Tag Archives: News

Anna Maria anticipates soft opening for city pier in June

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Work continues May 21 on the new Anna Maria City Pier, 101 Bay Blvd., as construction odds-and-ends are wrapped up. The city now plans to open the pier in June. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

Ready? Set? Almost.

Don’t load up the fishing gear just yet.

“They are putting the finishing touches on the pier,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy told The Islander May 22. “It’s just about done.”

The mayor said he planned to prepare a proposal for a soft opening for the new Anna Maria City Pier, 101 Bay Blvd., including a date, to be presented to the city commission at its next meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 28.

The meeting will be held by teleconference. People can phone in for the meeting by following instructions in the meeting agenda posted to the city website at cityofannamaria.com.

Murphy said posts along the pier are being prepped for walkway lighting and workers are finishing the bathrooms.

Also, air conditioning and security cameras were installed along with benches and a new sign.

Fish cleaning stations were on order and cable was to be pulled and a modem installed by the end of the month, according to Murphy.

He also said signs will be placed to remind people to social distance.

Previously, the mayor said the city hopes to have the restaurant and bait shop open in late 2020 or early 2021.

The city commission voted May 14 to approve the bid from the Ugly Grouper restaurant, 5704 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, allowing the mayor to negotiate a lease for the restaurant at the T-end of the pier.

The new pier was built to replace the old pier, which opened in 1911 but was closed after it was damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Construction started in 2018.

Man arrested for alleged home beer burglary

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Shakinas

A man with no address of his own entered a home in Bradenton Beach, stole a beer and landed in jail.

An officer from the Bradenton Beach Police Department “observed” a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy conduct a warrant check May 12 for a suspicious person and responded to the scene, according to a BBPD report.

Upon arrival, the BBPD officer identified Randy Shakinas, a homeless man suspected of entering a Bradenton Beach home and stealing a can of beer without permission. The incident was captured by a nearby surveillance camera.

Shakinas allegedly admitted to entering the home and taking the beer and expressed remorse, “stating he would like to replace the beer and apologize to the homeowner,” according to the BBPD report.

Shakinas was taken to the BBPD, where he signed a statement admitting to the felony burglary charge. He was arrested and taken to the Manatee County jail.

Shakinas remained in custody as of May 21.

— Ryan Paice

 

Outlook: Busy storm season brewing

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A summary shows hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA’s 2020 Atlantic hurricane season outlook. Islander Courtesy Image

A federal forecast calls for an “above-normal” hurricane season and comes with a reminder that it only takes one storm to cause catastrophic damage.

“As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said May 21, during a media call to review the forecast.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially is June 1-Nov. 30.

The outlook from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, shows a 60% chance of an above-normal season, 30% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.

NOAA predicts 13-19 named storms, of which 6-10 could become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher, and 3-6 could become major hurricanes, with winds of 111 mph or higher.

An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

The first named storm — tropical storm Arthur — formed May 16 off Florida’s east coast.

As The Islander went to press May 25, local, state and federal emergency management teams were working on plans to deal with a hurricane during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Natural disasters won’t wait,” said Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more,” he added.

FEMA was coordinating with the state emergency management team on how to handle evacuations and sheltering during a storm. Options might include ordering some people to shelter at home, creating shelters for people who test positive for the novel coronavirus and opening hotels as shelters.

Manatee County in June will hold a “virtual town hall series” on hurricane preparation and also planned a “virtual media day” May 28, when emergency management chief Steve Litschauer will review government plans and discuss family preparedness.

“This year, more than ever, we’re really stressing that people should know the strength of their homes and whether they can withstand an intense storm,” Litschauer said in a news release. “If people live in older homes or mobile homes, they most definitely need to know where they’ll go if a storm is approaching. People need to evacuate tens of miles from home, not hundreds from home, as we saw in Hurricane Irma.”

