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Newcomer challenges incumbent in Brooksville City Council election

Editor's note: Today's story is part of a series of reports on local races on the Nov. 6 ballot. The Times will also publish its Know Your Candidates voters guide on Sunday.

BROOKSVILLE — Keeping the city of Brooksville on firm financial footing the past couple of years has proven to be a tough task for the city's elected officials.

Deciding how to deliver services to residents as revenues continue to shrink doesn't allow for many popular choices.

But doing so will likely remain a reality for whoever wins the race for Seat 2 on the Brooksville City Council.

In the Nov. 6 general election, Brooksville voters will be given the opportunity to choose between two longtime residents.

Incumbent Frankie Burnett has spent a total of six years behind the dais, including the last 21/2 years as the appointee chosen to fill the vacancy left by David Pugh. Betty Erhard, who has never run for elected office, currently sits on the city's charter review committee.

A graduate of Hernando High School, Burnett grew up in predominantly African-American south Brooksville. He was first elected to the council in 2004 and served one term before being voted out four years later.

Assessing his current stint on the council, he says he's proud of what the governing body has accomplished during challenging times, and believes that the city needs to stay on track and keep its commitment to provide residents with quality services while holding the line on taxes.

"I spend a lot of time listening to people in the community," Burnett said. "Many of my decisions are based on what they tell me. They want Brooksville to be a positive place to live, and they look to the council to help make that happen.

Philosophically, Erhard says her views don't differ much from her opponent's. A city resident for 22 years, she loves Brooksville's small-town feel and thinks it's a great place to live and raise a family. But she has strong concerns over some policies, such as red-light cameras and fire fees, to bring more revenue to the city.

"I think that law enforcement should not be generating revenue for the city," Erhard said. "Fire fees are just another way of taxing residents in a way that they don't realize they are being taxed."

Erhard believes Brooksville officials would do better to promote an image that invites visitors and potential new businesses. Organizers of the Florida Blueberry Festival are on the right track, she said, in that the event makes the city stand and brings thousands of people downtown.

"That kind of image makes for a much better business climate," Erhard said. "If Brooksville had more of those kinds of events, you wouldn't need red-light camera revenue."

Burnett has never supported red-light cameras, and believes they are a detriment to the city's image. However, he says he chose to support the enactment of a $400,000 fire assessment because he believes it will help spread the burden of an essential city service more equitably.

Burnett said that had the fees generated more negative response among residents, he might have reconsidered.

"I think people saw it as necessary in order to keep the level of service that they expect," he said.

Both candidates agree that the city is likely to face financial challenges for some time to come. And they acknowledge that the decisions the council makes will affect how well the city rebounds from its economic struggles.

Erhard believes the city needs to step up its efforts to attract new businesses to its once-vibrant downtown.

"I want to see more people think of Brooksville as a wonderful place to spend the day visiting," she said. "I think there's a lot more that could be done to breathe new life here and attract people who want to do that."

Burnett says one of his greatest concerns has been neglect of Brooksville's infrastructure due to budgetary cutbacks. He believes it's an issue where time is not on the city's side.

"Roads, sidewalks, drainage ditches — they've all had to have been set aside for more pressing issues," Burnett said. "If we don't start paying more attention to them, there may not be anything left to fix someday."

Logan Neill can be reached at or (352) 848-1435.

>> Fast facts

Brooksville City Council candidates

BETTY ERHARD, 48, is a 23-year Brooksville resident and a political newcomer. A 1983 graduate of Hernando High School, she is the mother of three daughters. Her work experience includes the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and Hernando County government; she is currently employed as a sales consultant for Heron Publishing in Spring Hill. She serves on the city's charter review committee.

Platform: Erhard wants to abolish revenue-generating programs such as the city's red-light cameras and a new fire assessment on residents and businesses. Instead, she believes the city should focus more on improvements that will attract more businesses to downtown.

FRANKIE BURNETT, 57, is a lifelong Brooksville resident. He was elected to the council in 2004 and served one term. He was then appointed in 2010 to serve out the remainder of departing member David Pugh's term. A contract manager for Mid-Florida Community Services, Burnett is a past president of the Hernando County Branch of the NAACP. He is chief operating officer of the South Brooksville Community Economic Development Commission.

Platform: Burnett wants to continue focusing on maintaining city services and holding down tax rates. He is an opponent of red-light cameras, but supported the city's recent enactment of fire fees. He believes the city needs to focus on making improvements to its aging infrastructure.

Newcomer challenges incumbent in Brooksville City Council election 10/16/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 7:31pm]
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