MADEIRA BEACH — Despite a continuing split among residents, the City Commission is poised to move decisively ahead in building a new city hall, fire station and possibly a new recreation complex.
A clear majority of residents who packed a town hall meeting on Tuesday agreed that the present city hall, erected in the 1950s, badly needs replacing.
But there remained clear disagreement over the size and design elements of the new building — particularly when the city has many other infrastructure projects in its planning cue while it considers spending a projected $5 million to $9 million to replace aging government facilities.
"I would like to see this put up for referendum," resident Peter Pisciotta said, while asking the city to do more due diligence in reviewing all options before spending millions on a new city hall complex.
There appeared to be little interest in the audience or on the commission for holding a referendum.
Commissioner Terry Lister insisted that after the commission "did its homework" it was determined that repairing the old city hall and fire station would be prohibitively expensive.
Mayor Travis Palladeno said the commission will decide the scope of the project at its April 9 meeting, when commissioners also expected to hire a bond counsel and sign a new contract with the architect and building contractor.
The project is divided into two phases — one the city hall and fire station complex, and the other the recreation complex. The phases could run simultaneously or separately over time.
Although the total bill would be higher doing the entire project at once, contractor Mark Stalker told commissioners they would save significantly by building at today's prices.
Many residents supported building both phases at once.
"Build the city hall, fix the ball field, make a nice recreation center," said Robin Stack. "Act like commissioners. Do your job and make a decision."
"We need a city hall for everybody. Let's just get it done and stop the talk," echoed Diane Ray.
"I encourage you to think about all our children who want to play and be a part of our community," said Dan Griffin, vice president of Madeira Beach Little League.
"Should we put money into recreation fields for the kids? Damned straight we should," former Commissioner Steve Kochick said to loud applause. Some residents, however, were strongly against spending the additional $4 million for a new recreation complex.
"While a new city hall and fire hall is in order, I am against any redoing of the recreation fields," said Debbie Weinstein.
Former Mayor Marv Merrill described the recreation phase as an unneeded "luxury" and called the conceptual city hall plans an unnecessary Taj Mahal.
City Manager Shane Crawford said the new city hall would occupy less square footage than the present one. "We are trying to make do with the least amount of building as possible."
Jeff Larson, the city's financial consultant, explained that the city has reserve funds to help pay for a new city hall, as well as nonproperty tax revenue streams that can pay off a bank loan or bond.
"The city is in very good financial condition and no debt," he said. "That tells you your elected officials and staff have been good stewards of your money."
The city is considering pledging $300,000 in annual revenue to guarantee and pay for a long term bond.
Other revenue will still be available to cover yet unknown costs of street repaving, stormwater upgrades, marina expansion, upgrades to Archibald Park and burying utilities along Gulf Boulevard.
"There is no plan to do this project (city hall) in place of other projects," city finance director Vince Tenaglia added.
For the project designers, the meeting was a step forward.
"We are very excited to stop kicking the can down the road and start moving forward again," said Lisa Wannemacher of Wannemacher Jensen Architects.