If severe weather approaches, county officials plan to hold video news conferences and, if the emergency operations center is activated, the county also will operate a media hotline for updates.

Others with questions or concerns about severe weather can contact the county’s 311 call center.

Work on Cortez Road-119th St. pushes into December

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A worker from Ajax Paving Industries of Florida inspects the work May 21 on a brace placed in the ground for drainage pipelines along Cortez Road. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Roadwork in the village of Cortez is going to linger for awhile longer than expected.

The project on Cortez Road is now projected to continue for another seven months.

Florida Department of Transportation communications specialist Brian Rick wrote in a May 20 email to The Islander that Ajax Paving Industries of Florida should finish the project by the end of the year.

The DOT originally projected construction would end this summer, but then said “late fall.”

The $5,000,000 road project involves realigning the intersection of Cortez Road and 119th Street West, improving stormwater drainage and adding lighting along the corridor.

Rick said the project was delayed a month at the beginning due to public concern over a proposed detour from 119th Street West to Harbour Landings Drive, then 126th and 127th streets west to Cortez Road.

During the downtime, DOT created a new plan that included delaying work on the north side of Cortez Road at 119th Street West. The new plan also increased the number of construction phases from two to six, in turn increasing the contract time.

“We added approximately four-six months of time to accommodate the new plans/work,” Rick said.

In May, Ajax was excavating the south side of the roadway west of 119th Street West to install two drainage pipes.

After Ajax installs the pipelines, the contractor will resurface the roadway and construct a new sidewalk.

On the east side of the intersection, as of May 21, Ajax finished installing drainage pipes and was resurfacing the roadway and sidewalk.

Rick said the contractor also was creating a new section for the end of 119th Street West to the east of where the current street intersects with Cortez Road.

When that section is finished, the contractor will close and remove the old road.

When Ajax finishes the south side of Cortez Road, crews will shift to the north side to finish realigning the intersection at 119th Street West.

“We are still quite some time out from that happening,” Rick said.

“At the end of the day, residents and visitors will have a considerably safer travel route,” he added.

Rental floodgates open, businesses see hope

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Pedestrians make their way across a Bridge Street crosswalk May 23 on Memorial Day weekend. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
Traffic pours onto Bridge Street May 23 at the start of what became a busy Memorial Day weekend for Bradenton Beach.
Family members look on as one of their group lines up a shot May 23 at Fish Hole Miniature Golf in Bradenton Beach.
A couple looks over the pier and the Sarasota Bay waters and boaters coming and going to tie up at the floating dock May 23 at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

It’s check-in time on Anna Maria Island.

With the prohibition lifted on short-term vacation rentals in Manatee County, hope rose among Anna Maria Island business owners struggling in the third month of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis approved Manatee County’s safety plan to open short-term rental operations May 21 after a nearly two-month-long closure due to concerns with the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The governor previously prohibited new bookings and new check-ins at rentals for 30 days or less but, in mid-May allowed counties to draft safety plans and apply for permission to lift the ban.

Manatee County filed its plan May 19 and received the go-ahead from the state May 21, and the island’s vacation homes were immediately available for guests.

The plan restricts local vacation rental owners and managers from accepting reservations from international travelers and U.S. residents living where, as of May 15, there was an overall COVID-19 case rate of less than 700 cases per 100,000 residents.

Local vacation rentals managers can not accept reservations from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois and Louisiana.

Vacation rental properties must hold off 24 hours after checkout before accepting a new check-in — less turnaround time than the 72 hours specified in phase 2 of the state’s reopening guide — as well as follow instructions for operating and sanitizing properties.

County administrator Cheri Coryea said at a May 19 telemeeting that rental managers would self-police, but potential violations can be reported to the county code enforcement department at 941-748-2071 or the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office at 941-747-3011, ext. 2260.

By the afternoon of May 22, numerous vehicles with out-of-state tags — Wisconsin, Illinois, New York and more — were observed at Publix in Holmes Beach, and the store was busy with families — sometimes 6-8 people — shopping together, mostly with no masks.

