Pinellas County Commission candidates, Districts 2 and 4

Pinellas County Commission | Districts 2 and 4

The Nov. 2 election offers north Pinellas County voters a choice between a former Dunedin mayor, Democrat Bob Hackworth, and a 10-year commission incumbent, Republican Susan Latvala, in the District 4 race. Countywide, voters will decide whether to keep Democrat Calvin Harris, a commissioner since 1997, or give long-shot Norm Roche a seat on the seven-member board on his fourth try for office. David DeCamp, Times staff writer

Calvin Harris, 69

Democrat

District 2

Norm Roche, 48

Republican

District 2

Bob Hackworth, 55

Democrat

District 4

Susan Latvala, 61

Republican

District 4

Taxes Harris, who led the approval of an extra exemption for seniors in 2005, opposes raising countywide tax rates. But he voted for property tax rate increases (and decreases) during the real estate boom. Roche opposes any tax increase, saying the county budget inflated too much from 2003 to 2008 and needs consolidations and audits to figure out where money went. He has named few specific cuts he would make. Hackworth never voted for property tax rate increases as a commissioner or mayor in Dunedin, but overall revenues still rose. Opposes increases before other options are used, including adding business fees. Latvala voted for tax rate increases — though she falsely minimized the votes in the campaign — as well as decreases in the past decade. She said she would be open to rate increases in the future.
A new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays Harris supports a regional approach for a stadium, preferring it to remain in Pinellas. A new stadium should be part of plans for adding a light-rail system in the county and funded with hotel stay taxes. Roche questions the viability of the current stadium but says taxpayers' debt has to be satisfied for any new stadium to go forward. A public-private partnership that ensures public tax liability is solved first is an option. He supports a new mid-Pinellas stadium as long as private funding matches public financing. He says the county could demand a piece of team ownership if public financing goes beyond reasonable levels. She says it is important for the region to try to keep the Rays, but the site must be determined by data that justify a location well-supported by fans. The County Commission has "no role in the debate."
Sales tax for light rail He supports pursuing the creation of a light-rail system using a 1-cent increase in the sales tax, provided the county repeals a property tax charged for the operation of transit buses. He says he has yet to see a study that justifies the creation of rail in Pinellas. While he opposes new taxes, he wants a public, detailed and factually based study, and proof that buses can operate better. He supports a sales tax increase to build light rail as the only "viable" funding option, though he wants to explore reducing or eliminating the current property tax for Pinellas transit services. Latvala supports the sales tax to pay for rail, saying the county needs to make sure residents can reach a separate high-speed rail system from Tampa to Orlando. She has suggested dropping the transit tax rate.
EMS service He supports creating a hybrid system for transporting patients to reduce costs, allowing the first fire or ambulance crew to take people. They would not both run calls. Recent "tweaks" failed, he said. He wants a better-organized plan to consolidate fire and EMS, including taking any proposal to voters. He wants to ditch the Sunstar ambulance system so that firefighters can transport patients to hospitals. He says the system has been inefficient for 20 years and opposes raising property taxes for EMS service. Latvala says she's staying open to options until the results of a county consultant's study are complete. She says the county cannot force consolidation, so cooperation of cities and fire districts is a must.
Park fees Harris successfully led the rejection of a staff recommendation to charge fees at county parks, calling them unnecessary in a recession and unfair to taxpayers counting on a free place for families. Opposed charging a fee to enter or park at regional parks and preserves because taxpayers already pay for their operation. Open to discussing closing some a few days a week if data justify it. He opposes adding fees or closing parks. He would consolidate services to produce savings that would provide enough money to maintain a free system of parks and preserves in a high-quality way, or use reserve money. Latvala supported adding park fees as long as parks were not closed until joining a majority against the new charges in a vote this summer. She wants annual passes, and waivers for seniors and needy residents.
Consolidations due to budget cuts He supports consolidation, saying government lacks enough money. Fire departments would be easiest to combine if cities would approve. He also suggests combining water utilities in Pinellas. Supports consolidating public works and utilities departments entirely, although its already under way. Also proposes combining the offices of tax collector and property appraiser, though that would need voter approval. Supports consolidations of "almost any service currently offered." He mentions parks, fire and EMS, fleets, and public safety services by the Sheriff's Office and cities. She supports consolidation, saying development design reviews, building permits and inspections can be done. The county library cooperative could be expanded to oversee the libraries countywide.

Pinellas County Commission candidates, Districts 2 and 4 10/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 23, 2010 5:31am]

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