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Five vie for Tarpon Springs city council seats

How should Tarpon Springs balance its budget in the coming year? Should it cut services or try to grow its tax base, or both? Should a new boat ramp be crossed off the city's wish list because of declining city revenues or provided anyway because the city doesn't offer enough access to boaters?

Those are among the issues the five candidates for Tarpon Springs City Commission are talking about on the campaign trail.

Two seats are up for grabs in the March 8 election. Newcomers Crissy Cladakis, 38, and Townsend Tarapani, 25, are seeking Seat 1, which is being vacated by Commissioner Robin Saenger due term limits.

In the Seat 2 race, incumbent Commissioner Susan Slattery, 46, faces two challengers: Jeffrey D. Antous, 58, and Timothy Keffalas, 56.

The St. Petersburg Times posed a list of frequently asked questions to the candidates.

Seat 1

List your top two priorities for the city.

Cladakis: To establish a steady revenue stream, as opposed to raising taxes and/or cutting pensions; by making recycling mandatory. Invest taxpayer money wisely in the community.

Tarapani: 1. Hire an experienced municipal economic development director to recruit new businesses, which will in turn increase revenue streams, including additional ad valorem monies, impact fees, franchise fees and Penny for Pinellas funds to the city. This will also create jobs. 2. Maintaining a community-owned hospital is critical to the needs and interest of the residents. A hospital such as Helen Ellis Memorial contributes to the recruitment of new businesses, residents and clean compatible industry.

What would you do to keep the city from dipping into its reserve fund to balance the budget? If city services need to be cut, what would you cut?

Cladakis: Make recycling mandatory for both businesses and residents. Cut the amount of waste that goes into the landfills, which will save the city money.

Tarapani: There needs to be a short-term and long-term approach to balancing the city budget, without invading cash reserves. The short-term objectives will have to be a multifaceted review process. This would include an examination of all non-public safety departments. Place on hold capital improvement projects that are not critical to the well being of residents and eliminate funding of vacant positions. The long-term solution to preserve and replenish the cash reserves will be done through compatible development and redevelopment.

Are you in favor of another city boat launch being built?

Cladakis: Not at this time.

Tarapani: The city staff has identified an existing deficiency in boat launch facilities. Given that Tarpon Springs is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the west, with our many bayous, the Anclote River, and our working waterfront, I believe we are defined as a boating community. I would support a new and improved launching facility not only for motorized boats but also facilities to accommodate canoe and kayak access points at appropriate locations. The locations would have to be weighed against environmental impacts. A new facility should be designed as self-sustaining and could be treated as an enterprise fund with potential for city revenues.

Do you think the city needs an economic development director?

Cladakis: No.

Tarapani: I believe an economic development director position should be created and funded based on a comparative analysis with similar communities pertaining to job description, qualifications and salary of the subject position.

Seat 2

List your top two priorities for the city.

Antous: Revisit the city codes to help bring back businesses and more importantly bring back jobs. In addition, we would look to consolidation of city spending. With my years of business experience, I would help to prioritize spending.

Keffalas: Elderly services transportation and a community center with trained staff. Find ways to encourage jobs in Tarpon Springs through promoting Tarpon Springs across Florida. Use some Community Redevelopment Agency money and seek grants to pay for the idea.

Slattery: 1. We need to reduce the tax burden without shortchanging services. We need to streamline government using technology and reducing bureaucracy. 2. We need to preserve our heritage and protect the environment. The environment and the preservation of our heritage are resources that ensure our economic well-being.

What would you do to keep the city from dipping into its reserve fund to balance the budget? If city services need to be cut, what would you cut?

Antous: There is enough money in the budget; through consolidation, our reserves would be protected.

Keffalas: I would find it difficult to cut more services. I would, however, like to see an internal auditor position filled by an independent person who is trained to seek ways to save money and to prevent waste. We need someone monitoring service calls, staff whereabouts and time spent by staff on a variety of jobs.

Slattery: We need to streamline government using technology and reducing the bureaucracy. We need to attract business to expand our tax base. We've done this and will need to do more in the future. We've eliminated frozen positions and reorganized in order to reduce staff. We've brought in a consultant to reorganize our computer system. We reduced legal expenses.

Are you in favor of another city boat launch being built?

Antous: If we were to consider a new boat ramp, I would like to look at joining with the private sector to build and maintain it and share in the collecting of permits, licenses, etc. Why not make it a profit center and bring some jobs?

Keffalas: I am not in favor of building a boat ramp at Live Oak. In addition, revenue from boat permits has decreased down to about 50 percent of last year's revenue and those revenues are projected to continue to drop, with higher gas rates in the not-too-distant future. I believe we need to live within our means.

Slattery: Constituents have strongly expressed a need for more boat ramps. I had advocated a site at the Live Oak parking lot. However, after many discussions with staff, the city manager, environmental groups and others, I am convinced that the damage to the environment outweighs any advantages.

Do you think the city needs an economic development director?

Antous: Until the city codes can be revisited and a business-friendly environment can be established, it would probably make sense to share a director with Dunedin.

Keffalas: I do think we need an economic development director, but I think that person should promote all of Tarpon Springs businesses and the concept of live, work, play Tarpon Springs. I believe the internal auditor position should be filled first.

Slattery: I've pushed for the hiring of an economic development specialist to attract new businesses, assist with the expansion of established businesses, and encourage entrepreneurial initiatives in order to expand the tax base. We've cut expenditures and we will cut more, but we also need to increase the tax base so we don't shortchange services.

Five vie for Tarpon Springs city council seats 02/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 1:08pm]
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