 

Opening the rental floodgates

Holmes Beach resident Mike Roaldi, the owner of two vacation rental properties in Anna Maria, told The Islander May 22 he’s pleased to reopen his properties and will abide by the plan.

He agreed with the decision to close vacation rentals until the state flattened the curve of positive cases, but he says he lost more than $40,000 in revenue.

He said the ban wasn’t lifted early enough for many properties to book for Memorial Day.

“It’s going to take a little while to get the industry rolling again,” Roaldi said. “But I think I see harmony in the future again and I’m excited about that.”

Marianne Norman-Ellis is co-owner of the Holmes Beach-based Mike Norman Realty, offering sales and rental management.

“I don’t think vacation rentals should have been shut down in the first place,” she said. “I definitely think a vacation rental would be safer than a motel because there are less communal spaces.”

Norman-Ellis said her 43-year-old business would weather the storm, but she’s concerned for less-established and smaller operations.

“I’m very happy the vacation rentals are reopening. And not just for us, but for our property owners and all of the local businesses,” she said.

Mike Coleman, proprietor of Poppo’s Taqueria, with numerous locations in Manatee County, a store in St. Petersburg and the original location on Pine Avenue, and a partner in Pine Avenue rentals in Anna Maria, called the rental industry the “lifeblood” of the local business community.

“I’m happy they’re open, period,” he said. “There’s not a single job on this island that doesn’t depend on vacation rentals.”

Coleman said he was not in favor of closing rentals, restaurants or retailers.

“I feel awful for the people who lost their jobs but, we, as an island, have been through and have overcome worse before,” Coleman said.

Brian Seymour, owner of the Anna Maria General Store and a former Anna Maria city commissioner, told The Islander May 22 he too is happy to see rental homes reopening.

The general store, an essential business selling groceries and sundries, did not close, but, Seymour said, March sales were down 70% compared with March 2019 and the store lost about $3,000 a day in April.

Seymour said his business usually lightens up in May, but reopening vacation rentals might provide an opportunity to make up for the recent losses.

“My concern is for the business community as a whole and what it’s going to be like four months from now,” Seymour said. “I think that will be the true test for if businesses can survive.”

“Unfortunately, I think there’s a handful of small businesses that won’t be able to survive the slow season,” he added.

Ten business owners — representing Fun And More Rentals, Island Scoops, Island Real Estate, Bins Be Clean, Book A Little Sunshine, Suncoast Cleaning, Fran Maxon Real Estate, Coastal Cottages, Island Retreat Cleaning and Island Coffee Haus — joined 63 island vacation homeowners in signing a letter asking for support for short-term rental operations.

The letter, sent the day the state approved the reopening, said, “Currently, there are 309 local businesses listed on the chamber of commerce website that rely on tourist traffic for their livelihood. Vacation rentals represent 85% of the accommodation types in Manatee County and thus generate the largest portion of traffic to these local businesses. Many local businesses have expressed support for vacation rentals re-opening.”

 

Island cities and concerns

But some island officials objected to new check-ins and others expressed reservations.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, in a May 19 mayoral report, said it is too early to reopen rentals  but her concerns were ignored by the county.

“The chief, code compliance and I sent a letter to the county administrator and commissioners voicing our concerns, but this request fell on deaf ears,” Titsworth wrote. “The fact that this agenda item was added last minute and without consideration of weigh-in from municipalities most affected is leadership at its worst.”

County commissioners voted to ask the state to lift the ban May 19, the day after the county tourist development council recommended reopening short-term rentals.

Titsworth encouraged those who resume business to provide staff and guests with face masks.

“It is more important than ever not to let our guards down. Our deaths and COVID-19 positive cases continue to rise each and every day,” the mayor said, referring to county and state infections.

