City Commissioners unanimously agreed at the meeting Tuesday to borrow almost $1.5 million to build a new terminal building at the municipal airport that will feature a roofline with a ‘nose’ and ‘tail’ in the shape of a WWII fighter plane. The money will also be used to acquire some land and build a few hangars.
The loan is scheduled to amortize over 15 years and payback funds are expected to come from special events, rental agreements, the state Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Authority, according to Budget Director Patti Clifford. Closing costs, she said, are estimated at $33,000.
City Manager Dale Martin said, “At no time does (the loan) jeopardize future projects.”
Commissioner Len Kreger said he would like to see—“graphed out”—where the city is getting the money. He said the city will lose revenue from special events, including an automobile race and a car auction that have been cancelled.
Officials were pushed to explain the monetary transaction by Ronald “Chip” Ross, who is a candidate for the City Commission in the special run-off election against candidate Orlando Avila scheduled Dec. 12. Mr. Ross said support documents filed with the agenda did not properly explain the reason for the loan, payback terms, or cash flow projections.
“It’s not very enlightening about what’s going on,” he said.
Mr. Kreger suggested that a developer pushing — again — a ‘Motor Coach Park’ near the airport on Bailey Rd., present his plan to the Airport Advisory Committee at the Dec. 14 meeting. Bob Allison requested board discussion for an “up or down, yes or no official vote.”
The Commission unanimously approved a near $30,000 cost for a ‘sole bid’ contractor to review plans for a controversial residential building project at S. 14th St. and Lime St. that is expected to have 224 units in a multi-family housing complex, part of it built on wetlands, which is a no-go under the city’s Comprehensive Plan but approved by the commission. (Commissioner Johnny Miller initially supported the project in the board’s first vote and voted no in the board’s second and final vote.)
Phil Chapman, who is scheduled to join the commission Dec. 19 after winning the Group 2 election last month against incumbent Tim Poynter, questioned the city’s decision to spend money for outside services.
Mr. Chapman challenged the estimated costs offered by Community Development Director Marshal McCrary. He believed real costs should have been provided to the community at the public meeting.
“Aren’t the citizens entitled to know?” he said. “I’m a little astounded I guess.”
Mr. Chapman said the city recently put the cost of buying new golf carts at the municipal course at $3,800 higher than the expected payment. He wanted to know: Why?
“I want to start watching those pennies,” said Mr. Chapman.
The city put the overall cost of the golf carts at $200,000 and borrowed the money from fees collected by the Utilities Department to cover the payment. The commission approved the loan and spending plan last month. (The Utilities Department has the money because it collects funds to help cover shortfalls in emergencies, such as hurricanes. But the funds are not restricted and can be used to pay for other projects, such as golf carts.)
Mr. McCrary said an outside contractor is not required to review the development project, but necessary because staff has a heavy workload and doesn’t have time to do it. He said hiring the contractor will save time and move other projects along.
“It’s not required,” he said. “It’s a convenience.”
Mr. Chapman acknowledged pressure on staff and suggested hiring more workers. Mr. McCrary said it’s difficult to find qualified people because of state requirements (County Officials have also reported similar difficulties.)
The exchange between Mr. Chapman and Mr. McCrary was tense and was defused, in part, by Commissioner Len Kreger, who said the city has some 700 new housing projects in review at the moment and that the building department will eventually get the money back from the developer when fees are properly calculated.
“It’s probably a smart move…getting it built and in a timely manner,” said Mr. Kreger.
Note The Independent reported on the decisions and commentary by viewing the city’s live stream.