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Two Seminole City Council seat races pit veterans against newcomers

SEMINOLE — Voters here have a choice between two new faces and two veterans in the upcoming City Council election.

Incumbents Bob Matthews and John Counts are facing challenges from Tom Christy and Christopher Burke. Both Christy and Burke ran for office last March. Burke came in third out of a field of seven with 13 percent of the vote. Christy came in fourth with 10 percent.

For Christy, the race for the two open seats on the council amounts to a contest between new ideas and stagnation. Counts said the election is a question of whether to vote for unknowns or responsible incumbents who have helped ensure fiscal soundness and low taxes.

Seminole has "stagnated," Christy said. The clear choice is between two guys who are "poster boys for term limits. And two who are fresh blood and fresh ideas.''

Counts said, "The city has done an excellent job with maintaining lower taxes," keeping services up and keeping personal agendas out of city government. Those are things he and Matthews want to continue, he said.

All the candidates agree that Seminole, like all governments, is in for more tough financial times. But they disagree on how to handle them.

Counts and Matthews say they do not want to raise taxes.

"My guess is we're going to have to cut some services," Matthews said.

Counts wants to entice new businesses, especially larger ones, to come into the city to help increase revenue.

Christy would encourage new businesses, work to retain existing businesses and encourage more annexations to increase the tax base.

"We've got to get aggressive" when it comes to annexation, Christy said. At the very least, the smaller enclaves need to be brought into the city.

Burke also wants to become more aggressive with annexations. He said the reason people are not annexing are the franchise fees, which are costs added onto the electric, gas, cable and phone bills. Residents in the unincorporated areas do not pay them.

The fee, Burke said, is simply another tax that is hidden so that people don't really realize they're paying it. To make it worse, franchise fees can't be deducted from income taxes the way property taxes can.

"It's a money grab," Burke said. "I think it's just a way to hide income."

Burke said he would eliminate the fees, which bring in 21 percent of Seminole's budget. Eliminating the fees would cause annexation to "take off like a rocket," Burke said, and the new property taxes would replace the lost franchise fees. Property taxes currently make up about 16 percent of Seminole's budget.

The election is Tuesday. The two top vote-getters will take office.

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Two Seminole City Council seat races pit veterans against newcomers 03/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 4:49pm]
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