In Bradenton Beach, Mayor John Chappie told city commissioners May 19 that the county did an “excellent job” creating the plan and he agreed with the decision to reopen rentals before Memorial Day weekend.

However, Chappie had concerns for enforcement. “Who’s going to be doing inspections and overseeing the property management companies?” he asked. “We don’t have the staff or time to enforce something like that.”

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, in a May 22 email to The Islander, wrote, “I have serious concerns with some portions of the plan, such as enforcement and fraud and potential criminal activity associated with (the rental company) ‘no-contact’ check-ins. I have relayed my concerns to the county and hope they will take action.”

Sea turtles lag behind, shorebirds fill in action

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AMITW volunteers place eggs in hand-made nests May 21 on the beach in Anna Maria. The eggs were relocated from Holmes Beach due to an upcoming renourishment project that will pump fresh sand from offshore to the beach from 78th Street to Longboat Pass. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
AMITW volunteer shorebird monitor Demi Harms, left, and executive director Suzi Fox, observe a scoop of pre-nesting black skimmers May 23 on the beach in Holmes Beach. The pair placed signs warning beachgoers to steer clear of the birds. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
A black skimmer squawks on the beach in Bradenton Beach. Islander File Photo

People expect turtles to be slow.

But this year, the sea turtles that nest on Anna Maria Island are moving slower than usual, according to Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director.

“We’re a little behind this time last year,” Fox said May 21. “But there is still plenty of time.”

As of May 21, AMITW reported 34 loggerhead nests on island beaches within the Manatee County beach renourishment project zone, which extends from 78th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass.

On the same day in 2019, there were 51 nests reported islandwide.

Fox said the lower numbers could be due to the red tide crisis that overlapped with the 2018 nesting season. She said it was supposition on her part, and scientists would not know the effects of the 2018 red tide bloom until several more years of research are conducted. But based on the number of mature females — and loggerheads reach sexual maturity at about 35 years old — that died from red tide in 2018, nesting numbers could be lower in 2020.

“It would be terrible if we lost that many of our girls to red tide,” Fox said. “Right now, there is no clear reason for low numbers. Hopefully, it picks up in June.”

But Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial launch for summer on the island, closed out the first month of nesting.

This year, with coronavirus restrictions recently lessened, revelers packed the beach the long weekend of May 23-25 and, now into the summer months, visitors to island beaches must share the shoreline with nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.

This means cleaning up trash, filling in holes in the sand and removing beach gear, including chairs, canopies and inflatables at the end of the day, according to standards set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and reinforced by city codes.

A scoop of about 100 black skimmers — black-and-white birds with a splash of orange on their beaks — was starting to mate the week of May 25.

These birds must not be disturbed, according to Fox.

“It would be really great to have a nesting colony,” Fox said. “So we really want people to give the birds a wide berth and not chase them.”

Fox said AMITW planned to place signs warning people to distance themselves from the skimmers.

And sea turtles also need their space.

Female sea turtles only venture ashore to nest, so any objects — including people — in their path can distract them and lead to a failed nesting attempt — a false crawl.

Flashlights and cellphone lights from people walking the beach at night also can be distracting for sea turtles.

“Following nesting sea turtles with your phone is a no-no,” Fox said. “People need to stay back 100 feet.”

In 2019, AMITW broke its record for loggerhead nests with 535 loggerhead and nine green sea turtle nests by the end of season. Fox is hopeful this will be another record-breaker for island sea turtles.

“Nesting could pick up any day now,” Fox said. “So people must remember to be on their best behavior and clean up after themselves. Our wildlife depends on it.”

Report sick, injured, endangered, entangled or dead sea turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone or text tip@myfwc.com.

For more information about turtle watch, Fox can be reached during the day at 941-778-5638 or visit islandturtlewatch.com.

