TARPON SPRINGS — Lisa Malamatos already knows who she will vote for in March's city elections.
Still, she wanted to hear: What ideas did the City Commission candidates have for sprucing up the Sponge Docks? And what about downtown?
"We live here, and we'd like to see more," said Malamatos, 56. "I think it would improve the quality of life."
In Tuesday night's candidate forum, the first of the year, residents could compare side-by-side the four candidates for Seat 4, soon to be vacated by Chris Alahouzos. Residents quizzed the hopefuls on budgeting, economic strategies and, curiously, water fluoridation.
A recent point of contention in Pinellas County, fluoridation was settled uneventfully in Tarpon Springs. The city plans to build its own water plant and commissioners voted unanimously last year to fluoridate the supply.
But fluoride found three opponents at the forum.
"I do not believe that you can force-medicate anybody," said candidate Thomas Frain, 22.
"I don't believe it's the city's, or the county's, or the state's role to put fluoride in the water," said candidate David Banther, 30.
"I don't think we'll need the fluoride," said candidate Jim Bouldin, 59, citing the state-of-the-art design of the future reverse osmosis water treatment plant and seeming befuddled by the question.
Fluoride's only support came from candidate Tim Keffalas, 58: "It hurts the poorest in the community the most" when the water is not fluoridated.
On economic issues, the candidates called for bringing in more businesses but differentiated themselves on their viewpoints of the city's finances.
"We're not in any kind of dire straits," said Keffalas, a small business owner. He would rely on reserve funds to balance the budget, proposing to leave the property tax rate unchanged for two years.
Bouldin, a former community newspaper publisher, also opposed increasing the tax rate. "We can do some trimming," he said, without providing specifics.
Rather than place more costs on residents, restaurant server Frain advocated putting every city department "under scrutiny" for more spending accountability.
But Banther, a business manager for his family's consulting firm, favored addressing budget shortfalls immediately. Without generating more taxes while maintaining service levels, "Where is the revenue going to come from?" he asked.
Questions delved into the inner workings of City Hall — scheduling work sessions and the roles of advisory boards — and touched on what candidates loved most about Tarpon Springs and what they would change.
In the audience, 66-year-old Beverly Kurpinski waited for her question to be read. She asked something a little different, not anything on policy or anything personal.
Would they be able to compromise? To make decisions for the good of the city, without the "I-want-it-my-way" attitude?
The candidates seemed confident that they could influence other commissioners with great ideas.
"You have to have responsible ideas to begin with," Keffalas said.
Bouldin agreed: "You have to sell yourself."
"If we get more of the community involved ... I don't think the other city commissioners can really resist," Frain said.
"If it takes one more commission meeting" to get all the information for a consensus, Banther said, "then we should do that."
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.