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County sees positive outcome, extends face mask mandate

Manatee County credits mandated masks for lowering the curve of new local cases of the novel coronavirus.

“We have tourists there from everywhere and they’re all wearing masks, even little kids and people on golf carts,” County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said Sept. 15 about visitors on Anna Maria Island during a county meeting. “I’m impressed at all the people in the community and Manatee County that are actually wearing masks.”

County commissioners Sept. 15 extended the local state of emergency for another week, as well as an emergency resolution mandating masks indoors when social distancing cannot be maintained.

The resolution first was approved July 27 — amid much debate and citizen comments.

On the island, Anna Maria and Holmes Beach enacted citywide face mask mandates June 25. Bradenton Beach encouraged people to wear masks but took no action before the county enacted its mandate.

Holmes Beach recently extended its face mask requirement through Jan. 12, 2021.

There is no state or federal requirement for masks but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged their use.

At a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee meeting Sept. 16, CDC director Robert Redfield said masks might be more effective at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus than vaccination, partly due to some peoples’ ability to develop immunity against a vaccine.

Redfield also said there would be a “limited supply” of vaccine November-December, with the second or third quarter of 2021 the most likely time frame for widespread access.

“Masks are absolutely helping us control the spread of the virus in our community,” said Dr. Jennifer Bencie, county health officer for DOH-Manatee County during the Sept. 15 county meeting. “We are absolutely, in the last three to four weeks, seeing a change for the better.”

Manatee County’s daily rate of positive coronavirus cases was 3.37% Sept. 16, when 54 people tested positive of 1,601 people tested that day.

The county had tested 25.6% of its population, 102,426 people as of Sept. 16, with 10,923 total positive residents, 781 hospitalizations and 277 deaths.

On Anna Maria Island, 27 people in Bradenton Beach, 25 people in Holmes Beach and four people in Anna Maria had tested positive.

There were four new C-19 cases on the island since Sept. 3.

Holmes Beach chase ends in grand theft auto arrest

Police say a 32-year-old Tampa man led them on a vehicle chase that started east of the Anna Maria Island Bridge in Holmes Beach and ended on foot in Bradenton.

Holmes Beach police arrested Kelly King Sept. 11 in an allegedly stolen 2010 Toyota Camry on charges of grand theft auto, a third-degree felony, and fleeing with disregard to the safety of persons, a second-degree felony, as well as reckless driving, driving while license suspended or revoked and resisting an officer without violence.

The chase began at 5:38 p.m. after HBPD Officer Alex Hurt was alerted to a stolen vehicle by the city’s license plate reader system. He followed the Camry over the bridge and advised other units of his pursuit.

After crossing the bridge, Hurt activated his lights and siren. The motorist continued east on Manatee Avenue, passing a car by driving through the grass on the right shoulder, where the suspect vehicle hit a hill and caught air, then proceeded through the parking lot at Perico Apartments in the 11000 block of Manatee Avenue West, continuing to evade police.

The motorist pulled back onto Manatee Avenue West, almost hitting a bystander. As the vehicle approached 75th Street West, the front right tire blew and the motorist proceeded to drive on the rim, throwing off sparks and cutting a rut in the road, according to the police reports.

The vehicle turned south onto 51st Street, then east onto Cortez Road, where it swerved into oncoming traffic and proceeded until it turned south onto 14th Street, again head-on into northbound lanes.

The motorist stopped the car at the Michiana Motel, 3235 14th St. W., Bradenton, where the driver and a passenger fled on foot.

Another HBPD officer, assisted by a Manatee County sheriff’s deputy, chased King, ordered him on the ground at gunpoint, then handcuffed and arrested him.

The MCSO deputy apprehended the passenger at gunpoint near 14th Street West and later cleared and released the individual.

King was being held on $20,870 bond at the Manatee County jail on as of Sept. 16 and was scheduled to appear in court Oct. 9.

Poor recordkeeping practice in HB results in new cellphones

Florida’s open records laws apply to all forms of communication — including text messages.

A recent records request for text messages between officials and staff in Holmes Beach — and the lack of retention of the text records — led to new cellphones with digital tracking for staff, the mayor and commissioners.