Island explodes with holiday revelers amid COVID-19

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People pack the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, May 23, to kick off Memorial Day weekend. Manatee County Sheriff’s officers patrolled the beach to enforce social distancing guidelines. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
Swimmers take to the water May 23 at Bayfront Park, 316 N. Bay Blvd., in Anna Maria. Manatee County placed signs in the park warning people to maintain social distancing guidelines of 6 feet apart and masks were recommended.
Liz Vallez of Church of the Annunciation, 4408 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, collects donations May 23 for public parking in the church lot on the busy Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Tables are spread 6 feet apart May 23 as people line up outside of Ginny’s and Jane E’s Cafe and Coastal Store, 9807 Gulf Drive, in Anna Maria.

People missed the beach while they stayed safer at home.

But was Anna Maria Island ready for everyone to flood back to the shoreline?

“We were so happy to be able come out here,” Amanda Herkel of Lakeland said May 23 of the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

“I’ve been coming here my whole life, and my mom and grandmother before me,” Amanda’s husband, James Herkel, said. “Generations of my family have loved this island.”

However, attendance at the island’s public beaches — especially over Memorial Day, May 23-25 — has picked up since Herkel’s family started visiting the island 60 years ago.

By 9:30 a.m. May 23, motorists were circling in the public beach parking lot for open spots.

Manatee County code enforcement helped with crowd control and the Manatee County sheriff’s deputies patrolled beaches by ATV to ensure people were maintaining social distancing guidelines of 6 feet apart and groups no larger than 10 people.

Parking at the Manatee beach, as well as Coquina and Cortez beaches in Bradenton Beach and Bayfront Park in Anna Maria fully, reopened May 18. Manatee County and municipal officials ordered Anna Maria Island Beaches closed to the public March 20 due to concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

During that time, county beach parking lots were barricaded and most other parking areas in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria had temporary “no parking” signs. However, people could walk on the beach.

When the county opened its beaches, most parking in Anna Maria remained closed and Holmes Beach continued closure of all beach access, on-street and right of way parking.

Over the holiday weekend, May 23-25, the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Holmes Beach allowed parking in its lot and posted attendants who accepted donations from motorists who took advantage of the convenience — and the proximity to the Manatee Public Beach.

“We’re hoping it helps us to recover some of our losses during this time,” congregant/parking attendant Judy Bennett said May 23.

But HBPD officers still had their hands full with people parking illegally in private lots.

Police Chief Bill Tokajer said May 23 many vehicles were ticketed for illegal parking, and some businesses had violators towed.

Additionally, he said the day started with a stolen vehicle chase into Bradenton, and there were people reporting items stolen from unlocked vehicles.

“It’s been very, very busy,” Tokajer said.

And he said he was concerned with the number of people on the public beach.

“There were too many people,” Tokajer said May 23 amid the crush of holiday weekend revelers. “People were not social distancing. There were just too many people for that to be a feasible reality.”

AME 5th-graders share memories, prepare for middle school leap

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Anna Maria Elementary fifth-grader Clancy Cusack takes a break from home-based distance learning May 21. Islander Photo: Courtesy Steven Cusack
Bridget Querrard’s 2014-15 AME kindergarten class — now fifth-grade students — will enter middle school in August. Islander Photo: Courtesy Bridget Querrard
AME fifth-grader Esabella Walker hugs third-grade teacher Laura Redeker at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in 2018. Islander Photo: Courtesy Alexandria Walker
AME fifth-grader Esabella Walker hugs third-grade teacher Laura Redeker at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in 2018. Islander Photo: Courtesy Alexandria Walker

Anna Maria Elementary’s car loop will fill with fifth-grade students and their families May 28 for a farewell.

The first-ever “drive-thru” promotion ceremony will be 10 a.m.-noon at the “little school by the bay.”

Fifth-graders and family will arrive to the campus, 4700 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, to say goodbye, return school computers and receive service and academic awards. The event is not for the public.

