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We hear your funding woes but we have our own, Manatee commissioners tell island mayors

Manatee County's barrier island mayors asking for funding from county

Manatee County Commission heard a presentation from barrier islands representatives about a funding gap over the next 15 years during Tuesday's meeting.
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Manatee County Commission heard a presentation from barrier islands representatives about a funding gap over the next 15 years during Tuesday's meeting.

Over the next 15 years, Manatee County’s barrier islands — Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key — have infrastructure needs ranging from public safety to transportation but inadequate funds to address the needs, according to the islands’ mayors.

“Your barrier islands, which are a part of the community and help you do the things that you do, are an investment worth making,” Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock said Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s commission meeting, representatives from Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key gave a presentation to the county commission about the tourism impacts on the barrier islands. City officials are estimating that the infrastructure and operating funding gap over the next 15 years is more than $73 million, which is just more than half of the projected $143.5 million total in infrastructure and operating costs for the four municipalities.

With the steep price tag to address infrastructure needs and the impact of tourism, island leaders asked the county commission for upward of $1.6 million a year to help.

“What we are trying to express is a need,” Bullock said. “We wouldn’t be here if Manatee County was literally broke. We believe you are OK. You aren’t the richest county in the state. We aren’t asking for a huge amount of money.”

But with needs of their own, the county commissioners did not commit to any relief for the barrier islands.

“We have a lot of issues on our plate, and we don’t have a lot of cash,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. “We don’t have money that we can just pass out.”

Manatee County is the 33rd fastest growing county in the country and the fifth fastest in the state, according to Tuesday’s presentation.

While they did not commit funding toward closing the gap, commissioners welcomed the conversation to continue. They also discussed working with the state Legislature during this legislative session about allowing Tourist Development Tax funds to be used toward areas such as public safety.

“We have to be fair to every city that is in Manatee County,” Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh said. “Any way that we can help, we are willing to do that. ... Let’s not stop here. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s see how we can keep it the paradise that it is.”

As the new county commissioner for Anna Maria Island, Commissioner Steve Jonsson said they must keep the lines of communication open.

“It is still a major asset for us and important that we work together,” he said.

Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said the idea of Tuesday’s presentation was to show the need that exists.

“We need to find some way if we can to deal with the gap that exists,” he said.

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson

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