Erin Grebenev of Wild Seafood Market at Don’s Dock ices down the goods Oct. 20 at the annual John’s Pass Seafood Festival.

MADEIRA BEACH — The city and the John’s Pass Merchants Association appear ready to approve an agreement that would keep the popular Seafood Festival at John’s Pass Village for the next three years. This would be the first multiyear agreement in the festival’s 34-year run, and it comes on the eve of Madeira Beach’s 75th anniversary, recreation director Jay Hatch pointed out.

New to the agreement this year will be a 10% contribution of the festival proceeds to the city to be used specifically for John’s Pass Village beautification and improvements. Also, the city and association have agreed to jointly file grant applications for event funding and share oversight and involvement with event planning and operation.

“When we work together for grants, we have a greater chance of getting them,” Hatch told city commissioners Jan. 28 during a workshop.

All three commission members present at the meeting were supportive of the proposal. Vice Mayor Nancy Hodges and Commissioners Doug Andrews and Deby Weinstein, a commission majority, said they were in favor of the agreement, but there was no vote because it was a workshop. Mayor Maggi Black and Commissioner John Douthirt were absent.

Just last year, the commission turned down a proposal to extend the Seafood Festival agreement for two years, going with a one-year agreement instead.

“The city should lock arms with the merchants association, and let’s make this a bigger and better event. I’m all for it,” Andrews said.

“This certainly is a good event, and well-attended,” said Weinstein, who lives near John’s Pass Village and said she worked on the festival for almost 30 years.

“It’s been great every year. It seems like there’s always something new going on,” Hodges said.

“It’s a win-win-win-win-win,” said Andrews, stressing the importance of partnering on the event and putting more money into marketing, which benefits the city “when our parking meters are all filled.”

In addition to its popularity with residents and visitors, the festival has been a profitable event for the city. Last year, the city netted $15,000, with $18,000 in parking revenue and $3,000 in expenses.

Marina audit controversy continues

A year after being completed, an extensive and expensive audit of the city marina continues to generate questions and misunderstandings.

The audit, which cost $50,000, showed a number of deficiencies in marina operations, and ultimately caused Public Works and Marina Director Dave Marsicano to resign. It once again became a topic of heated discussion Jan. 28, when the 2019 marina financial results were compared to 2018, the year of the audit.

City Finance Director Walter Pierce said the marina showed a profit in 2019 of $256,000, the highest by far in the past five years.

“I am pleased, this is good news, we had a very good year,” Pierce said, adding, “We’re in a much better position this year than last year.”

But Andrews said sales at the marina were down this year, and profits were up because of the timing of when purchases were made. He said excess fuel purchased in 2018 led to lower purchases in 2019.

“No retail person has ever said, ‘We’re better off because sales are down.’ That’s flat-out crazy,” said Andrews.

Then Andrews turned to the forensic audit. He said, “The last report our citizenry got about the marina was that it lost $550,000.” That, Andrews said, “is a flat-out lie.”

Pierce said the $550,000 “loss” came largely from fuel discounts at the marina, “some of which were improper,” and was not a profit-loss figure.

Andrews said the city reported the $550,000 loss in a press release that was published by the local media. Citing a headline in the Tampa Bay Times, he read, “Madeira Beach marina audit finds losses over $500,000.” Andrews said, “That is just not true.”

A report on the marina audit published in the Beacon identified the $550,000 as potential revenue that was lost over a 42-month period because of alleged shortcomings in the marina operations. It was not reported as a profit-loss figure.

The Jan. 30, 2019, Beacon article ran under the headline, “Audit of Madeira Beach marina shows over $550,000 in lost revenue,” and said, in part:

“Shortcomings at the marina were costly for the city. More than $550,000 in lost revenue or overbilled expenditures was identified as resulting from deficiencies and lack of oversight at the marina’s various operations — the wet slip and dry storage rentals, fuel sales, boat launch ramp usage and ship store.”

Andrews said, “People are saying to me still to this day that the marina lost $550,000” under Marsicano.

“I would like a retraction from this city to the (local papers) that this marina did not lose $550,000,” Andrews said.

Daniels said he would “look into that.”