An infrastructure funding gap of $61.5 million is expected to develop within 15 years, according to a report by the four barrier island mayors.
Heading into the 2017 tourism season fresh off two record years, the mayors of Longboat Key, Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach are appealing to Manatee County to invest more money in its greatest tourism asset: the barrier islands.
Without it, an infrastructure funding gap of $61.5 million is expected to grow over the next 15 years, according to a report developed during the past few months by the four barrier island mayors. Public safety, transportation, parks and recreation, public buildings and beaches and waterways projects all contribute to the projected funding shortfall.
Florida is on track to shatter its tourism records statewide with 85.5 million visitors through the first three quarters of 2016, according to a report issued last week by Gov. Rick Scott. During the same time in 2015, the state logged 80.59 million visitors.
A lot of those feet shuffled through Longboat Key sands and into its resorts, according to Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce Director Gail Loefgren.
“You can tell it’s been a record tourism year for Longboat Key just by the traffic,” Loefgren said. “It’s more than usual and earlier. The island businesses were happy with the summer.”
Mayors Jack Duncan of Longboat Key, Bill Shearon of Bradenton Beach, Bob Johnson of Holmes Beach and Dan Murphy of Anna Maria Island worked for months on the report, which focuses on reconciling budgets, populations, revenue and expenditures.
The funding request focuses on Manatee County alone, said Longboat Key Town Manager David Bullock.
“Manatee is different than Sarasota in that they have four cities entirely composed of barrier islands,” Bullock said. “Sarasota only has Longboat Key. Plus, Sarasota has a different structure for its surtax and several other things.”
The sheer number of barrier island visitors, estimated at an average of 9,000 per day by the mayors’ report, is putting pressure on infrastructure.
The north half of Longboat Key in southern Manatee County has a permanent population of 2,378 and a seasonal count of 5,483.
Barrier island populations are not growing, but demand on infrastructure is mushrooming as more visitors arrive each year. The seasonal visitor and day tripper population is at least 3.1 times greater than the permanent population, which forces island cities to offer services for roughly triple the resident population, according to the report.
The pressure is not entirely from visitors. Planned or approved new development near the barrier islands is estimated at as many as 12,000 units in Manatee County and 4,221 units in Sarasota County.
The growing tourism impact was illustrated in the report through the increase of more than 100,000 trolley riders in the past five years. Emergency calls are up 62% during the same period.
“There’s clearly a trend of additional impact of tourism on the barrier islands,” Bullock. “What we’re asking for is in the context of that and the revenues generated by these barrier islands. Everyone in Manatee County benefits because of the barrier islands. We’re just asking for a little bit of help in managing these impacts.”
The report will be presented to the Manatee County Commission at its 4 p.m. Dec. 6 meeting.
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