MADEIRA BEACH – The city’s water taxi service will continue for at least another year. The Madeira Beach City Commission narrowly approved extending the city’s contract with Hubbard’s Marina, which operates the taxi.
The agreement also calls for the city to pay a $25,000 subsidy toward its operation, and that has created some controversy.
Hubbard spokesperson Cory Hubbard has said the subsidy is absolutely essential to the ferry’s continued operation.
“In order to continue, we absolutely need the city’s support,” Hubbard said at a workshop meeting last month. She added, “The ferry will disappear without the support of the city.”
The commission vote came at the July 11 commission meeting following an impassioned presentation by Cory Hubbard, who was backed by her father, Captain Mark Hubbard, who heads the marine operation.
Cory Hubbard described the water taxi service as a partnership that benefits the city by transporting residents (who receive a 50 percent discount on rides) and visitors to local attractions, such as John’s Pass Village.
“This is not about a ride,” she said. “This is about selling the city of Madeira Beach.” Hubbard also pointed out the subsidy will be paid only for the first three years of the water taxi’s operation. Following that, the Hubbards will give a percentage of its earnings back to the city.
Interim City Manager Derryl O’Neal spoke in favor of the ferry service, which runs a route that has stops in Madeira Beach, Treasure Island, and on the mainland at Jungle Prada City Park.
“This is a first in the area,” he said. O’Neal said the subsidy “is not that much money for the benefits we will be receiving.”
Residents and commission members’ comments on the taxi service, and its costs and benefits, were mixed.
Commissioners Nancy Hodges and Terry Lister were both in favor of extending the ferry contract.
“You’re bringing the people here, to the attractions and John’s Pass,” said Hodges. Her friends from out of town had taken the water ferry and “they thought it was great,” she said.
The water taxi is “a wonderful thing,” Lister said. “It’s a service we extend, and it’s catching on,” he said, citing a successful ferry service now operating out of Clearwater. Lister said the subsidy “is not a ton of money for us to put out.”
Madeira Beach/Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce President Missy Hahn also spoke of the water taxi’s benefits. Hahn said people come to the area for the water.
“This is an attraction. It’s good for the city,” she said.
Vice Mayor John Douthirt questioned the subsidy payment. “We are not here to support the businesses,” he said. “Where do we stop?” he asked.
Douthirt said he might be willing “to go one more year (on the contract), but no more.” That was a shift from last month, when Douthirt said at the workshop meeting, “Let (the contract) expire.”
Acting City Attorney Erica Augello noted the taxi contract is extended on an annual basis, and that is voted on by the commission each year.
Lister said the city is right to subsidize the water taxi. “It’s a service the city provides,” he said. “Ninety percent of the people that come down here come for the water.” He added, “We’re not giving money to Mark Hubbard, we’re contributing to the Gulf beaches.”
But most residents who spoke questioned the city’s involvement in supporting the water taxi service.
Rose Llauget said, “I have mixed emotions about (the city) contributing to a private enterprise.”
She asked, “How much are we contributing to other businesses?”
Captain Steve Rayow, a resident, said the water taxi is “a great idea,” and deserves “any help you can give that doesn’t cost us any money.”
Rayow, who operates a charter boat, said, “I don’t expect the city to subsidize me.”
Resident Dick Lewis’ opposition to the subsidy payment was clear. “This is a private enterprise that is not a government service. And it will never achieve any benefit to the taxpayer,” said Lewis.
But George Tudor said the Hubbards “have been in business in this community for years. It would be a disgrace not to support (the water taxi).”
Mayor Maggi Black said she thinks the water taxi is “a good idea.” But making a decision on it is difficult without more data, she said.
Commissioner Nancy Oakley said the city should not be subsidizing a business. “Why hasn’t every other business in town come to our door and said, ‘Why don’t you give me $25,000 a year?’” she said.
The vote to extend the water taxi service contract, along with the $25,000 subsidy, was close, approved by a 3-2 margin. Douthirt joined Lister and Hodges in favor. His “yes” vote came after a long pause.
Crawford agreements not extended
The commission discussed whether to extend the consulting agreements with former City Manager Shane Crawford and his wife, former City Clerk Cheryl Crawford. Shane Crawford’s consulting period was for four weeks, and is soon expiring, while Cheryl Crawford’s is for 18 weeks.
The consulting contracts were part of the Crawfords’ termination agreements with the city.
Under terms of the arrangement, the Crawfords were to be paid as consultants whether their services were used or not.
Interim City Manager Derryl O’Neal said the city had never called upon either Crawford for advice or assistance.
While Lister and Hodges argued for extending Shane Crawford’s consulting agreement for 90 days, the vote was 3-2 against an extension. There was unanimous agreement not to extend Cheryl Crawford’s agreement.
City clerk selected
The city commission filled a top staff position by selecting Jennifer Johnson of Parkland, Florida, as the new city clerk. The commission had made certification a top priority in the hiring of a new clerk, and Johnson is a certified municipal clerk (CMC) who is working to become a master municipal clerk (MMC).
There were many applicants for the job, but only two were certified, Mayor Black said. The commission picked Johnson over the other candidate, who was from Temple Terrace.
The vote for Johnson was 4-1.
Black said of her, “She’s really, really good, has her certification and is halfway through her masters. She seems to really know what she’s doing. I would recommend hiring her.”
Oakley said, “I liked her as well. She’s on the ball and has a lot going for her.”
Lister was opposed. He said the hiring of a city clerk should be put off until a new city manager is in place. He said the two need to work well together, and “You need to hire the CEO before you hire the city clerk.”
Later in the week, O’Neal said the hiring of Johnson was finalized and she is scheduled to start Sept. 5.
The commission also voted 4-1, with Lister dissenting, to appoint an interim city clerk. Andrea Gamble, who has held the deputy clerk position in Redington Beach, was recently hired by O’Neal to help out with city clerk functions. O’Neal said, “We have to have a city clerk.” The city had no one to perform those duties since deputy clerk/interim clerk Nick Lewis resigned as of July 7.