“Our fifth-grade classes have accomplished many things beyond what normally would have transpired during the course of their final year here at AME,” said fifth-grade teacher Michele Costanzo.

“And I’m hoping the memories will be remembered for experiences shared before COVID-19 and the unity we have shared despite it,” she added.

AME closed for spring break and, with the spread of the novel coronavirus, students didn’t return when the vacation ended. Instead, they began distance-learning.

At the end of the school year, AME’s fifth-graders traditionally attend an awards ceremony, but this year’s “will be unprecedented,” said fifth-grade teacher Mary Miller.

As they marked the end of the school year and prepared for their promotion to middle school in Bradenton, some students reflected on the past and future.

“What I will miss most about AME is the great teachers and the kindness they showed me,” fifth-grader Esabella Walker wrote in an email to The Islander.

Fifth-grader Makena Corr said one of her fondest memories at AME is when she was in first-grade and her teacher was Toni Lashway, who is retiring this year.

Makena recalled the fun she had earning “Lashway dollars” for acts of kindness or completing homework.

“The best part was spending our earnings and we thought the most expensive prize was reading to the kindergartners for 20 Lashway dollars,” said Makena.

AME fifth-grader Olivia Inda enjoyed the “annual field trip to the bay behind the school for estuary study and walking from school to the Gulf of Mexico to study turtle nests with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.”

“I especially liked the Estuary Day, when we were allowed to wade into the bay and look for fish, crabs and starfish,” AME fifth-grader Heidi Querrard wrote in an email to The Islander.

Heidi listed her “exceptional” memories from each year at AME, including “having lunch together” with Lashway and “singing and playing sparkle” with fourth-grade teacher Pidge Barreda.

AME fifth-grader Kate Stembridge said a standout memory is her first day of second-grade as a new student. Her teacher and class “were so welcoming that I immediately felt at ease and have loved the school ever since,” she said.

“I’m going to miss playing dodgeball, kickball and all that PE stuff with all my friends and I’ll especially miss Mr. Wooten with all his art stuff,” Garrett Nock wrote in a text message to The Islander, referring to longtime art teacher Gary Wooten.

Student Faith Owens said her elementary school years were a time for self-expression.

“Like Dr. Seuss says, ‘Why fit in when you were born to stand out?’” she said.

“Fifth-grade was my favorite year at AME,” said Alex Teich.

AME parent Steven Cusack said his son Clancy was thankful for good times but ready for what the future holds.

“I think he’s ready for middle school,” said Cusack.

COVID-19 percentage decreases, daily positive cases

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Manatee County EMS community paramedics work with Department of Health Manatee nurses May 15 at a drive-thru specimen collection site for COVID-19 testing at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto. Islander Photos: Courtesy DOH-MC

Manatee County saw a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 testing in May.

With more than 14,000 residents tested as of May 22 — about 3.3% of the population — the county sorted out some hotspots, including long-term care facilities, and dropped the curve of positive cases.

“For the latest two weeks, Manatee County and the state largely mirrored each other in terms of trends for fatalities, positive cases and percent positives,” Jake Saur, the county’s public safety director, said May 19 during a teleconferenced county commission meeting.

He said the curve for the county and the state trended downward or remained flat since the first week in May.

The percentage of positive numbers dropped, but cases still were being confirmed daily in Manatee County as of May 24.

As of May 24, the rate of positive COVID-19 cases in Manatee County was 6.7% of 14,620 people tested, according to statistics from the Florida Department of Health.

The rate decreased by nearly than 9% since May 1.

As of May 24, there were:

  • 91 fatalities in Manatee County attributed to COVID-19;
  • 203 people hospitalized;
  • More than 605 people who tested positive and recovered.

Residents and staff of long-term care facilities accounted for 58 deaths, totaling 63% of fatalities in Manatee County related to the novel coronavirus.

As of May 24, 144 residents and 65 staff members tested positive, totaling 199 positive cases in LTCFs — 20% of 975 Manatee County cases.