In June, when the city planned to remove more than 1,000 on-street parking spaces without a commission vote, Michael Barfield, a paralegal consultant focusing on the enforcement of open government laws and board president of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, requested all text messages concerning parking exchanged between Mayor Judy Titsworth and Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

But the city had no system of recording and sharing texts.

So a slew of screenshots were provided to Barfield, who complained the city was not fulfilling its responsibility to make digital communications available to the public.

“Text messages are the most common method of communication,” Barfield texted The Islander Sept. 17. “Whether it’s sent or received on a private device doesn’t matter. It is essential that government properly archive text messages so citizens can readily know what their government is up to. In this case, the city took far too long to produce records that it should have been storing in accordance with the Public Records Act.”

According to the Florida Supreme Court, public records include all materials made or received by an agency in connection with official business that are used to “perpetuate, communicate or formalize knowledge,” including text messages, emails and other electronic forms of communication.

The policy in Bradenton Beach is that any city employee or commissioner who sends or receives a work-related text must save the message to their work computer.

LeAnne Addy, Anna Maria city clerk/treasurer, said the city does not have a digital tracking system, but has sent screenshots when records were requested.

Addy said she checks the text messages from both parties to ensure they match, ensuring the information is complete and nothing was deleted and the messages are then stored on her computer.

Titsworth said Sept. 16 that the city was advised by its attorneys and information technology company to start using a digital system to track data exchanges, including photos and texts.

As of Sept. 16, city staff and commissioners were issued new phones that are equipped with the suggested tracking system and digital retrieval capabilities. Titsworth said it may take a couple of weeks for all of the phones to be activated.

City treasurer Lori Hill said, previously, employees and officials received a cellphone allowance of $100 per month. With the new plan, the phones are provided at no cost to the employee and the monthly service cost for the city is about $47 per cellphone.

“We looked into the cost of phones and decided to replace all city phones so everything can be retrieved digitally with ease,” Titsworth said. “There was a deal that the phones would cost nothing and the amount the city would pay for service was actually less than we had been paying. So it’s a win-win.”

Missing kayaker found

It was a positive ending.

First responders searched for hours Sept. 14 for a 30-year-old Bradenton man reported missing from the Palma Sola community by his mother.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office received a report at about 9 a.m. Sept. 14 from a woman who said her adult son was not home when she woke and a kayak was missing from her porch in Bradenton.

The man’s cellphone and wallet were found at the residence.

A search involved the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Service and U.S. Coast Guard.

The kayak was found early Sept. 14 in shallow water in Palma Sola Bay west of the Catalina Drive residence.

The man was later found on land, near Sunny Shores on Cortez Road, appearing disoriented.

Eyes on the road – 09-23-2020

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following roadwatch information:

  • Multiple locations in Bradenton Beach: A county pipeline replacement project continues. Impacted areas include Gulf Drive, Bay Drive South, Church Avenue and Cortez Road. Expect construction in rights of way and increased truck traffic.
  • Cortez Road and 119th Street West in Cortez: Work to realign the intersection of 119th Street West at Cortez Road/State Road 684 continues. Phase 2 involves a new traffic pattern and shifting construction to the north side of Cortez Road. Thru traffic will then use the south side of Cortez Road. Also, the two outbound lanes of Harbor Landing Drive will be closed and traffic into Harbor Landings will be detoured to the west on 127th Street.

For the latest road watch information, go online to fl511.com and swflroads.com or dial 511.

And, a reminder, a fare-free trolley operates daily on Anna Maria Island.

— Lisa Neff

Sand replenished at thinnest beaches

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Two bulldozers work through the night Sept. 9, leveling sand pumped onto the beach in the 2100 block of Gulf Drive. The ongoing $17 million beach renourishment project is planned to run through October when it reaches the terminus at Longboat Pass. With the narrowest stretches of beach on the island, Bradenton Beach will take longer to renourish with more sand, labor and equipment than the northern areas of renourished beach in Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
A second barge, added the week of Aug. 10 to boost the sand dredged by another vessel to shore, is anchored Sept. 9 in the Gulf of Mexico, west of 52nd Street in Holmes Beach. The booster recently moved closer to provide more force through longer runs of pipe, providing sand to the 2100 block of Gulf Drive and south.
A bird watches in the wake Sept. 9 as a bulldozer smooths sand pumped onto the beach for a $17 million renourishment project which began July 8 near 77th Street in Holmes Beach.

