HOLMES BEACH – West Manatee Fire commissioners approved the purchase of a building on Third Avenue West in Bradenton for $1.1 million using the contingency fund.
The building will house the district’s administration, and it will cost $400,000 to $500,000 for renovations. Prior to the vote, the commission took comment from members of the public that had come in response to a letter they received from Holmes Beach Commissioner Al Robinson opposing the purchase.
Robinson told the board, “Rethink this; justify this. For five people an 11,000 square-foot building to store uniforms and bunker gear. You have a fiduciary responsibility to the people. You’re out of control.”
However, Holmes Beach Commissioner Pat Morton disagreed noting, “If he would have called the chief and sat down with him for half an hour and learned the facts, he wouldn’t have sent the letter.”
Realtor Don Schroder cited an area real estate analysis and said it found that rental fees are dropping and more space is coming available.
“Hold off and start looking at the market,” he advised. “There’s a lot better things to come.”
Ron Robinson, of Holmes Beach, said spending 50 percent of the purchase price to remodel the building is excessive, and Scott Ricci, of Holmes Beach suggested that the district rent office space instead of purchasing a building.
“Explain some of the challenges that created this need to have to renovate this large building when there’s tons of commercial property available,” Larry Chatt, general manager at Island Real Estate, asked the board.
Justifying the purchase
Commissioner Jesse Davis said that in 2008, commissioners took a field trip to the district’s three stations to assess conditions.
“They we cramped, unsafe and not a good environment,” he said.
That same year, commissioners established the fire facilities committee to make recommendations on upgrading the facilities. The facilities committee met from July to September 2008, when it recommended that the fire stations and administration building be upgraded or replaced.
The board accepted proposals for a needs assessment and evaluation of the existing buildings. In June 2009, the board approved its committee’s recommendation of the ToTeMS architectural firm, which began work.
In October, the board learned about the building for sale and began negotiations to purchase it, and in November, it approved the purchase.
“The building meets all our needs,” Chief Andy Price pointed out. “We have 10 (administrative) staff and 3 battalion chiefs, so we need 13 offices. The other part that will make a huge difference for us is having all of us in one location.
“And it’s not just offices; it’s ancillary space. We can take items we are storing at other stations, like public records, and move them to a central facility and open up space at the stations.”
Davis said federal and state regulations required the district to hire more firefighters and noted, “We did that and we don’t have room for them.”
Price said the district also considered purchasing land and constructing a building or renting space, but those options were as much or more costly.
Price said he received three proposals for financing, but he was not happy with any of them.
“It’s been a real struggle trying to get proposals, because of the economy, time of year and this is really small for a government commercial loan,” he said.
Proposals were from Whitney Bank for 6 percent with a five-year balloon, Leasing 2 for 6.9 percent with a 20-year term and from Suntrust Bank for 5.54 percent with a15-year term.
“I’m uncomfortable proposing any one loan,” he told the board. “I ask you to consider using our contingency fund to purchase the building and work on financing over the following six months to replenish the fund. We have a deadline of Jan. 4 to purchase the building or ask for an extension.”
Commissioner Jesse Davis asked how much is in the contingency fund, and Price said $1.3 million. Davis asked if using the contingency fund would affect assessments and Price said no.
The board voted 3-1 in favor of Price’s recommendation with Davis dissenting and Commissioner John Rigney absent.