ZEPHYRHILLS — Fearing Zephyrhills could lose out entirely on the school district-owned Hercules aquatic park site, the City Council voted to allow staff to enter into negotiations to lease a portion of the property for recreational development.
Meanwhile, City Manager Jim Drumm's tenure appears to be winding down after he agreed to resign in the wake of three council members' warning they would not vote to renew his employment contract.
The Hercules park property, Drumm told the board in a meeting Monday, was recently appraised at $505,000. But council members immediately expressed doubt the school district would sell for that.
In January, the council voted unanimously to negotiate with the Pasco County school district in hopes of buying the entire 15-acre site, on which the county used to operate a pool and park through a lease with the district. In recent years, due to budget cuts, Pasco County turned the property back over to the district.
The district recently approached the city about leasing about 12 acres to Zephyrhills for a park, with plans to sell the remaining portion at the southwest corner of County Road 54 and U.S. 301.
Council member Alan Knight, who was sworn in Tuesday after being elected April 8, said he estimates the school district will seek about $1 million for the property. Knight is former chairman of the city's parks and recreation board and said he has spoken extensively with district officials about the property.
"There's just no way they are going to accept $505,000. There's just no way they are going to do it," he said.
Knight said with a price tag of $1 million the city would be hard-pressed to find more funds to redevelop the park. Instead, Knight said he favors entering into a long-term lease with the district and using the proposed funds to build a functioning park and again operate the pool, for which the public has been clamoring.
The council voted unanimously to allow staff to pitch a plan to the district for it to sell 2 acres of the property and lease the remaining land to the city.
Drumm took over the city manager job in 2011. His contract expires in May, and council members Lance Smith, Ken Burgess and Charlie Proctor said last month they were not in favor of extending him a new contract after hearing complaints about his accessibility and low employee morale.
When Smith and Burgess announced their concerns, Drumm said he was unaware of the complaints and called the council members' comments on his job performance a "bombshell." He has since informed the council he is willing to resign and sought a meeting to present a severance package. (He also says he's willing to stay if an agreement can be reached.) The council decided to hold a special meeting, tentatively set for April 23, to allow Drumm to make his presentation.
In other news:
• In addition to Knight, Burgess was sworn in for another term after winning his seat unopposed. Knight and Burgess then drew straws to see who would end up with a shorter term. Knight drew the longer of two straws and won a three-year term, with Burgess to serve for another two years. The city is phasing in a voter-approved referendum that extends council terms from two years to three.
• The council unanimously selected the Winter Springs firm Team Pain Skate Parks to construct a new skate park. The city has budgeted $225,000 for the project, which would replace the current park at Krusen Field that has fallen into disrepair. Team Pain officials said they plan to hold workshops to seek input from local skateboarders and the public on what they want built.
• The council unanimously approved renewing a $50,000 grant to the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce to continue economic development efforts. The council also approved a $25,000 grant for the Pasco Economic Development Council to conduct marketing efforts on behalf of the city.