ZEPHYRHILLS — With the city facing a $1 million budget shortfall, City Council member Manny Funes and challenger Charlie Proctor agreed they would consider raising taxes if necessary, and would privatize animal services if it would save money.
But the candidates parted ways at a forum Thursday night over what the budget crunch might mean to emergency services.
Funes said the police and fire departments should be spared any cuts.
"Those are two services that I don't know what we would do without," said Funes, who was a longtime law officer before joining the council in 2008.
Proctor agreed that the police and fire departments are important, but he said that does not make them immune to cutbacks.
"I can't say that any department would be untouched," said Proctor, a businessman making his first run for office.
"I'm not for raising taxes," Proctor added later, "but on the same hand, we have to look at every option."
"Charlie, this is what City Council is all about," Funes responded, adding that whoever is elected April 12 will have to make tough decisions.
About 40 residents attended the forum, which was sponsored by the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and took place at Zephyrhills High School.
Funes said his experience on the council has prepared him for another term and he wants to continue doing what he's doing. Proctor said he wants to "give back" to the community and can put his 20 years of business experience to good use trying to balance the budget. He also said he is good at getting along with people.
The seats of council members Lance Smith and Kenneth Compton were also up for grabs this spring, but both won new terms when no one filed to run against them.
Before the forum, Proctor said he chose to run for Seat 5 because he thought he would have the best shot at unseating Funes "because of the conflicts that have gone on in the past."
Funes has butted heads with other council members and City Manager Steve Spina over a proposal to privatize animal services, the dismissal of an anonymous complaint about a police officer, and the city's plans to construct a spec building for new businesses near the airport.
During the debate, Funes acknowledged that he had exchanged words with Spina about certain issues.
"A lot of people didn't realize that we did resolve that," he said.
Funes called his opponent "a pretty down-to-earth fellow," and said he didn't want to say anything negative about Proctor.
"I think the biggest difference is I'm already on the council," Funes said, adding Proctor's inexperience "would set him back."
Proctor said he disagrees with only one thing that Funes has done as a council member: hiring a trapper to round up the chickens that wander freely through the city.
"I'm a great animal lover," Proctor said.
First 100 days
So what would each candidate do in his first 100 days in office?
Funes said he would find a new city manager to replace Spina, who is leaving in June; hold a workshop to see what the new city manager's vision is for the city; continue researching the best way to privatize animal services; and find an easier way for city residents to pay their water bills, such as making online payments available.
Proctor said he would also find a new city manager, and then get started balancing the budget, looking at all departments from top to bottom.
"I want to balance the budget like I balance my own budget," he said.
Funes was asked about his proposal to hire a private trapper to handle animal control instead of contracting with Pasco Animal Services. He said he thought a private trapper could provide a quicker response — especially on nights and weekends — at a lower cost than the county. But the council rejected a proposal last year to hire a local trapper when his bid came in higher than Pasco County's.
Proctor said he would be interested in privatizing animal services if it meant saving the city money.
The candidates were also asked what qualities they would look for in a new city manager.
Funes said he would like to hire someone who is familiar with Pasco and planning and development, as well as someone who is a people person and could work with different professionals to identify resources for the city.
Proctor said he would like to hire a conservative Christian who is honest, has high morals and has possibly run his or her own business.
When asked what the city should do to encourage new business downtown, Funes suggested the city consider allowing businesses more time to pay impact fees. He said business owners could start their business and then pay the fees to support public services at a later date.
Proctor said the city isn't the only entity that charges fees to new businesses. Businesses also have to pay fees to the state and federal governments. He said that if he opened his businesses today, he would have to spend much more money because of all the new regulations.
Before the debate, Funes handed out his resume to those in the audience. Some of the accomplishments it listed include: changing two procedures in the Employee Policy Manual to forbid city workers from buying alcohol in a city vehicle and to require department heads to obtain police reports and conduct their own investigations of employees who are arrested; assisting Spina in creating a public information release policy; and saving the city money by suggesting it remodel one of its fire stations instead of building a new one.
Proctor said he was accepted into the Zephyrhills community with love and respect and would appreciate the opportunity to do a good job for the city.
"I will do the best that I can to get the job done," he said.