MADEIRA BEACH — For years, Madeira Beach delayed infrastructure projects, instead setting aside millions of dollars to use if a major hurricane were to hit the city.
The current commission came to office pledging to spend some of that money to fix deteriorating roads and a failing storm drainage system.
Over the past two years, that to-do list swelled, with a new city hall and fire station, a new recreation center, renovations to Archibald Park and new beach walkovers.
The tab for all that work is in the millions — potentially $9 million just for a new city hall.
Now the commission is wondering if it needs to delay action on its to-do list and instead add more money to its nearly $8 million in reserves.
In the next few months, the panel hopes to find the right balance between overdue infrastructure spending and how much the city should keep in savings.
The debate began last week during a commission workshop and, if not resolved, could become an issue in the March 12 municipal election.
Only one commission seat is being contested. Margie Elaine Poe is challenging incumbent Nancy Oakley.
A former mayor, Pat Shontz, will be elected automatically as she is unopposed to fill the seat now held by Vice Mayor Robin Vander Velde, who is not running for re-election.
Until then, Vander Velde is pushing for increased savings.
The city has more than enough reserves to pay for operations for four months, or about one-third of the city's annual $5 million budget.
Vander Velde wants that required ratio raised to 50 percent, which would require putting another $830,000 into the city's reserves — virtually the cost of refurbishing gulf-front Archibald Park.
"It's not that big a deal," Valder Velde said last week.
Other commissioners are not so sure.
"Why fix what isn't broken?" asked Mayor Travis Palladeno. "The city needs repairs and has the capital to do it."
Oakley called for more information before deciding what would be the right amount of savings.
Commissioner Terry Lister called the proposal to increase the city's savings rate a "bad plan."
"We need to get the roads paved, we need to get the park system done, we need city hall done. We need to start spending these funds, not save them," Lister said.
City Manager Shane Crawford said he plans to identify core services that would be needed if a hurricane were to hit the city.
"You need to understand what services you need to provide in the event of a disaster," he said.
Crawford said that many residents think the commission "has gotten a little spendthrifty" and might be more comfortable with greater savings.
"You would have money in the bank when the big one hits, but it will limit your ability to do some things," he cautioned.
One project considered urgent is replacing the badly deteriorating city hall.
Fixing the existing building is not an option, as it could cost $2.5 million — well over the $400,000 FEMA limit before required elevation of the building above flood level.
The most recent estimates for the city hall/fire station/multipurpose building complex range from $5.6 million to $6.2 million, depending on the options selected.
That cost jumps $2.6 million for a new recreation center and renovated athletic fields requested by residents during an October a town hall meeting that brought out more than 100 people.
The city could spend about $3.5 million from reserves and finance the rest, Crawford said. A $2.5 million loan for just the city hall/fire station portion of the project, called Phase 1, might cost about $255,300 a year over about a dozen years, he said.
A more exact cost for borrowing money is expected by the end of February.