Hatching activity slows, turtle watch looks ahead to lighting

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Two sea turtle hatchlings scamper Sept. 1 to the Gulf of Mexico. Turtle watch uncovered the hatchlings during a nest excavation and released them to the Gulf of Mexico. Islander Photos: Courtesy AMITW
Bill Booher, AMITW volunteer, goes shoulder-deep in a nest Sept. 1.

Sea turtle nesting season and the hatches that follow are winding down.

So Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird monitoring is planning for 2021.

As of Sept. 8, 52 of 349 nests laid this season remained to hatch in a “nursery” on the beach near White Avenue and Peppertree Lane, near the Anna Maria/Holmes Beach boundary.

Nests laid in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach since season began with the first nest in late April have been relocated to Anna Maria due to the ongoing $17 million beach renourishment project. The sand replenishment started near 77th Street in Holmes Beach July 8 and will continue south to Longboat Pass through the end of October, paralleling sea turtle season.

In August, a private security light atop a tall pole in Holmes Beach near the nursery caused hatchlings from 65 nests to disorient and travel away from the Gulf of Mexico.

Artificial light visible at a sea turtle’s eye level can draw them away from the Gulf of Mexico, increasing the chances of death by predation, dehydration or exhaustion.

The city contacted the property owner and worked with Florida Power and Light to fix the problem, and the light was turned off.

However, Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, said Sept. 8, since turtle watch started keeping records in 1992 that is the highest number of nests to disorient. In 2019, 59 nests had disorientations and there were 50 in 2018.

Fox must submit reports for each nest — hours of paperwork — to be shared with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Manatee County.

She also said the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, a major funding source for the renourishment project, was concerned about the lighting issue.

The Corps and county must ensure wildlife is not disrupted by the renourishment or by changes to the environment caused by the project.

“It’s hours of time for us to document this, on top of the hours of time FWC must spend reviewing it,” Fox said.

And, Fox added, that doesn’t account for the loss to the sea turtle population.

Fox plans to address lighting before a new season starts May 1, 2021, when nests will remain wherever the female turtles deposit them, as opposed to this year’s relocations.

She said the sand on the beach will be 3 feet higher in some areas, which means lights previously not visible to turtles might now be seen.

Properties along the beachfront — and in some cases beyond it — must be compliant with FWC standards for turtle-friendly lighting.

So Fox will be conducting a preseason lighting inspection, then another May 1, 2021, contracted by the Corps and the county, to determine what has changed since the renourishment project and what lights must be brought into compliance. Code compliance in each city also will conduct lighting inspections.

“Our inspections better match up,” Fox said. “Any lights that are not compliant must be corrected when season starts. Everybody must be accountable.”

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

For more information on nesting season, contact AMITW executive director Suzi Fox at suzifox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

 

 

Holmes Beach extends mask mandate to 2021

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Jeanine Scharpf of Orlando wears a mask Sept. 11 while shopping at Sun and Surf Beach Shop, 5418 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. The city requires people to wear masks inside businesses.

Holmes Beach wants people to mask up against the novel coronavirus through the end of 2020.

At a Sept. 10 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved an emergency ordinance extending the city’s face covering mandate until the first regular meeting in 2021, which is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

The commission can vote at any time to repeal the order before that date.

Holmes Beach approved an emergency order June 25 mandating face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained, with exceptions.

Mayor Judy Titsworth signed an executive order Sept. 8 extending the emergency ordinance until Sept. 15.

She said Sept. 10 that she could keep extending the order weekly until the commission is comfortable with the decline in COVID-19 cases. Another option would be for commissioners to approve an emergency ordinance to expire on a date certain.

Commission Chair Jim Kihm, who placed the matter on the agenda, said he favored the emergency ordinance.

“If we do it, we can set it up longer-term,” Kihm said. “If coronavirus, by some miracle, goes away, we could always cancel it.”

City attorney Patricia Petruff said she wrote the ordinance with the intent that it be extended 90 days to be close to the end of the year.

Kihm asked for a motion for an emergency ordinance to extend the face-covering requirement through Dec. 31.

Commissioner Terry Schaefer suggested the ordinance expire at the first meeting in January 2021, so there is no lapse between the end of the year and the first meeting.

Petruff agreed with Schaefer’s recommendation.

