Both Jeff Holcomb and Laurie Pizzo point to their background as the reason why they're the smart pick in the Republican primary election in Hernando County Commission District 4.
Holcomb's background includes experience in the private sector as a software consultant and in the military. Pizzo, a Realtor, has extensive political experience, working for candidates and causes as well as participation in a variety of local and state organizations.
The winner of the Aug. 26 primary will face Democrat Dan Oliver and no-party candidate H. David Werder in the November election. The seat is open because Dave Russell chose not to seek another term.
"I think there is a need to improve the economy right now,'' Holcomb said, indicating that he believes he would bring a more conservative viewpoint to the commission than Pizzo. "I think we could have a commission leaning more to the right. That would benefit us from an economic standpoint.''
While there is some positive news beginning to build on the economy, Holcomb said now is not the time to be spending more money on government.
"We need to be fiscally sound,'' he said.
Economic improvement would mean attacking several related issues, he said. That would include supporting the county's efforts to bring in more business from the outside, keeping a line on the county's property tax rate, making the county's permitting more efficient for business growth and making sure that the county is an attractive place to live and do business.
Holcomb acknowledged that sometimes all of those goals don't mesh well together. "It's a delicate balance,'' he said, between the services the county needs and how to pay for those services.
While Holcomb said he believes he will vote for the Penny for Projects sales tax increase, which would provide funding for both school and county projects, he was not sure he would have voted to tie the two half-cent sales tax initiatives together.
Voters were likely to approve the renewal of a half-cent sales tax for schools, he said. Combining the two issues "kind of puts the schools really at the end of the branch a little bit.''
"I don't think the schools can afford a cut to their budget right now," Holcomb said.'
He said he is not a fan of impact fees on new construction, noting, "I'm not for the impact fees, especially at the levels they were.'' He called high impact feels "a red flag" that could hurt the economy.
Eliminating the perception of the county as "business unfriendly" is also on Holcomb's platform. In addition, he is critical of his opponent for recent headlines she earned for passing out campaign literature during a ride-along with the county's fire rescue workers. He points to his own character as a reason he is the better choice.
"She has experience to know better than that,'' Holcomb said of Pizzo.
The hotly contested race has divided support among some of the county's most notable and influential Republicans.
Holcomb's financial support has come from a portion of the county's Republican leadership that includes the past head of the Republican Executive Committee, Ana Trinque, and her husband, Art; former state committeewoman Gail Samples, and Lynn Setelius, wife of the late Alan Setelius, who had been vice chairman of the REC.
As of the last filing deadline, Holcomb had raised $17,297 to Pizzo's $49,932.
Pizzo's contributors include a number of prominent business leaders, including Jim Kimbrough, Robert Buckner and Gary Schraut, along with several companies that do work with the county, among them Coastal Engineering Associates and Republic Services, which has the county's residential garbage collection contract. Cemex, which is seeking permission for a major mining expansion from the county, has also contributed.
But Pizzo said she will look at issues that come before her with a fair and unbiased mind-set.
"I'm not bought and paid for,'' she said.
She called her decision to enter the commission race "stepping up to the next level.''
While she said she would not have run had Russell not stepped down, Pizzo said, "I've been very involved in the community and at the state level . . . and I feel I can make a difference here locally with the citizens of Hernando County.''
A top issue for Pizzo, and something she says she would work on if elected, is to find ways to help businesses come into the community and thrive.
The county also must make sure that infrastructure is in place, Pizzo said. She called Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport a "diamond in the rough'' that offers great potential for new businesses, but she said other areas of the county also need to have infrastructure in place for future business development.
Some of that infrastructure could be paid for if voters approve the Penny for Projects sales tax in November. She said she favors the sales tax "because I feel it's an investment in our future.''
Pizzo said she is not currently in favor of impact fees.
"They're up and down,'' she said. "All you have to do is look at when the market crashed and there was no building. . . . It's not a steady source of income, so we have to do something different.''
Pizzo expressed some concern about the level of upkeep at some of the county's parks and suggested partnering with local organizations to help with park maintenance.
She gives high marks to County Administrator Len Sossamon for his work as economic development director and said that she would be an asset to the board because she would listen to all sides of an issue and do her research. Plus, she said, "I work well with others.''
Pizzo and her former husband, John, filed for bankruptcy in 1997. She said the filing came at a time when the couple had hit a financial rough patch
Pizzo has been endorsed by the Hernando County Association of Realtors, the Hernando County Medical Society, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, state House Speaker Will Weatherford, state Sen. Wilton Simpson, state Rep. Jimmie T. Smith and Russell.