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Raucous ‘Home Rule’ rally draws hundreds to Anna Maria Island

Written by on Thursday, May 9, 2024

As Manatee County and Florida plot to disband island towns, opponents open a new battle line: The next elections.

By Gretchen Cochran

Original Air Date: May 8, 2024

Host: “Home Rule!” has become a battle cry in Manatee County. About 400 people gathered in the Holmes Beach City Park Saturday, preparing to draw battle lines against the State of Florida and Manatee County.  One front will be the ballot box Nov. 5. Gretchen Cochran reports from Anna Maria Island

Gretchen Cochran: It was a raucous affair, with political campaign signs, at least one costumed figure and petitions to be signed. But Barbara Ehren, master of ceremonies and a lead organizer of a just-started organization called “Save Florida Home Rule”, quickly asserted its seriousness.

Barbara Ehren

While Florida government takeovers started long ago, a recent skirmish over a Holmes Beach parking garage revealed the locals are expected to bow to those higher ups. Now, they fear control of their zoning, building densities and even heights will be snatched away, while their property taxes could triple.

Dan Diggins: My dad’s rule: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it! I’ve not heard one compelling argument in favor of this draconian action on the part of county and state officials. And I think I want to follow something else that my dad used to say: When the going really gets tough. make sure you’re ready to stand up and be counted. So I say to all of you: Be ready to stand up and be counted! [applause]

GC: Under the guise of “a study”, a state committee is taking a look at possibly merging the towns of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach. Other options would be to disband them and move them under the umbrella of the City of Bradenton, or of Manatee County. The study is due for completion in late July, but will not be covered by the Sunshine Law, hence will not be available to the public, Holmes Beach Councilman Terry Schaeffer said. All three beach communities’ current governing documents would be dumped. Instead, they could come under the umbrella of the City of Bradenton, or Manatee County.

Barbara Ehren:

Barbara Ehren: When did the value of local government get replaced with the overreach of the state government?

Under the cumbersome name of the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, it is considered the research arm of the Florida Legislature.  The OPPAGA supervisor did not return calls for our verification of the scope of the study.  But we are told that the state study’s options are dissolution of the three communities and consolidation under the city of Bradenton, or under Manatee County.

There is no option for doing nothing, one person said.

Residents suspect Republican County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge is behind  the study. It was he who led the effort to pre-empt the Holmes Beach permitting process, turning it over to the county, thus allowing the parking garage. Even though it is now enabled, construction on the project has not ensued for lack of funds, Holmes Beach Councilman Terry Schaeffer said.

The next battle line: The 2024 Manatee County Commission election. Two candidates were at the rally — Diane Shoemaker, who is challenging sitting commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge. And: “The Real KVO”…

Once the study is complete, Schaeffer predicts Republicans Rep. Will  Robinson and Sen. Jim Boyd will draft a bill implementing the study’s recommendation. Interestingly, Van Ostenbridge is a realtor, working for Boyd Realty.

We sought comment from Van Ostenbridge for this report, but to no avail. He is running for re-election in November.

The state study is really about changing the governance of Anna Maria, not to study it, Holmes Beach City Commissioner Dan Diggins said.  Instead of to the people, they will make local government accountable to the state of Florida.

As for fiscal accountability, the towns are models.  Holmes Beach has $12 million in reserves. Bradenton Beach has $1.6 million in reserves.  Anna Maria has some debt, $1.9 million.  But compare that to Manatee County’s debt: $40 million.

Diggins held up a copy of his Holmes Beach property tax bill.

Dan Diggins: Everybody knows this. This is mine. My bill for 2024 was $1,451.  If we get the same services that we currently enjoy, under the county this would be $4,441 and with lousier service. They propose shared services would be an asset. We’re already doing that.

Holmes Beach Mayor Dan Diggins talks to an estimated crowd of 400.

GC: Diggins said that the Public Works Department shares its tractor. Holmes Beach is now buying a street sweeper and an algae harvester that will be shared.  The police department responded to area requests for service 785 times last year.

Ehren reminded folks to pick up petitions for circulation.

BE: The Florida Legislature, who has the power to dissolve or consolidate our cities, has to hear from us. Ask all candidates about their stand on Home Rule.

This is a universal issue now that the state is grabbing local powers and suborning them to itself.

Ehren bid the crowd adieu with this:

Ehren and crowd: Why are you here? To preserve paradise! What is our message? Keep your hands off our island cities!

Reporting from Anna Maria Island for WSLR News, this has been Gretchen Cochran.

To find out more about Save Florida Home Rule, click here.


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