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Longboat’s beach condition, admin costs and future challenges tackled

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

On March 10, 2015 Longboat Key voters must decide which commissioners to elect in two contested races, in the At-Large seat is Commissioner Phill Younger who is running against former Commissioner Gene Jaleski, and in the District 4 race, Larry Grossman is running against Jack Daly. Vice Mayor Jack Duncan is running unopposed for his District 2 seat.

Longboat Key News asked each of the four candidates in the contested elections questions regarding three issues: Longboat Key’s beach renourishment program, the town’s administrative costs, and the greatest challenge facing Longboat Key. In the coming weeks leading to the election, Longboat Key News will publish questions and answers with the candidates. Here is what they had to say:

 

How would you characterize the current condition of Longboat Key’s beaches? Does the town need to focus on overall renourishments or the hotspot-as-needed approach for ongoing maintenance? Are groins a reasonable solution to erosion or an ugly last resort that should be avoided? Why or why not?

Jack Daly: The conditions of our beaches range from outstanding, to good, to challenged. Shifting sand on beaches is an ongoing issue for most seaside communities. The Town’s plans have to be flexible and responsive to changing tidal actions and storms. We need to continue a mix of ‘hot spot,’ planned area and traditional renourishments. Simply stated, “one size does not fit all.” Permeable groins at The Colony and the Islander locations appear to be effective; and we need to evaluate and, when necessary, adjust the similar groins now underway on the North end. While you have characterized groins as being ugly, if they continue to be effective, they need to be part of our renourishment procedures in order to maintain the health of our beaches.

 

Larry Grossman: Beach re-nourishment is necessary to protect property against storm surges, to provide a comfortable swath of beach sand for human recreation and to provide habitat for nesting turtles and seabirds and all the tinier creatures that are part of the food chain. The condition of the beach is the most important factor in making Longboat Key as attractive as it is. But re-nourishment is expensive and the timeliness of re-nourishment when needed at a cost effective price is not always under the Town’s control. Other beach communities compete for sand especially as their beaches get depleted from severe weather events such as from Hurricane Sandy. Fracking techniques require a great deal of sand and thus oil and gas operations may be competing with beach communities for available sand. I don’t favor armoring the coast with sea walls. I don’t favor groins because it can rob sand of its natural littoral drift and cause down drift properties to be starved of sand. Nevertheless, the groins on the north end are under construction and we will await to see their effectiveness in slowing the northward drift of sand into the inlet. The Town needs to explore ways of continuous beach re-nourishment using local sources of sand that are cost effective and can reliably provide sand where and when needed.

 

Gene Jaleski: For the past five years, many areas of our coastline have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of endangering a number of properties. This began when the town commission changed its approach to beach management. Clearly the results were disastrous for many property owners.  The commission has repeatedly refused to come to the assistance of distressed homeowners. In the case of the endangered Longbeach condominiums, a private resident had to find a path to restoring that section of ravaged beach. The town assured the endangered property owners that there was nothing the town could do, and some commissioners refused to help. This was after those property owners had paid dearly for protection of their property for twenty-five years. I have attempted to have the town look at more effective and less costly beach management technologies for the past ten years. Look at www.lbkalive.com for articles I have written about beach management technologies used around the world. Taxpayers will now see significant tax increases over the next few years to replenish our beaches, as a direct result of five years of neglect. We cannot afford more of the same. We need to find a more cost effective way to maintain our beaches. The past five years have taught us the cost of what we have been doing.

 

Phill Younger: Our beach is one of our greatest assets, and it is easy to get emotional about it. It is also easy to draw an erroneous conclusion about Longboat’s entire shoreline based on what may been seen by standing at a particular spot on the beach. While there are areas of erosion, much of our shoreline is in remarkably good condition and has held well since the last major nourishment in 2006, with some stretches actually being better.  To place more sand in these areas would be highly costly and unnecessary. Upcoming spot nourishment of the eroded areas is the appropriate, most prudent, and most cost effective course of action. Depending on circumstances and as recommended by several beach engineering entities, groins can be highly effective, as has been demonstrated by the one at the Colony and those at the Islander. I am confident that the same should prove true for the two being built on the North End.

 

The town now employs a full-time Assistant Town Manager position in addition to a full time Town Manager. The town also employs one of the highest paid administrative assistants to the town manager in the region. Are you concerned the town is top heavy in administrative costs or do you believe this level of expenditure is necessary to manage a town the size of Longboat Key? Why or why not?

Jack Daly: I believe that Longboat Key is served well by those who work at Town Hall, and that the Commission should not micro-manage Town administration activities. I understand that Assistant Town Manager Anne Ross is not full-time in that position and that she also has Public Work responsibilities. Susan Phillips has been the right arm of the Town Manager for some time, and provides significant institutional knowledge to the Community. The overall administrative payroll appears to have been managed well and seems to me to be appropriate for a $15 million overall town budget. We are fortunate to have Dave Bullock as our Town Manager, who has rewarded those employees with the most experience who continue to provide valuable service to our Town.

