MADEIRA BEACH — The city will spend $15 million to $20 million on projects that Finance Director Walter Pierce said will "take a big bite out of the problem we're facing with storm water in the city."
First up will be the streets on Crystal Island, which the city has been promising to fix for years.
The City Commission backed the expense, which will be financed by borrowing, at a recent work session.
"This is a serious, large financial commitment which will take on the most crucial of our stormwater projects," Pierce said.
The commission agreed with a recommendation by city financial advisor Nicklas Rocca to pay for the improvements with a 15-20-year loan. Rocca said "this is an attractive time to be borrowing, with interest rates near or at an all-time low."
Commission members and residents were pleased to see the money committed, with a promise the long-awaited stormwater projects would finally be getting under way. But some warned the promise had been heard before, in particular for Crystal Island.
"This is the most exciting thing ever getting done in Madeira Beach," said Commissioner Deby Weinstein. "It's been needed for so long."
Commissioner Doug Andrews said "this is a project that's been promised for some time."
Andrews also said he was disappointed at the lack of grant money involved. Pierce said later the city would continue to look for appropriate grants to help with the funding.
Residents from Crystal Island who spoke on the subject were also skeptical of the city's commitment to fix the roads. "We've been forgotten over there (Crystal Island Drive)," Chuck Lambert said.
City Manager Jonathan Evans said city officials will be meeting with Crystal Island residents soon to inform them of the upcoming round of stormwater control projects, and to hear their comments and concerns.
Along with approval of the project budget and financing, the commission also agreed to a timetable recommended by the city's engineer consultant, Al Carrier, of Deuel and Associates.
Carrier recommended delaying the start of the road project on Crystal Island Drive, which had a high priority, from this summer to late next year, and doing the back half of Crystal Island first. That's so the roadway will not have to be torn up twice, for road improvements, and later for the stormwater project, Carrier said.
Commissioner John Douthirt said the city should do Crystal Island Drive first, as originally planned.
"We made a promise, and we need to live up to the promise," he said.
But Andrews said "it doesn't make sense to rip the road up again" for the stormwater project. "Let's wait and do it right," Andrews said.
"We'll start on the back half of the island and work our way back," Evans said. "We have a multitude of other roadways that need fixing, but Crystal Island will be our priority."
The spending of millions of additional dollars on road/drainage projects was followed up by a discussion of how to pay for the added cost.
Funding the projects and other needs "is going to be difficult if we don't increase something," Pierce said. "Balancing the budget is going to be very difficult ahead of this."
Pierce recommended a 25-cent in the parking rate at city-owned lots, to $2.75 an hour.
Parking Supervisor Brian Rau said that would generate $200,000 to $250,000 more revenue.
In addition to raising the parking rate, Pierce said an increase in the property tax rate next year "is almost guaranteed."
"It's not a question of 'if,' it's 'how much,'" Pierce said.
Pierce said the city has raised parking fees several times in recent years and has received no complaints about the rate hikes, Pierce said.
Evans said later that the merchants at John's Pass had heard objections from visitors when the fees have been increased.
Commissioners were divided over the proposed parking fee increase.
Weinstein said most private lots near John's Pass Village charge $5 an hour "and people pay it."
But Commissioner Nancy Hodges said the city should wait on the increase, and get feedback from the John's Pass merchants.