GULFPORT — When voters head to the polls Tuesday, they'll choose between Yolanda Roman and Paul Ray to represent Ward 3 on the City Council, a seat held by Jennifer Salmon. Ward 1 will continue to be represented by Dan Liedtke, who was unopposed.
Ward 3, like much of Gulfport, represents the changing city demographics. Gulfport is seeing an increase in baby boomers aging in place, many of whom care for elderly parents, and a growing population of young families with children.
Ray, a software developer, says "parking and mobility" issues will continue to challenge the city's senior population. He noted that recent efforts by the Gulfport Merchants Association and the Chamber of Commerce to operate a shuttle service is a good idea, but believes an agreement on funding needs to be worked out.
"I don't want to see the taxpayers holding the bag if any of these implementations fail," he said.
Ray and Roman agree there is a need for more support services for caregivers.
"Adults who care for aging parents face additional pressures as they're often called upon to make difficult decisions, which can result in added expenses," Roman said.
"Making sure we have support services for caregivers is crucial," Ray said. He also expressed concern that the city's housing stock remains affordable.
"Increases in home purchases and renovations to existing homes will inevitably drive prices higher making it more difficult for younger families to move into the city," he said.
Roman would like to see greater community awareness for services across all age groups, and hopes Gulfport acknowledges the "racial diversity of our residents, as well as LGBT individuals.
"This requires acceptance and a celebration of our differences," she said.
Both candidates say the city must remain vigilant enforcing safe housing codes. While both stopped short of suggesting landlords be licensed, Roman said "all properties should be held to the same standards, regardless whether they're rented, unoccupied or owner-occupied." Ray agreed, though he did "not want to see a set of codes that would be burdensome to property owners."
The winner will likely face three issues that regularly appear in council discussions: the 49th Street corridor, the estuary known as Clam Bayou and the city's aging sewer system.
Roman and Ray applaud the recent move to seek outside funding for the first phase of sewer system repairs. They also see the repairs as the first step to mitigating frequent overflows and leaks that regularly plague residents.
On restoring Clam Bayou, Ray feels that "for too long the net solution of the problem has not been fully addressed." He believes funding is available that would make possible an "environmental dredging to remove, once and for all, the contaminants in the bayou.'' Roman supports the council's decision to seek an independent review of all the studies and analyses to date.
"That report will enable us to develop an action plan for Clam Bayou," she said.
When it comes to an action plan for the 49th St. S corridor, Roman and Ray differ.
Ray, who has made the corridor a key element of his campaign, believes issues of crime, curb appeal and property values need more attention. He envisions the corridor north of 22nd Avenue S as a commercial hub, with larger stores and high-tech industries.
"If we continue the efforts of the city and Chamber of Commerce to upgrade the area's infrastructure and offerings, we will end up creating additional revenue and curbing crime," he said.
Roman sees the corridor as a business district that provides the city with essential services, jobs and revenue, and views the Police Department's substation, the recent addition of a community resource officer and new lighting in the area as a sign of the city's commitment to the street. She says the key to any decision about the future of 49th St. S involves working closely with the So49 Business Association and other organizations that support the businesses.
If elected, is there anything the two candidates would change in this community of 12,000?
Roman advocates for "a wider net cast across the community to engage more residents on key issues." She would like to see council agendas posted a full week in advance. Roman, who works in the health care industry, would also like more scheduling flexibility with the 4 p.m. workshops. "Many of our residents work during the day," she said. "A later start-time could encourage more community participation."
Ray is an advocate of environmental issues. "I'd like to see a greater implementation and use of low-maintenance plants along easements and less use of costly chemicals. I think it makes good 'green' sense and it can save money."
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