LARGO — From budget cuts to term extensions to city-owned golf courses, the questions asked in Alfano's Restaurant on Monday night were reflections of the daily grind of issues currently facing Largo city leaders.
In an hour-long question-and-answer style debate hosted by the Largo Republican Club, the six candidates for the two City Commission seats up for election in November stepped up to the plate in the first candidate forum of the season.
There were the two incumbents: Harriet Crozier for Seat 5 and Woody Brown for Seat 6.
And the challengers: Robert Avery and Bob Hunsicker for Seat 5, and Doug Lardner and John Atanasio for Seat 6.
Many solutions espoused by all six were bound by a singular theme: Cut discretionary spending.
Robert Hunsicker, 67, said if the city doesn't cut back on things like recreation programs, Largo could end up like it did in the 1930s — with its fire truck repossessed and land ceded away.
The youngest candidate, Avery, 25, who recently received EMT certification and is a graduate of St. Petersburg College, spoke out against the commission's refusal of the fire department's contract proposal to keep step raises in place.
"They risk their lives for us. They were willing to put that plan on hold until the budget got better," Avery said. "I disagree with what they (the commissioners) did."
John Atanasio, a business owner and the oldest candidate at 87, said he disagreed with the commission's recent decision to ask voters if term limits should be extended from three years to four.
His thesis: Largo needs new blood. And instead of extending terms, limits should be put in place.
While not running against one another, this issue is one Crozier — a 17-year commission veteran — disagreed with Atanasio on.
"I do not believe in term limits," Crozier, 66, said. "If you the voters are doing your job, then you will know when its time for them (elected officials) to move on."
Brown, 40, facing re-election for the first time, discussed some ways the city has managed to provide additional services at little cost to taxpayers, such as the Halloween Spooktacular event in October.
"Families that can't afford to go to Busch Gardens, they can afford to come down to Largo Central Park. Events like that get people interested in the government," he said.
Lardner, 31, a community development board member and business owner, was asked: What can be done to help businesses along the West Bay Drive corridor?
One low-cost solution he proffered: "I think by slowing down the speed limit you could get the attention of the people," he said.
Another forum, to be held by the Largo Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled for next month.
Dominick Tao can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 580-2951.