DADE CITY — City Commissioner Bill Dennis says the city faces tough economic choices.
"There is no free lunch," he said Monday night at a Dade City candidates' forum, which drew about 100 people to the Dade City Business Center. "If we weren't the county seat, we'd be going out of business like so many other small towns. We have two choices. Either raise the millage rate or cut services."
Neither was popular among four candidates competing for two commission seats. But they offered other ideas for revitalizing the city and its tax base.
The Rev. Clyde Carter, who is running against Dennis in the April 10 election, challenged the notion that Dade City is dying.
"I get defensive when I hear that," he said. "I'll protect the city by thinking outside the box and changing the way we do business."
Carter said he supports an initiative before the City Commission this week to lower impact fees.
"If they're low enough, you entice new business and jobs," he said. "We have to improve our resources and engage more community involvement."
All of the candidates described Dade City as quaint and friendly, and agreed to pursue a larger tax base by luring new people to town — a responsibility traditionally handled by the Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a sign of the times," said Jim Shive, who is running against Jeanie Germain for the seat being vacated by Curtis Beebe. "We've been steadily losing businesses. Balancing business doesn't have to happen downtown. It can begin right here at the Dade City Business Center."
Germain, whose real estate title company is struggling with the economic downturn, was optimistic. "The city isn't dying," she said. "It's changing."
All candidates supported adding recreational facilities, repaving roads and new sidewalks, improving storm water drainage, rehabbing City Hall and police department headquarters, and engaging neighborhoods and youth participation.
Each candidate was asked: What's your vision for Dade City in 2020?
Germain said she sees growth without disturbing the town's "cool Mayberry quality."
Shive said he imagines a Dade City expansion to the Zephyrhills border.
Dennis said he envisions movement of city water utilities to another site.
Carter sees himself passing the torch to his children and grandchildren.
"I'll do my service and my kids will continue it while I'm rocking in my chair," he said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Jeanie Germain, a candidate for Dade City Commission, is an officer at Premium Title Co. and serves as chair for Habitat for Humanity of East and Central Pasco. The original version of this article misstated the name of the title company and did not give her current position on Habitat's board.