The governance of the three municipalities of Anna Maria Island is currently being evaluated in a state-led study. This study, which was announced in a letter dated October 31 by P.K. Jameson from the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), aims to explore the merging of the island’s three municipal entities.
Jameson’s letter, addressed to the mayors of the island, indicates that this initiative is a response to a legislative directive. The focus is on assessing the advantages of combining both the municipal services and the governing structures within Anna Maria Island.
This assessment by OPPAGA, which functions as a legislative research body, is set to commence immediately, providing crucial data and analysis to support legislative decision-making, particularly in areas of budget and policy.
OPPAGA had previously issued a report on October 4, 2021, on a separate matter regarding the challenges faced by the Town of Longboat Key in its unique two-county existence between Sarasota and Manatee counties.
The concept of reducing the number of governing bodies on the island was first raised by State Rep. Will Robinson Jr., during a meeting of the Manatee County Legislative Delegation in January. The delegation, comprising of Robinson and several other state legislators including Sens. Jim Boyd and Joe Gruters, and Reps. Tommy Gregory and Mike Beltran, unanimously agreed to Robinson’s proposal for a study.
“Does it make sense to continue to have three small island communities with different bureaucracies, with different levels of government?” Robinson asked at the delegation meeting. “I don’t know but I think it’s incumbent upon this delegation, and frankly the state, to study the issue, to see what the options are. Should we have one city over the island? Should we have two? Maybe three is the answer.”
Mayor Judy Titsworth of Holmes Beach commented on the situation, saying, “It almost feels like a hostile takeover. I can’t help but think it’s like really, number one, never brought up to any of the three mayors, never a discussion with either one of us of what we felt or city commissioners, what they felt about it,” expressing her concerns about the lack of communication and consultation with the mayors and city commissioners.
Overall, this OPPAGA study aims to evaluate the island’s governmental framework and present findings for consideration in the 2024 state legislative session, which begins on January 9 and concludes on March 8.
Although initially set aside to allow the island’s mayors to deliberate among themselves, the conversation did not progress significantly. The study regained prominence in August when Robinson and Boyd reached out to the island mayors for their insights before the October 5 Manatee County Legislative Delegation meeting.
The mayors consented to the study but advocated for a focus shift towards consolidating services rather than the municipalities themselves. The topic of the study was ultimately not discussed at the meeting.
At a Bradenton Kiwanis Club meeting on October 24, Robinson addressed the topic of island governance, highlighting that 90% of residential parcels in the city of Bradenton Beach are vacation rentals.
He shared his concerns about the implications of a declining voting population, stating, “I’m personally concerned that, as the voting population goes down, there are fewer and fewer people to vote, and either crazier people get in, or you don’t have people that can run for office.” Robinson emphasized the broader impact of this issue, adding, “That small amount of people voting affects the other 90% of property owners. That’s when the Legislature has to step in.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, each of the three cities on the Island experienced significant population declines.
Holmes Beach, the largest city, saw its population fall from 4,276 in 2020 to 3,132 in 2021, a 26.75% decrease.
Anna Maria’s population fluctuated, peaking at 1,556 in 2013, then dropping to 719 in 2019, rising to 1,087 in 2020, and falling again to 944 in 2021, a 13% decline.
Bradenton Beach’s population decreased from 1,452 in 2010 to 867 in 2021, marking a 4% loss within the prior year
The Census Bureau also states that cities experiencing consistent yearly declines in population are more prone to disincorporation, leading to the possibility of their land being absorbed into a larger area, like unincorporated Manatee County.
Jameson’s letter stated that the staff of OPPAGA will be arranging meetings with either the mayors or city representatives to talk about the methodology for the study.