We asked the candidates about several issues: boosting the local economy, building more county facilities, building and maintaining roads, and fire-rescue consolidation. See what they said, Page 8
After two years of public criticism about bloated government and reckless spending of tax dollars, incumbent county Commissioner Jeff Stabins will be the first to face the music.
Stabins is the only incumbent facing a challenge from his own party in the Aug. 26 Republican primary as he tries to win a second term in District 1. Fellow Republicans Michael Burmann and Jon "Jaz'' Zydenbos want to replace him.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Ramon Gutierrez in the Nov. 4 general election.
Burmann's first foray into politics was sparked at one of the packed, emotional budget hearings last summer. He joined dozens of other residents speaking out against government spending and was surprised that, after all that input, the commission still approved a budget that included 3 percent pay raises for county employees.
From the audience late that evening, he vowed that he would challenge Stabins at the polls. "I really saw a lack of caring and a lack of connection,'' Burmann said. "I see more and more that the leadership was disconnected with the citizens.''
Burmann, 48, is an inspector for the My Safe Florida Home program and has previously worked as a construction manager. A county resident for more than 22 years, he wants to repair the lack of trust residents have with county government.
He takes note of the number of times Stabins has voted with Democrats Chris Kingsley and Diane Rowden and voiced disappointment with the local Republican divide. Moderation in the party means that Republicans are making concessions, and, "I'm not one to make concessions,'' Burmann said.
In distinguishing himself from Zydenbos, Burmann said he would like to see more moderate spending cuts than Zydenbos. Burmann wants to see more efficiencies in government. Instead of raises to top department heads, he suggests they get bonuses based on what they save the county.
Burmann and Zydenbos both talk about wiser government spending, but each has run into trouble with personal finances. Each has had a personal bankruptcy.
When asked how he could assure taxpayers that he could handle their money better than he handled his own, Burmann said he had accrued credit card debt and that he regretted filing bankruptcy in 2001.
Zydenbos, 63, blamed his 2002 bankruptcy on the collapse of online businesses. "Fortunately, I recovered well and was able to buy and invest well, and I'm back,'' he said.
A real estate agent and mortgage broker since 2005, Zydenbos blames the county for out-of-control spending during the height of the building boom, when soaring home values brought in a windfall of property tax money.
He believes the way to fix the local economy is to get the building industry started again, and he strongly favored the ill-fated idea of lowering impact fees to help make that happen. Reducing the budget by as much as another $40-million would also get the county going in the right direction, he said.
"Our county's backbone is built on building,'' Zydenbos said. "We've got to get the hammers to swing again by getting our taxes down.''
He favors cutting government salaries, buying out top-paid department heads, eliminating "luxuries'' such as the county's bus service and cutting the "way over-bloated'' parks and recreation budget.
He cited county parks and recreation director Pat Fagan as a sign of government's flaws because he earns both his county salary and is also an elected, paid member of the School Board.
"The surface sign is that our government is creating the deadly sins … and that is greed and avarice. They just take care of themselves, and they're trying to tax themselves into prosperity,'' Zydenbos said.
He favors zero-based budgeting. He would also outsource county services and replace the county's economic development director, Mike McHugh, with someone he says could do a better job publicizing Hernando County.
The incumbent, Stabins, strongly defends his record and the commission's actions of the last several years.
"I feel we've made quite a bit of progress, especially in terms of redirecting our budget,'' he said, crediting County Administrator David Hamilton's efforts and calling him "a breath of fresh air.''
Stabins, who served three terms as a state representative and works as a home instruction teacher for the Hernando County schools, said he wants the chance to continue the work to make county government more efficient.
And he believes his background uniquely qualifies him.
"I have the educational experience, the public service experience, 10 years in different elected posts serving the public. I have a track record, and my opponents do not,'' he said. ''I think I've been accessible and compassionate.''
Stabins, 48, said he believes the county's situation is "not as bad as my opponents make it out to be,'' and that he has not seen the same level of frustration that commissioners hear at meetings reflected in the county's overall population.
The cry from some that the budget should be slashed further concerns him. "What are we going to end up providing?'' he said.
In a well publicized case, Stabins was charged with driving under the influence in Tallahassee in 1996. He took a plea deal and was convicted of reckless driving.
Stabins' party loyalty has also been questioned before.
"I'm a moderate Republican, no doubt about it,'' he said.
He said it was interesting that very conservative Republicans had landed in state and federal offices, but his hope is that the party "will return to its mainstream roots.''
If re-elected, Stabins said, he would "certainly like to dissipate some of the negativity'' while continuing to increase government efficiency. He said he also hopes the county's push to diversify its tax base will bring good jobs into the community.
"We can't afford to be a bedroom community anymore,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.