MADEIRA BEACH — Opposition to planned construction of a $9 million City Hall, fire station and recreational complex sharpened last week as a group of former city officials filed papers for a citywide vote on the issue.
A unanimous City Commission approved the project last month and is now awaiting details for the 30-year bond financing and final architectural plans. Construction is slated to begin in October.
The protesting residents are challenging the commission's decision to include Phase II in the project — a recreation complex that by itself would cost about $3 million.
"A lot of people are against going into the amount of debt we are going into," former Commissioner Roger Koske said Tuesday as he presented the group's request for a referendum.
The other former officials forming the committee seeking the vote include former Mayor Hugh Lamont and former Commissioners Martha Boos, Marvin Merrill, Doreen Moore, Nancy Oakley and Robin Vander Velde.
Also supporting the call for a referendum are former City Manager Jim Madden and residents Linda Horner and Deby Weinstein.
They all are members of the reconstituted Madeira Beach Taxpayers Association, a formerly inactive organization first formed about 20 years ago, according to Koske.
Many of the group supported current Mayor Travis Palladeno when he was elected in 2011. He, Vander Velde and Oakley, who were elected at the same time to the commission, formed a coalition bent on changing the direction of the city.
Immediately before, and shortly after, that election most of the city's top administration, including its city manager, resigned.
During the past year, the city hired Shane Crawford as city manager, two new city clerks and a new finance director, and still has 11 staff positions that remain unfilled.
In a letter to the commission, the taxpayer group said it is concerned about the current commission's leadership and the "heavy burden of debt" the commission has authorized.
Oakley and Vander Velde opted not to run for re-election in March and were replaced by former commissioner and mayor Pat Shontz and Elaine Poe.
"We recognize the need to construct a new City Hall and fire station, however Phase II improvements to the recreational facilities at Rex Place should have a lower priority given the necessary drainage, streets, undergrounding of utility improvements facing this city," the group's letter stated.
"We may be a little ornery, but we don't like the idea of going into debt the way you want to go," Koske explained.
After the meeting, he learned the letter and petition calling for the referendum must be refiled to comply with requirements in the city's charter.
City attorney Tom Trask returned the package to Koske after discovering several deficiencies.
"We will do whatever we have to do," Koske said Thursday.
Once the revised request is submitted, the city has 10 days to review and authorize the gathering of signatures.
According to the city's charter, the petitioners must obtain the signatures of 25 percent of the number of voters in the last election — possibly more than 800 signatures, according to Trask.
Koske said he has been informally polling residents and is convinced a majority are opposed to rebuilding the recreation center.
"It is ridiculous. They just didn't keep up maintenance on the place. Most of the buildings just need new eaves and soffits," he said.
He acknowledged the city is in good financial shape with about $5 million in reserves.
"We could pay for City Hall and the fire house almost in cash and maybe have to finance for only a couple of years, not for the 30 years of debt they are talking about," Koske said.
"If we use all the money for this project, there will be no money for roads, storm sewers or drainage and will leave the bill for the next commission and the next and the next," he added.
For now, Crawford said he is continuing arranging for the bond issue and finalizing architectural plans.
The commission will have to vote again on the actual bond issue and approve the construction plans, he said.
"But if they can get 800 to 900 signatures, which is probably more than have voted in most elections, the issue certainly needs to go to referendum," Crawford said Friday.