Saturday, April 21, 2018
Politics

Candidates for North Pinellas commission seat want more from county

Pinellas County's geopolitics have become a campaign issue in the crowded Republican primary for an open County Commission seat.

Some north county residents have complained that they pay a big chunk of taxes but don't get their fair share of investment and attention in return. Candidates in District 4 say that sentiment has been amplified by the debate over the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum.

The candidates' response: Vote for me and I'll be your voice.

Seven Republican hopefuls are vying for the seat that retiring Republican Susan Latvala has held since 2000: Dave Eggers, Tim Keffalas, Johnny Johnson Jr., Wanda Kimsey, Macho Liberti, Peter Nehr and Jim Ronecker. The district includes Safety Harbor, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, East Lake, Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar. The winner moves on to the Nov. 4 general election.

"It's not just that they don't feel they're getting their fair share," said Kimsey, a Tarpon Springs resident and former longtime administrative assistant for the County Commission. "They feel like they don't have a voice that listens to their concerns and views."

Candidates say the discontent is especially strong in Palm Harbor, an unincorporated area with a downtown core.

"Palm Harbor could definitely rival the likes of a downtown Dunedin, but there hasn't been that much effort put into it," said Liberti, a Palm Harbor resident and Largo firefighter. "The business owners are frustrated. They need someone who can bring some dollars to that area."

The affluent enclave of East Lake got some attention recently when the commission voted to create a new taxing district there to fund the private, nonprofit East Lake Youth Sports Association. Eggers, Keffalas, Liberti and Ronecker said they would have let voters decide in a referendum. Nehr said the county should have helped the association without a new tax. Johnson said residents he spoke to support the tax and he would have, too. Kimsey would have wanted more information before making a decision.

Beyond dollars, candidates say north county residents in cities and unincorporated areas alike want officials to do a better job including them in decisions that affect their areas.

Kimsey and Keffalas, both of Tarpon Springs, cited what some Tarpon officials and residents saw as a lack of communication about the commission's vote to raze the Beckett Bridge. Keffalas said the county also failed to reach out to Tarpon residents about the impact of raising water rates.

Ronecker, who has served on the Oldsmar City Commission since 2003 including two terms as mayor, said he rarely heard from Latvala. He said officials on both sides need to figure out how county and city governments can work together.

"With better communication, you find economies of scale to save the taxpayers money," he said.

Johnson, a retired pediatric dentist and Tarpon resident who has won Latvala's endorsement, said candidates are exaggerating the level of dissatisfaction as a political ploy.

"They are using it as a way to gain a favorable outlook on their campaigns by saying Susan has not been listening to the cities and the people up here, and that's not the case," Johnson said. "I've talked to officials in all the cities and they say they can call her and the county administrator at any time and talk things through."

There is no doubt the Greenlight Pinellas plan is raising hackles, though.

If approved by voters Nov. 4, the county's sales tax would rise from 7 cents to 8 cents on the dollar to expand bus service by 65 percent and build a 24-mile light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The tax would replace the current property tax that funds the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Supporters say that would be a boon for many north county taxpayers with high property values.

But District 4 candidates say residents see the plan as another example of north county neglect, and that the benefits to areas north of Clearwater aren't worth the tax increase. Five of the seven candidates agree.

"I don't think it's in North Pinellas' best interest," said Keffalas, owner of a graphic design and printing company. "And I'm concerned that when Penny for Pinellas comes up for renewal it won't be granted because people will say wait, we have enough sales tax."

Nehr, who owns a courier company, said, "In my opinion, if you're running as a conservative Republican, you shouldn't be for increasing taxes by 14 percent."

Johnson said he personally supports the plan because he believes it will spur redevelopment and attract new companies that will pay higher wages and expand the tax base.

Eggers, who is mayor of Dunedin, agrees. He would have preferred a half-cent sales tax increase to first focus on improving the bus service, but he supports the Greenlight plan in large part because it would improve bus and trolley service in North Pinellas and the North County Connector that many seniors rely on to get them to the bus stop.

"You either decide now that you want an improved transit system or you wait another six to eight years," he said.

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

     
   
Comments
Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, is "very upset and disappointed" by comments made by his former boss James Comey that contradict his account of a disclosure to the news media, McCabe’s lawyer said Friday. "Andy has at all ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

The one thing you can say for sure about electing a mayor in Tampa is you can’t really say anything for sure.Historical proof: A couple of elections ago, Harvard-educated hometown-boy-gone-to-Washington Frank Sanchez was going to be our next mayor, h...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Today across America, high school students are expected to walk out of class in their latest show of solidarity against gun violence and elected officials unwilling to do much about it. It marks a grim anniversary — 19 years since Columbine bra...
Published: 04/20/18
Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

TAMPA — For months, Tampa political aficionados have speculated: Will she or won’t she?Does Jane Castor, the city’s first woman police chief and presumed heavyweight mayoral candidate, really want the job? Asked and answered. Castor filed paperwork T...
Published: 04/19/18
Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

TAMPA — President Donald Trump has tweeted "trade wars are good, and easy to win."Don’t believe it, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told Tampa business and political leaders on Wednesday."We share more with you than with anybody els...
Published: 04/19/18
Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

BROOKSVILLE — Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Don Barbee this week submitted his resignation — effective Jan. 7 — to run for an open circuit judge seat.Barbee, who is in the middle of his second term, said he made the move "with a tremendo...
Published: 04/17/18
Poll: Democrats’ advantage in midterm election support is shrinking

Poll: Democrats’ advantage in midterm election support is shrinking

Democrats hold an advantage ahead of the midterm elections, but a Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that edge has narrowed since January, a signal to party leaders and strategists that they could be premature in anticipating a huge wave of victorie...
Published: 04/16/18
Spokesman: Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health

Spokesman: Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health

HOUSTON — Former first lady Barbara Bush is in "failing health" and won’t seek additional medical treatment, a Bush family spokesman said Sunday. "Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors...
Published: 04/15/18
Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned

Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump attacked James Comey in a fusillade of tweets Sunday morning, calling for the former FBI director to be imprisoned as Trump served up a number of his favorite theories and alleged misdeeds without evidence.Trump’s ...
Published: 04/15/18
President Trump’s approval rating is back near first-100-day levels

President Trump’s approval rating is back near first-100-day levels

President Donald Trump’s approval rating stands at 40 percent in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, slightly more than his 36 percent approval rating when last measured in January. It’s also the highest he’s enjoyed in Post-ABC polling since his fi...
Published: 04/15/18