TARPON SPRINGS — The three City Commission candidates running in Tuesday's election share many similar ideas.
They all say improvements to the Sponge Docks and downtown could help the city's tourist economy.
They agree it's going to take creative tactics to manage impending budget constraints.
And Herb Elliott, Tod Eckhouse and Susan Slattery all say that if elected, they would seek input from city staff.
But politics aside, they've got one more thing in common: all three had birthdays this week.
Elliott turns 62 and Slattery turns 44 today. Eckhouse celebrated his 61st birthday Wednesday.
The three are running for Seat 2, being vacated by Vice Mayor David Archie due to term limits. Archie has served the commission in two six-year stints since 1996. Commissioner Robin Saenger is running unopposed.
Throughout his campaign, Eckhouse has said he supports smart growth development and an independent water supply for residents.
"I'd like to get the smart code implemented and some actual building activity occurring. We need to go forward with the reverse osmosis plant, especially now that we've got a 20-million grant," he said.
Eckhouse, a real estate broker and investor, said better promotion of the city's assets and unique charm could help revitalize the local economy.
Eckhouse said he's been encouraged by the feedback he's received from residents throughout his campaign. He recently got an endorsement from Tarpon Springs Fire Fighters Association Local No. 3140.
"I made it a point to meet with all of the department heads, which includes the fire chief, so I think have a better feel for some of their concerns," he said.
Eckhouse said he has collected about $4,000 in contributions, which he's spent on signs, brochures, mailings, postage and copies.
Eckhouse's name, and his campaign, have become synonymous with the 1916 bungalow on Spring Bayou he renovated with his wife, Louise, 60.
Though a 40-year resident of Pinellas County, Eckhouse moved to Tarpon Springs less than three years ago. He acknowledged the challenges of being a newcomer in a city steeped in history, where longtime residents share a remarkable institutional memory.
Those qualities have made for a different type of campaign for Elliott.
He served as city attorney twice, for a total of 14 years, and said he was approached by "hundreds" of concerned citizens who encouraged him to run.
Like Eckhouse, his campaign has received about $4,000. The money has gone toward signs, mailings and postage.
Though he resigned both times from the city attorney position, Elliott said he's ready to serve again because he believes the city can benefit from his knowledge of municipal law, litigation and city history.
"I have a lot to offer. I have a lot of knowledge of the city," he said. "Nobody knows more about the city than me, I think, all things considered. I'm willing to help."
Elliott said he's a fiscal conservative who already has some ideas for saving the city money without layoffs, hiring freezes or cuts in service.
Among those: enlisting staff input on ways to cut costs and re-examining pension benefits for city employees.
"That's why I'm offering my services, to help us get through these fiscal problems, which I see as a primary issue," he said.
Slattery is known to many residents as a chamber ambassador and Tarpon Springs High School PTSA booster.
Slattery said she and a band of supporters have been going door-to-door two hours each evening to meet residents and get the word out about her campaign.
"I'm exhausted, but it's been a great response," she said.
The No. 1 concern she's heard during those walks: the Wal-mart Supercenter proposed on the Anclote River. Slattery is a founding member of Friends of the Anclote, the group opposing the project.
"I was surprised, (because) Tarpon has so many issues. But that is a major concern in this town," she said.
For Slattery, those other issues include the poor state of local roads, the number of residents still using septic systems and a need to rejuvenate the sponge docks and downtown, two areas critical to the city's economic development, she said.
By Thursday, Slattery had collected $1,500 in campaign contributions, in addition to the $600 she put in herself. Slattery said she had $1,700 in expenditures, including brochures, mailings, postage, yard signs and two large signs.
Slattery said she's eager to know the outcome of Tuesday's election.
"I have to say getting to know some of the people in the city, it's just been a really good experience. No matter what happens, I've enjoyed doing what I've done," she said.
At the polls Tuesday, voters will also be asked to amend the city's lease with Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital. If passed, two of the referendums would make two parcels of land just north of the hospital available to developers.
The developer, AG Armstrong has proposed a mixed-use project at the site that would connect the hospital to a parking garage and a medical arts building and include apartments or condos and some retail space.
The third referendum would allow the hospital to sell a medical office building it owns in Pasco County. Proceeds would finance projects like a new cardiac catheterization lab to replace one of the hospital's two current labs. The one slated for replacement, the oldest of the two, was built in 1991 and needs to be updated, said hospital CEO Don Evans.
Rita Farlow can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4162.