TARPON SPRINGS — Residents wanted to know how the candidates running for City Commission envisioned the city 10 years from now and if they were in favor of the city hiring an economic development director.
They asked if the candidates would raise taxes and if they agreed with the city's plan to build a reverse osmosis water treatment facility.
There was even a question about what the candidates would do about Brazilian peppers, an invasive plant that crowds out native plants.
Monday night the candidates answered more than 20 questions asked during a candidate forum held by the Greater Democratic Club of Tarpon Springs at the city's Tarpon Springs Community Center. Four of the five candidates running for two City Commission seats in the March 8 city election were there and about 50 residents attended.
Seat 1 candidate Crissy Cladakis did not attend the forum but her opponent, Townsend Tarapani, did. Seat 1 is being vacated by Commissioner Robin Saenger due to term limits.
In the Seat 2 contest, incumbent Commissioner Susan Slattery, and challengers Jeffrey Antous and Tim Keffalas were present.
Tarapani, 26, said he envisions an eco-friendly Tarpon Springs. He pictures mixed-use development in the city, with retail or commercial uses on the bottom floor and housing on top.
Tarapani said he would work to lower the city's property tax rate while still maintaining city services.
"The main and important thing is to re-establish the city's competitiveness with surrounding communities," Tarapani said. "Whether it's a new resident or a business bringing industry to the town, those people look at the city's millage rate, and right now, the city of Tarpon Springs is not competitive with surrounding communities due to the millage rate."
In the Seat 2 contest, Slattery pointed to her work during her first term as a reason she should be elected to a second term. Slattery said she has worked to improve budget accountability and government efficiency while supporting smart growth. She also mentioned her support for the revitalization of downtown and the Sponge Docks and her push for hiring an economic development director.
Asked whether she would raise taxes, Slattery said it's hard so say "yes" or "no" to that question.
"You can't promise that you will not raise taxes," Slattery, 46, said. "We have a AAA bond rate that we have to ensure that we keep. If we go below a certain level of funds, if we fall out of the AAA bond rating, it's going to cost taxpayers more money. There's a lot more involved than 'Yes or no, I will not raise taxes.' "
Jeffrey Antous, 58, told the crowd he is looking to help the individual resident. He said he would not raise taxes and would try to look for ways to reduce fees on new businesses. Antous said he knows business owners who have moved to Pasco County because of the fees and tax rates in Tarpon Springs.
"It's very difficult to get people to come to Tarpon Springs when we have higher property taxes than the surrounding area," Antous said.
Antous said the city should examine its contracts with copy machine and computer companies as well as the contract with Waste Management, which provides garage collection. He claimed the city is being overcharged for those services.
Tim Keffalas said the city needs a dedicated senior center with a staff and an alternative transportation system for seniors. Keffalas, 56, said he also would put a link on the city's website listing all the licensed contractors in the city in an effort to get them work. And he'd paint information about Tarpon Springs on the side of a vehicle and have it travel the state to promote the city.
Keffalas, who is opposed to the reverse osmosis treatment plant, said he would "not vote to raise any taxes. We have an adverse real estate situation here."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at [email protected] or (727)-445-4174