County commission candidates face off at south Tampa forum
Ten south Tampa neighborhood associations hosted their first-ever candidate forum tonight for Hillsborough County Commission candidates who shared their positions on balancing the county budget, panhandling, a proposed transportation improvement tax and and spurring economic development. Sandy Murman, a Republican candidate in the race for the District 1 seat that represents south Tampa and the southeastern shore of Hillsborough County, said if elected she will call for a 5 percent cut to salaries of county commissioners. Murman, a former state House representative, said she opposes the referendum on the 1 cent sales tax to pay for transportation improvements that will go before voters in November. “We need to improve our transporation system,” she said. “But taxes in a bad economy are generally an economic disaster.” She also said she wants to ease regulations that inhibit small business development, including environmental regulations. “They can’t get past the red tape,” she said. “The regulations are there for a reason,” countered John Dingfelder, the Democratic candidate facing Murman. They protect neighborhoods and the environment, he said. He talked about his accomplishments during seven plus years as a City Council member, including pressing for a green building ordinance and fighting for neighborhood improvements such as sidewalks. To create jobs, he said he’d like to see the county develop a business incubator in conjunction with the University of South Florida focused on energy, health care and high technology. He said he plans to vote in favor of the transportation tax in part because it will create jobs but also because it will double the size of the county’s bus system. “We have an abyssmally horrible bus system,” he said.
Ken Hagan, the Republican incumbent running for the county-wide District 5 seat, touted his work advocating for children, including establishing a program in schools, parks and libraries that teaches kids about the dangers of the Internet. He also highlighted his proposal to offer property tax breaks to businesses that expand or relocate to the county. A referendum on that plan will go before voters in November.
Linda Saul-Sena, the Democratic candidate in the District 5 race, suggested trimming the county budget by limiting overtime and consolidating county and city services. She said she supports the transportation tax because it will provide options for getting around the county. She said she is eager to serve on the county commission because it also serves as the county’s Environmental Protection Commission. She lashed out at Hagan who was among the EPC members to shoot down a ban on nitrogen based fertilizer sales during the summer rainy season to prevent pollution of the county’s waterways.
Jim Hosler, who’s running with no party affiliation in District 5, cast himself as a political outsider compared to Hagan, who has been on the commission for eight years, and Saul-Sena, who served five four-year terms on the City Council. In talking about growth management, Hosler said the commission needs someone who isn’t constantly making decisions with campaign contributions in mind. “Your county government is controlled by the land development industry,” he said. He suggested abolishing the Tampa Sports Authority, saying county leaders put too much emphasis on sports. He called the authority just another carrot elected officials can use to solicit campaign contributions. Hosler said he opposes the sales tax referendum because the rail plan is bad, the timing isn’t right for raising taxes and it will hurt businesses. He said if elected his pet project would be to make the county commission a non-partisan board like the City Council and the county school board. “Is the board of county commissioners any better because it’s run by Republicans and Democrats? I don’t think so,” he said.
The candidates also weighed in on panhandling in the county. “We need an ordinance to ban it,” Hagan said. “That process has already begun.” Hagan said the panhandlers create a “pathetic” environment that is distasteful to business owners considering relocating to the county. Saul-Sena, though, advised showing some compassion. “The reason we have a problem with panhandlers is because we have a problem with hunger and homelessness,” she said. “Sweeping the problem away is not a mature response.” Hosler said panhandling should be banned, but the issue of homelessness also needs to be addressed. “We’re not doing a very good job of that,” he said.
Janet Zink, Times staff writer