent increase from the $100-per-year payment Tidemark was making for the boat basin before it went into bankruptcy in January 2004.

Canal dredging

The commission approved a $115,359 contract with the Millmac Corp. for spot dredging of canals in the city. The company was the lowest bidder and most qualified to do the project, Superintendent of Public Works Joe Duennes said.

Street vacation

A request by the law firm of Kirk Pinkerton P.A. for GHG&D LLC and Sanders Realty LLC to vacate a right of way on a portion of Fifth Avenue lying between Manatee Avenue West and 39th Street was rescheduled to another meeting on a request by the firm.

Streetscaping options

Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine will present his study on options for landscaping and streetscaping for Marina Drive from the Gulf Drive intersection to 56th Street at the Aug. 23 meeting.

Ballot language explained

The ballot language for a non-binding referendum on Island consolidation that was approved by the Holmes Beach City Commission Aug. 9 states:

"Should Holmes Beach explore the feasibility of consolidating the three Island cities?

"A 'yes' vote authorizes elected officials to discuss the possibility of expending funds for consultants and studies.

"A 'no' vote will result in no further action on the consolidation issue by elected officials."

Consultant will meet with cities, if asked

City consolidation expert Harry Hayes of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia said he is ready to meet with representatives of the three Island cities to discuss the scope and costs of a feasibility study on Island consolidation. He'd even meet with elected officials of just one city, if invited. There is no charge for the initial meeting except for travel expenses.

His "ballpark" estimate of the cost of a feasibility study is between $26,000 and $40,000.

A consolidation feasibility study done for the cities of Sea Island and St. Simons in Georgia last year cost $33,000.