Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Politics

Development, bridge toll are key issues in Treasure Island election

TREASURE ISLAND — Two incumbents city commissioners face opposition as residents get ready to go to the polls March 14.

Phil Collins is up against Deborah Toth for the District 1 seat he has held for 14 years. Pat Jeffares, who is seeking re-election to the District 3 seat, will face off against Ralph Kennedy. Both Toth and Kennedy are political newcomers.

Incumbent Larry Lunn is running unopposed for the District 2 seat he was named to last year when Commissioner Tim Ramsberger resigned.

The specter of November's election in which voters soundly defeated six referendum questions that would have opened the door to the possibility of height and density increases for buildings hangs over the commission races.

Toth, 56, was active in the No Tall Buildings group fighting against the referendum and said allowances in the past have been made for developers that shouldn't have been made.

"I like development but developers need to be held accountable," she said. "I'd like to see some family resorts."

The Key Capri resident said she wants more accountability by city officials and a more creative approach in looking for revenue to pay for infrastructure needs.

"We should get more money back from the bed tax," said Toth, a registered nurse and clinical coordinator for Bay Pines VA Health Care System.

She also supports getting a binding legal opinion on whether the city can reinstitute a toll on its drawbridge before going ahead with an analysis of revenue sources for the bridge.

Collins, 68, who has been a Treasure Island resident for 35 years, said he doesn't favor tall buildings being built on Treasure Island but added "if land owners want to build to current restrictions they should be able to do it."

He thinks the recent election showed the commission wanted the opinion of residents on land development changes.

"We voted to allow the residents of Treasure Island to have their voices heard," he said.

Collins, a retired businessman, believes the biggest challenge facing the city is whether to place a toll on the causeway bridge.

If toll funds are used only to pay for bridge maintenance, Collins thinks it would be a proper way to cover the infrastructure costs rather than resorting to raising property taxes, which would unfairly tax fulltime residents.

Jeffares, 65, is a claims representatives for Geico Insurance and has lived in Treasure Island for 30 years.

He, like Collins, supported placing the referendum building questions on the November ballot.

"They (residents) spoke loudly, we heard them," Jeffares said. "Clearly the way it was presented was not acceptable. We need to step back and take a look at it."

The former city volunteer firefighter said he decided to run for re-election because he has work to do as a commissioner.

"The first two years is a learning curve," he said. "I have so much more to do."

Jeffares said he is "open minded" to the idea of reinstituting a toll on the bridge rather than raising property taxes.

"I've never heard of anyone in favor raising property taxes, we already have one of highest rates among the beach communities," he said.

Kennedy, 55, has been a Treasure Island resident for 10 years and is a former executive with Florida Power Corp. and Progress Energy and is now employed by Grid One Solutions.

He believes the city needs more transparency in its operation to elicit trust from residents.

"I really feel like we aren't taking care of the island like we use to," the Paradise Island resident said. "Some projects are not executed like they use to be. We have lots of frivolous lawsuits. We need more transparency and more people will then trust how the city is run."

He pointed to the construction of the city's beach walkway, which is the subject of a ongoing lawsuit over its construction.

"I don't understand why the contractor and the architect haven't repaired it," Kennedy said. "I'm not sure why it (project) wasn't managed properly."

Kennedy considers the possibility of placing a toll on the causeway bridge a critical issue.

"I'd like to get involved and make sure we take care of our island and make better business decisions when it comes to infrastructure improvements," he said.

Lunn, 80, isn't sure why he didn't garner any opposition but he's glad.

"It will give me a chance to focus on running for mayor in March of 2018," he said. "This gives me an opportunity to have some long range planning to accomplish that objective."

 
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