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Longboat pushes through better-than-expected Hurricane Ian

Town Manager Tom Harmer and Fire Chief Paul Dezzi both touted how fortunate the town was in experiencing minimal damage.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. October 5, 2022
After Hurricane Ian's exit, town leaders began surveying damage, which was not widespread, and the state of the town's' beaches. (Photo by Kat Hughes)
After Hurricane Ian's exit, town leaders began surveying damage, which was not widespread, and the state of the town's' beaches. (Photo by Kat Hughes)
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The town has been working to restore the island as quickly as possible after the effects of Hurricane Ian blew through last week as the deadly storm landed about 70 miles to the south. 

Fire Chief Paul Dezzi and Town Manager Tom Harmer made rounds of the town after the storm around 6:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29. However, Dezzi had already been on the island that morning around 1:30 a.m. to make initial assessments. 

"We went through most of the neighborhoods and the mobile home parks, and there were trees down in all parts of the island, but nothing significant," Harmer said. 

The majority of damages noted were downed trees and power lines. Widespread power outages were experienced by residents as they made their way back to their homes Sept. 29. 

"We have been so fortunate here on the island as a barrier island, we tend to be in the front lines of hurricanes," Harmer said. "In this particular case, because it came in the way it did, we caught the top end of the storm. Overall, we fared very well."

The town will assess the state of the beaches and where erosion might have taken place and where sand might have built up during the storm, though initial looks appear to indicate the shoreline was not badly damaged. In the weeks after a storm, initial effects tend to stabilize as sand naturally redistributes. 

Dezzi was also one of the last emergency personnel off the island, leaving around 11:30 p.m. Sept. 27. Longboat Key police officers were off the island shortly after around midnight. 

In a conference call Monday morning, Dezzi reported that emergency personnel received no medical calls during the storm.

As Florida Power and Light has made strides to restore power, spots of the town still remain without electricity. As of early this week, more than 1,000 FPL customers on the island still did not have power. 

"Understand that the town has no control over Florida Power and Light and when the power is turned on," Dezzi told individuals that joined the conference call. 

Water service was shutdown to the island and other barrier island communities by Manatee County utility officials to protect the system from potential damage, a move that required a boil-water advisory for about 72 hours after the system was repressurized. Following tests to assure the water was consistently safe to drink, town officials rescinded the boil-water order on Monday afternoon.

When driving down and through the island, the majority of individuals seen cleaning up debris were employees of landscaping services, which Harmer said is typical on the island as many residents already have existing contracts with companies who service their properties throughout the year.

Storm debris collection was scheduled to begin Wednesday. Debris placed in the right of way does not need to be bagged or bundled to be picked up. Town staff asks that residents keep vegetation debris and construction debris separated. 

Harmer estimated it could take weeks for debris collection to be completed. 

"We're fortunate that we have had no serious injuries or serious damages on the island," he said. "We had some property damage, but it is relatively light. We are still in recovery mode."

In the aftermath of the storm, island firefighters have been taking shifts down to North Port with their high water vehicle to aid in recovery efforts. 

"We will be down there throughout the week as needed," Dezzi said. 


Budget adopted 

The Longboat Key Town Commission adopted the fiscal year 2023 budget during a special workshop Monday. 

The fiscal year 2023 budget was originally slated to be passed at the town commission's Sept. 27 meeting. Due to Hurricane Ian, the meeting was rescheduled for Monday and the passed budget is in effect as if it was originally slated for Oct. 1. 

The budget will end Sept. 30, marking the start of fiscal year 2024. 

The budget was passed 6-0. District 4 Commissioner Debra Williams was absent. 

The budget includes $17.849 million in general fund spending against $18.5 million in general fund revenue. The budget that also includes capital project funds, enterprise funds, debt service and special revenue funds includes $85 million in spending, $49.5 million in revenue, a beginning fund balance of nearly $91 million and more than $55 million in the fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2023.

The millage rate has been set at 1.9900 and produces a 7.17% change from the rolled-back rate of 1.8568 for 2022. The passed rate is estimated to increase ad valorem revenue to $999,819 to fund the budget. 

According to a staff presentation, the town has the lowest millage rate of any other municipality in the area. 

Alongside Monday's budget workshop, a regular commission meeting was scheduled. The meeting has been rescheduled to Oct. 17 to allow for continued restoration and clean-up efforts after the storm.


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