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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

County error could be Holmes Beach windfall

Holmes Beach residents can thank officials at Manatee County Facilities Management if the city gets an extra $13,841 in the city treasury this year.

Seems somebody at the MCFM office forgot to apply and pay for a Holmes Beach building permit prior to the start of renovations at the Manatee Public Beach facility in late August.

Unfortunately for Manatee County, Holmes Beach building codes say that if you start building without a permit, the permit fee is automatically doubled as a penalty. And Manatee County started the renovation project without a permit, said Susan Longo of the Holmes Beach Building Department.

An investigation by Code Enforcement Officer Walter Wunderlich in August determined the county had, in his opinion, started construction without authorization. Wunderlich said he "red flagged" the project and halted construction until the permit fee was paid.

County officials immediately paid the original amount of $13,841 for four permits pertaining to the project, but have not yet paid the penalty fee, Longo said.

Hold on a second, said Facilities Manager Sam Love. "What we have here is a difference of opinion," he said. County workers were only pulling the coating off the roof, not replacing the roof or starting any construction when Wunderlich arrived, Love noted. In addition, the county had a construction permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"The building official said later that he agreed with us, but he still considered it starting construction without a permit. The matter is still under discussion," he said.

A bill for the fine amount of $13,841 has been sent to Manatee County officials, but Mayor Carol Whitmore said she's been in discussions with County Commission Chairperson Jane von Hahmann and County Administrator Ernie Padgett to solve the problem amicably.

"It appears to be a misunderstanding," said Whitmore. Manatee County had the DEP permit for the renovations, but failed to inform the city of the permit, she said. That would have triggered a response from the city that the county also needed a Holmes Beach building permit.

Somebody goofed, and now Whitmore is trying not to stir the pot further, but soothe some ruffled feathers.

"Unfortunately, I can't waive any penalty," she said. "But Manatee County has done a lot of free services for us in the past. I'd like to be fair, so I've suggested a possible trade-off" to Padgett.

Whitmore said she told Padgett that the county should pay the penalty. She then noted that county traffic engineers were going to do a traffic calming study on Marina Drive for the city, and she's told Padgett that this might be a trade-off. "I've told him to talk to our city attorney about the idea, but as far as the penalty goes, it's out of my hands. There's nothing I can do."