ZEPHYRHILLS — The four candidates for two open seats on the City Council agree that economic development — more businesses bringing more jobs — should be a chief concern to city leaders.
Improvements to city parks and recreational opportunities for all ages also have their attention.
Incumbents Kent Compton and Lance Smith face challengers Rose Hale and Manny Funes, respectively, in the April 9 election. Charlie Proctor retains his seat automatically since no one filed to run against him. Danny Burgess also has no challengers in his bid to be the new mayor.
Voters will also be asked to decide if they want the terms of council members and the mayor to be extended from two years to three so the terms can be staggered to avoid the possibility of losing a majority of members in one election.
Hale, a downtown business owner and political newcomer, sees a position on the city council as an opportunity to "be part of the solution." She believes the council needs to be more proactive in preparing for future growth. Compton, who currently serves as council president and interim mayor, touts the city's low tax rate and high level of service — as evidenced by consistently high marks on annual citizen satisfaction surveys — as some of the accomplishments he's played a part in.
He also wants to see the city continue efforts to attract new businesses and support existing ones through partnerships with the chamber of commerce and the Pasco Economic Development Council.
Smith, the council's vice president, and Funes, a former councilman, agree on some major issues — namely, working with the county to improve County Road 54 and improvements to parks. Funes believes more lighting in Zephyr Park will help address the city's drug problem; Smith advocated adding another police officer position in the current budget to assist with the same issue.
But their race hasn't been entirely harmonious. Funes recently accused Smith of fraud in dealings with the city several years ago when Smith's company won a bid to build a spec building as part of an effort to bring new business to the city. When the economy soured, the project was stopped, although Smith's company was paid for its work. Smith, who was not on the council at the time, denies Funes' allegations, which prompted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to start an investigation more than a year ago. It's still open.