MADEIRA BEACH — Encouraged by positive survey responses from its residents, the City Commission has given the go-ahead for planning a $9 million municipal complex that would include a new City Hall, fire station, recreation center and ball fields.
"No one is thrilled with spending the money, but they agree we have got to do it," City Manager Shane Crawford said as he described the results of an online survey.
The commission plans to hold several more workshops to present financing options and tentative architectural plans before making a final decision.
But so far, it appears the commission is in unanimous agreement that the municipal complex needs to be replaced.
More than 90 percent of the 202 residents who responded to the survey appear to agree.
In only slightly lower percentages, the residents also agreed that upgrading recreational facilities was needed, including a dual-use fitness center for firefighters, city employees and residents.
Wannemacher Jensen Architects is proposing a City Hall and separate fire station that would last up to 80 years.
It would feature state-of-the-art technology, flexible office spaces, and a boardwalk along the site's waterfront.
"This would be a signature building representing the city of Madeira Beach, a building Madeira Beach could be proud of," architect Jason Jensen told the commission several weeks ago.
The current City Hall-fire station is about 60 years old and has a severely leaking roof that is causing mold in offices. This has damaged air conditioning and electrical equipment, resulting in flooding and even fires.
During Tropical Storm Debby, carpets in city offices were saturated.
A mold inspector got sick after spending just an hour in the commission conference room.
Recently, an electrical fire broke out in the fire department.
And when workers tried to wash the windows outside the city manager's office, the windows leaked water into both his and an adjacent office.
"We are continuing to throw money at a bad product," Crawford said.
Fixing the existing building could cost $2.5 million — way over the $400,000 FEMA limit that would then require the building to be elevated above flood level.
Instead, during a special meeting this month, Crawford urged the commission and residents to "swallow the biggest financial pill the city has faced in decades."
A new City Hall and fire station will cost about $6 million, while updating the adjacent recreational facilities will cost about another $2.8 million, he said.
Tuesday, Crawford reiterated that the city can easily afford the cost.
It has $3.3 million set aside in a capital projects fund, money it received when it sold its sewer system to Pinellas County in 2007.
The city also has almost another $8 million in reserves.
But Crawford is urging the commission to use the $3.3 million as a "down payment" and borrow the rest, leaving substantial funds in reserves to cover emergencies and other capital projects.
A $2.5 million loan for just the City Hall-fire station portion of the project, called Phase 1, would cost about $255,300 annually to pay off over about a dozen years, according to Crawford.
Those debt payments could be taken out of reserves, paid from transfers from the city's John's Pass Village or parking funds, or paid by increasing revenues.
Crawford stressed, however, that he is not recommending increasing property taxes to pay for the project.