MADEIRA BEACH — Debate over the look and cost of a new City Hall will begin in earnest Tuesday during a special town hall presentation to the public.
The 7 p.m. meeting may be the first of many before details of a now-estimated $9 million project that would replace not just the aging City Hall, but the fire station and possibly the city's nearby recreational complex. Building just the City Hall and fire station would cost about $5.5 million.
"You have a very low millage rate and no debt. You also have cash resources," Jeff Larson, the city's financial consultant, hired to investigate ways to finance the project, said earlier this month.
The city has about $1.5 million in annual nonproperty tax revenues it could pledge toward financing a 30-year bond for the project.
The projects are too large to finance through a bank, he said, unless the city were to just rebuild the City Hall and fire station, and contribute some of its reserves to bring the bank loan below $5 million.
Larson recommended the city consider contributing about $3.3 million from its reserves to reduce the total project debt and spend no more than $300,000 annually to pay off that debt.
Another option would be to secure a bank loan for the City Hall and fire station (Phase 1) and rebuild the recreational complex later with another loan.
The maximum term for a bank loan is about 15 years, according to Larson.
The commission must also factor in other capital projects it would like to do in the next few years. They include improving the city's stormwater system, repaving streets, putting utilities underground along Gulf Boulevard, renovating the city marina, and planned upgrades to the beachfront Archibald Park.
"There is quite a bit of infrastructure that has been neglected in the city," said Commissioner Robin Vander Velde.
Concerns expressed by residents attending the March 12 meeting were mixed.
Some wanted to be assured that the upgrades to the recreational complex were not excluded, others wanted a less expensive City Hall and fire complex.
The current 1950s-era City Hall is badly deteriorating with roof and window leaks, mold, air-conditioning failures, and even fire hazards in the fire department portion of the building.
Federal rules prevent any more than $400,000 —- not enough to correct all these problems — to be spent on the existing building, which is seven feet below flood plain.
Current plans call for a 9,500-square-foot City Hall, a, 8,050-square-foot multipurpose structure and a 7,900-square-foot fire station.
The new City Hall complex presented previously by architects called for floor to ceiling windows for waterfront views from the City Hall's offices, a multipurpose room and fitness center. The commission chambers would be at the center of the City Hall complex.
A covered boardwalk around the City Hall would create an outside deck facing the waterfront that could be used for special events.
The multipurpose portion of the proposed complex includes a fitness center to be used by both fire fighters and the public.
The existing fire station would remain in place during construction to prevent any lapse in fire services.
The new fire station's first floor includes offices and engine bays, with living quarters on the second.
"Everybody agrees we need a new City Hall," resident June Mohns said. "I am concerned about the $300,000 debt service and that we will not have enough money left in the pot to get the other projects we have put off for years and years."
City Manager Shane Crawford stressed that no plans for the design of the new City Hall are locked in place.
"There is plenty of time to mold it," he said.
That is the major purpose of Tuesdays' special town hall meeting, which will probably be the first among many before the project is finalized. The city's architects, Wannemacher Jensen Architects and representatives of Hennessey Construction, will be present.