 

Larry Grossman: I will not comment on personal matters that are as specific as your question. I think this is inappropriate and counterproductive. There needs to be a review and evaluation of the Town’s organizational structure and how it is performing prepared by an outside management consultant. Governmental bodies periodically do this as a means of self-evaluation and improvement. As the only candidate for Commission who has extensive experience in local government I have some familiarity with these evaluations, part of whose purpose is to determine whether salaries are competitive and in line with comparable positions in other jurisdictions.

 

Gene Jaleski:  The employee turnover has been over fifty percent over the past three years. Employee morale is at an all-time low. The commission authorized money to hire two more management level employees, while reducing the number of actual workers. If we want to remain a premier community, with high property values, we cannot afford to reduce either the level or quality of town services. We are beginning to see bureaucratic bloat in town government. It needs to be reversed or our taxes will keep on increasing while services deteriorate.

 

Phill Younger: Longboat has had periods both with and without an Assistant Town Manager, e.g., the previous Town Manager was once the Town’s Assistant Town Manager (Incidentally, the current Town Manager was the Assistant Sarasota County Manager). The decision to have an Assistant Town Manager is dependant on many factors, such as workload and succession planning. The Town Manager has deemed that such a position is currently necessary, and the Commission supported that decision. The related cost is an outgrowth of the person placed in that position already being a town employee with a salary commensurate with her position as an engineer. The Administrative Assistant performs duties that are different in nature and is always in demand. Although the cost of these positions appears to be on the higher side compared to comparable communities, they are not necessarily unreasonable given (1) that Longboat has always claimed that it will pay high dollar to get the best talent possible (2) the length of time on the job for the players involved and (3) that salary costs have risen over time via raises, etc.

 

What do you think is the greatest challenge Longboat Key Commissioners will face in the next few years? How would you propose addressing that challenge?

Jack Daly: The greatest challenge facing the Commission during the next few years is to timely upgrade the Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Codes. While they may well have been appropriate some 30 years ago, they do not make sense today. We need to upgrade these documents, among other objectives, to encourage the redevelopment and revitalization of presently non-conforming tourism and residential units, in order to meet the needs of today’s marketplace. This process is well underway, through the efforts of the Planning and Zoning staff, consultants, the Planning and Zoning Board of which I am a member, and currently going to the Commission for the initial Comprehensive Plan changes, which will trigger many zoning code changes. As part of this challenge, we need to achieve and keep a focus on a balance of residential and tourism units in order to maintain and support essential retain services on Longboat Key. Assuming voter approval of the upcoming Key Club referendum in May, to convert 300 residential units to tourism, I believe we will be close to achieving that balance.

 

Larry Grossman: The biggest challenge to the Longboat Key Community is to find ways to work together, to reach consensus, to move forward to modernize and upgrade the island in terms of infrastructure, housing stock, commercial centers and amenities. The ULI Panel report cited consensus building as the prerequisite for upgrading Bay Front Park, for redesigning a new Town Center, for updating and making relevant the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations and for making Gulf of Mexico Drive more a main street and less of a main highway- safer and more aesthetically pleasing. ‘Let’s get it done’ should be Longboat Key’s anthem or daily mantra. Longboat Key needs to better use the enormous talents and experience of its residents as a resource for problem solving. We need to get off our assets and start using them.

 

Gene Jaleski: It is essential that the town not contribute to the cost of owning property on Longboat Key. That has not been the case with the current group of commissioners. We need to change that. Raising taxes by a million dollars a year, blindly funding unproductive beach management projects costing tens of millions, supporting cosmetic alterations to GMD that also cost tens of millions, all in the form of town bond debt, significantly adds to the cost of ownership on our island.

Raising taxes does affect property values, along with the number of people who will want to buy homes on Longboat. We are slowly pricing entire segments of the population out of our housing market, yet our homes are aging and may appeal most to the very people we are beginning to price out of ownership, due in part to taxes and bond debt.

The current tax and spend commission has spent over five million dollars over the past five years on experts and consultants, solely for the purpose of expanding and increasing tourism density. They have not done a single thing to help residential property owners over that time. They have raised our taxes with nothing to show for the five million they have spent on talking heads.

I believe our greatest challenge going forward is preventing the tourism disaster that is destroyed Anna Maria Island as a residential community, from happening on Longboat Key. I am the candidate of the property owner on Longboat Key.

 

Phill Younger: There are a number of critical challenges facing us such as long overdue changes to the Comprehensive Plan and the Building and Zoning codes to allow reasonable and prudent revitalization of deteriorating and out-dated properties, a deteriorating infrastructure and a looming need to install a new waste water pipe under the bay, the always present beach preservation, succession planning for top Town management, up-coming union contract negotiations, development of possibly both a Town Center and Bayfront Park, under-grounding of power lines, and the list goes on.  These are all highly impactful issues with great importance to our future and must be addressed concurrently.

 

 

 

 

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