MADEIRA BEACH — The city will spend up to $60,000 to do a cost and revenue study to find out if a long-discussed high-and-dry boat storage facility at the city marina is financially feasible.
Mayor John Hendricks touted the revenue producing potential of a high-and-dry during his run for office this spring. At a workshop meeting in May shortly after being elected, Hendricks said, “The need to generate more revenue is even more important now,” with the city losing more than $700,000 in a tourist-driven economy hit hard by COVID-19.
Hendricks had said a high-and-dry boat storage facility along with a restaurant would be “very lucrative,” being used by locals as well as visitors to the area. He added that most local facilities have waiting lists.
At their Sept. 9 meeting, commissioners approved doing the feasibility study. But some residents had concerns about the fit of what one called “a metal shed” and the noise generated by a boat storage facility at the Causeway entrance to the city in a neighborhood of upscale hotels and condos.
Resident Larry Roelofs said in an email that he was concerned about the “noise impact of lift machines to the neighborhood.” Also, “the impact on home values” of what he termed a metal shed. Most important, Roelofs said, “Do the residents want the city to add another loan burden to pay for it?”
William Gay, also commenting via email, said the Tom Stuart Causeway is being billed as a portal to the city, a re-visualized entrance with recent new development.
“Is a massive metal structure the image the city and its citizens would like to project?” said Gay, also addressing “the noise, traffic congestion and pollution generated by the high-and-dry.”
Hendricks said the high-and-dry facility the city is looking to build will be both attractive and quiet.
“It will be totally automated. It doesn’t use a Towmotor. It’s all electronic and robotic. It picks up the boat, takes it up and puts it in the spot where it’s supposed to go.”
As for the building, “We are not going to have a metal shed for it to go in,” Hendricks said. “It will be an attractive high-and-dry facility, something we will all be proud of.”
Noise will also be minimal, Hendricks said, assuring the residents “you will hear more noise from the diesel trucks going up and down the Causeway than you will ever get from the marina.”
“Give us a chance to get this going,” said Hendricks.
The commission vote to do the high-and-dry feasibility study was 4-1. Commissioner John Douthirt voted no.
Stormwater bond refinancing brings savings
The city will save nearly $16,000 a year by refinancing a $4.4 million stormwater system revenue bond, said Andrew Laflin, the city’s financial consultant. Interest rates are “extremely low,” Laflin said, and the city should take advantage of the opportunity, which will save about $150,000 over the life of the loan.
The commission voted 5-0 to issue a new revenue bond at a lower interest rate of 1.73%, down from 2.59%.
Commissioner Helen “Happy” Price said, “The $150,000 savings says it all for me. That’s all I need to hear. Nice job,” she told Laflin.
“This is great,” said Commissioner Doug Andrews. “This will lessen our load. I’m 100% for it.”
Millage rate passage squeaks by
A vote to set the millage rate for the upcoming budget year passed 3-2, a departure from what is commonly a unanimous result. At the budget hearing prior to the Sept. 9 regular meeting, commissioners were voting on a millage rate of 2.875, which is slightly higher than the current 2.75 mills.
That 3-to-2 vote will not be sufficient for passage at the final budget hearing, Laflin said. State statutes require a two-thirds majority for adoption of the final millage rate, when the rate is a certain percentage above the level of no tax increase, known as the rolled-back rate. A two-thirds majority would require at least 4-to-1 for approval.
Laflin said both the 2.75 rate and the 2.875 rate are in the range that requires the two-thirds approval, rather than a simple majority.
The 3-to-2 decision leaves the city’s millage rate uncertain when the final vote comes up at the Sept. 23 budget hearing. But Hendricks, who voted no, said he understood the rate will not pass unless the vote margin increases.
During budget discussions in July, Hendricks had said he wanted to leave the millage rate unchanged. He said budget cuts should be made so “hopefully we can get through this year and keep the millage rate right where it is.”
He appeared to be open to voting yes next time, asking Laflin, “So, in your professional opinion, we need the 2.875 (millage rate)?”
Laflin said, “The 2.875 is what helps balance the General Fund budget.”
Price, who was the primary advocate for slightly increasing the millage rate, said the impact of the increase on residents would be minimal. It would result in a $25 tax increase for her, she said.
The other no vote, Douthirt, made no comments about the millage rate, but he said during the budget discussions that he did not see the logic in some of the personnel changes that were included in the budget numbers.
Laflin concluded, “I just want to make you all very aware what needs to happen legally for this millage rate to be adopted, and ultimately conclude this process.”