State-initiated incident management teams and the U.S. National Guard continued assisting with infectious disease control the week of May 18, as they have since May 4, according to Saur.

Testing in Manatee County May 18 continued at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, six Manatee Rural Health Inc. locations, a state-sponsored regional testing site at the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota, as well as a mobile site at Turning Points, a facility serving homeless and needy people in Bradenton.

Saur said he put in a request with the Florida Department of Emergency Management for a walk-up testing site.

In a May 21 email to The Islander, Christopher Tittel, communications director for the DOH in Manatee County, wrote that a team of Manatee County EMS community paramedics received training May 15 at the drive-thru testing site in Palmetto on how to conduct specimen collection for COVID-19.

The community paramedics program provides additional assistance to those who are most vulnerable, including people 65 and older or those with chronic medical conditions.

At a May 19 meeting, County Commissioner Misty Servia said some constituents have asked why the county is “celebrating” a percentage decrease when positive cases are being identified daily.

Saur said when the percentage was at its peak, the county had not tested enough people to get an accurate representation. More tests meant hotspots could be identified and targeted.

“If we see a spike up, we now have enough tests in the system to see if it’s a true spike and determine hotspots,” he said.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she has heard many people say they are anticipating the end of COVID-19 and asked if some cases may linger on after the pandemic ends.

Saur said, “Yes,” and added that a vaccine must be identified before the novel coronavirus is stopped.

“To actually get out of this new world we are in, everyone has to be vaccinated and then we would switch to assisting the DOH with drive-thru vaccinations,” he said. “But for the long-and short-term future, this is the new normal for Manatee County and the rest of the country.”

Fire commission increases 2020-21 assessment rate

Property owners in the West Manatee Fire Rescue district can expect a rate increase.

WMFR commissioners voted 3-1 May 19 to raise assessment rates for the next fiscal year by 2.6% to meet a projected spike in costs. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Commissioner Al Robinson voted “no” and Commissioner David Bishop was absent with excuse.

Current residential rates include a $190.57 base rate and an additional $0.1124 for every square foot over 1,000 square feet. The owner of a 2,000-square-foot home would pay $302.97 in assessment costs.

With the 2.6% increase, the base rate for residential buildings will be $195.53 with an additional $0.1153 cost for every square foot over 1,000. Residential property owners with a 2,000-square-foot home would pay $310.85.

The district uses different rates for commercial buildings, including a current $473.62 base rate and an additional $0.2051 for every square foot over 1,000. The owner of a 2,000-square-foot commercial space would pay $678.72.

Under the new rates, the commercial base rate for assessments will increase to $485.94, with an additional $0.2104 for every square foot over 1,000. The owner of a 2,000-square-foot commercial space would pay $696.37 in assessment costs.

The district began discussing an increase in April.

Chief Ben Rigney May 19 presented commissioners with three options — no rate hike, a 2.6% increase or a 4% increase.

Rigney told commissioners via Zoom that WMFR projects a $189,436 increase in expenditures in the next fiscal year. The 2.6% increase would raise the money needed to match costs. A 4% increase would result in a surplus.

If the district abandons the rate hike, it would need to dip into reserve funds, Rigney said. The district’s reserves were around $6,000,000 as of May 20.

Commission Chair Randy Cooper and Commissioner Larry Jennis ranked the 4% increase as a first choice, with the 2.6% increase second.

Commissioner George Harris preferred the 2.6% increase and the 4% increase was his least favored option.

Robinson opposed raising the tax rate and listed the 2.6% and 4% increases as his second and third choices.

As the second choice of three commissioners and the first choice of one, the highest-ranked option was the 2.6% increase.

Harris moved to certify the ranking and approve the 2.6% assessment increase for 2020-21.

Jennis seconded the motion.

The next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, via Zoom. Directions to attend will be posted on the fire district’s website, www.wmfr.org.