BROOKSVILLE — Diane Rowden, District 3 county commissioner, prides herself on her service to constituents. She roams around Hernando County in her election-advertisement-wrapped Smart Car, meeting residents in their homes, in her office, in Starbucks.
The Democrat makes her positions known and does not mind being on the losing end of a 4 to 1 vote when she feels strongly about an issue.
Her opponent in the Nov. 4 election, John Druzbick, also prides himself on what he has done in the community. He has run a successful small business, spent 12 years on the School Board and has a resume full of service to various community organizations.
The Republican hopes to use that record to block Rowden from a third term and to make the kinds of changes he said Hernando County needs.
"I really believe that there is a better way of doing business than the way we've been doing it,'' Druzbick said. "That's why I'm running.''
A proponent of zero-based budgeting, he said he does not believe the current commission served its citizens by allowing taxes and government spending to increase. Now, with Amendment 1 and dropping property values driving tax revenues down, Druzbick argues not much has changed in county services even after budget cuts.
He also said he doesn't see that the county did much with the money it had in the boom years. "I've just not seen any real improvements,'' he said.
Druzbick advocates group purchasing with other government bodies, paying for projects as the county can afford them, curtailing the use of consultants and broadening the county's economic tax base.
He suggests that county representatives visit other communities that have been able to lure light industry. Then, the county's business development officials would know what such businesses need. "The county needs to be a little more business friendly,'' he said.
A supporter of the county government consolidation plans proposed by County Administrator David Hamilton, Druzbick has said he favors giving impact fee credits to local builders as an economic stimulus.
He is critical of the county's road maintenance priorities saying that some roads have gotten more attention than they need while others have been ignored. While he would support having a dedicated fund for road work, he would not support a tax increase until community confidence is restored in the commission.
Rowden said she is the better candidate because she has already proven her commitment to the job both in the board room and the community.
"I do what I say I'm going to do,'' she said. "I go out there and earn people's trust one handshake at a time and one deed at a time.''
She notes that while her flaws have been well-publicized, she has won the commission seat for two consecutive four-year terms. Yet, after 12 years on the School Board, the voters ousted Druzbick, she pointed out.
Rowden said that Druzbick's campaign contributions, which total more than $30,000, include thousands of dollars in donations from the county's builders and developers. She refuses money from those segments of the community and amassed most of her more than $31,000 from citizens, doctors and other businesses.
Druzbick said he has collected money from people who work and pay taxes in the county and who employ people who work and pay taxes in the county. He said Rowden's claim to not get money from anyone who does business with the county is untrue. Doctors and other businesses who have donated to her have contracted with the county or brought business before the commission, he said.
Druzbick has been endorsed by the Board of Realtors, the Builders Association and the Communications Workers of America. Rowden has earned the endorsements of both firefighter unions and the Teamsters Union.
Rowden rejects criticism that the commission failed to respond when property value increases drove up property tax collections. She pointed to the tax rate cuts of the last several years and noted that the county has money set aside for capital projects. The board has also found ways to economize such as the cuts that have been made in the jail budget by working with the judges and court system to find alternatives to keeping inmates in jail.
While Rowden points to a number of accomplishments on the commission she said she's most proud of working with the community's children to push for a skate park. She said she sees the youngsters keeping the park up and showing ownership in it.
She also supported bringing economic development back inside the county's function and getting rid of "the boys club,'' as she calls the old Economic Development Commission.
Rowden also points to several land use decisions during her tenure when she was able to persuade other commissioners to vote with her against projects because she pushed to get more information about the proposals to the board members.
The focus of Rowden's campaign has been growth management. She argues that the county has a glut of residential lots available to meet future housing needs and, even so, builders and developers have tried to lower impact fees. Rowden has fought such a move saying that it puts the burden of continuing growth back on taxpayers.
She said she needs to be returned to the seat to represent those taxpayers because, at times, she has been the lone vote against what she calls "out of control growth.''
"A lot of times they try to label me as the no-growth county commissioner, which I'm not,'' she said. "You could call me the slow-growth county commissioner because, I've said many times out there, that we only have one chance to get it right, guys.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.