Kihm asked Police Chief Bill Tokajer to weigh in on any enforcement issues and Tokajer said there was one incident where a person was trespassed from a business for refusing to wear a mask, but no other problems.

“Everybody is doing the right thing and telling people when they go into businesses to mask up,” he said.

The motion to approve the emergency ordinance extending the face-covering mandate, expiring Jan. 12, 2021, passed unanimously.

“I think this is a practical approach that takes the onus off the mayor,” Schaefer said. “If the coast is clear, and lets all hope that is maybe a remote possibility, we can rescind this prior to it’s expiration, if we’re so fortunate.”

Prepping for Peace Day

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Fifth-grade students at Anna Maria Elementary rehearse a flag processional Sept. 9 for the annual Peace Day celebration. Due to the pandemic, components of this year’s event are being recorded for a video presentation. Students will view the video in school Monday, Sept. 21, and it will be available to view on the school’s website at manateeschools.net/annamaria. Islander Photo: Courtesy Susan Tabicman/AME
Michele Redeker’s third-grade students rehearse the Olympic flag portion of the annual Peace Day celebration at AME. The 2020 celebration involves creating a video for presentation in classrooms Sept. 21.
Students from two AME fifth-grade classes rehearse the flag processional for the annual Peace Day celebration, which will be observed Sept. 21.

Fire district increases assessments, spending for 2020-21

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Hall Architect’s rendering of the planned WMFR administration building. WMFR commissioners voted Sept. 8 to budget $1,451,000 in the 2020-21 fiscal year to fund the plans. Islander Courtesy Photo: West Manatee Fire Rescue

The West Manatee Fire Rescue district’s budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year is in the books.

WMFR commissioners voted 4-1 Sept. 8 to adopt a $9,410,362 budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Commissioner Al Robinson voted “no,” citing his concerns with plans for funding a new administration building.

Behind $6,427,671.81 for wages and benefits, the next largest expense is $1,451,000 to build the administrative headquarters at 701 63rd St. W., Bradenton.

Hall Architects designed the 3,879-square-foot building to withstand hurricane-force wind, contain nine offices and a conference room and serve as an operations center during emergencies.

The lot was purchased in September 2019 for $295,000.

The construction will be funded with $1,675,000 from reserves gained by selling the previous administration building.

Robinson said the district was misusing taxpayer money by choosing not to purchase a cheaper, suitable property, which he identified.

“We’re building a $2 million building for nine offices, when we’re in a building right now that’s adequate,” Robinson said. “We have lost our minds and we’re spending the taxpayers’ money.”

Commissioner Larry Jennis argued that the property Robinson suggested buying isn’t suitable for the headquarters because it lacks parking and a staging area and would need to be modified to withstand hurricane-force winds.

“It just didn’t fit our needs,” Jennis said.

Most of the district’s budgeted expenses will be covered by $7,519,795 collected from tax assessments in 2020-21.

To help cover remaining costs, WMFR voted in May to increase next year’s assessment by 2.6%.

The district’s current residential rates include a $190.57 base rate, as well as an additional $0.1124 for every square foot over 1,000 square feet. The owner of a 2,000-square-foot home was assessed $302.97 this year.

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

The district assesses commercial buildings at a different rate, including a $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 have paid $678.72 in the current fiscal year.

Under the new rates, the commercial base rate for assessments increases 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 now will pay $696.37 in assessment costs.

There was no public comment.

 

Revenues 2019-20 Budget      2020-21 Proposed Budget

Tax Receipts   $7,332,294      $7,529,795

Interest    $65,000   $45,000

Total Reimbursement     $223,067 $204,567

Total Revenue $8,739,828.60 $9,410,362

 

Expenses 2019-20 Budget      2020-21 Proposed Budget

Wages and Benefits        $6,253,910.84 $6,427,671.81

Maintenance   $144,000 $180,000

Insurance $64,000   $70,000

Training  $87,000   $89,000

Office Expenses      $12,250   $12,250

Supplies  $64,500   $64,500

Utilities   $119,000 $124,000

Fire Prevention       $10,800   $16,000

Special Services     $526,623.82    $552,593.85

Miscellaneous $16,000   $17,197.62

Capital Outlay $1,215,594.60 $1,631,000

Debt Service   $226,148.72    $226,148.72

Total Expenses       $8,739,828.60 $9,410,362