OLDSMAR — Seven people are vying for the mayoral and two city council seats — the largest race this town of about 14,000 has seen in nearly a decade.
With the March 9 election a month away, the public on Tuesday had a chance to hear the hopefuls respond to questions about taxes, tourism, growth, their visions for Oldsmar and other subjects.
But the topic that dominated a political forum hosted by the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce was job stimulation.
At a December council meeting, business owner and incumbent Mayor Jim Ronecker told the council that the city might have to spend more money than ever this year to stop the flight of businesses from the area — and to retain them. He has not yet quantified the value of that assistance. By his own estimation, 40 percent of his neighbors in a business park off Forest Lakes Boulevard and Mears Avenue vanished last year.
Ronecker is seeking another three-year term as mayor and said he plans to streamline the permitting process, brand the city better and offer incentives.
"We've got to look for creative ways to give incentives whether it be fixing up the facades of buildings or attracting a new business," he said. "We need to have a buy Oldsmar type mentality where if you live in the city, you need to buy from businesses in the city."
Ronecker's opponent, City Council member Suzanne Vale, also wants to develop a buy-in-Oldsmar program. She pledged to do that very thing at the start of her campaign and said she has kept that promise. But economic development entails reaching out to high-end industries Oldsmar may not normally approach, she said.
"I think we really need to be going after the biomedical and those pharmaceutical companies," said Vale, who after six years on the council is term-limited from Seat 2. "They provide high paying wages and they're clean jobs."
The woman hoping to replace Vale, former City Council member Janice Miller, said job creation is the responsibility of the chamber, not government — a view shared by her opponent, Tom Eckert, and Seat 4 hopeful Loretta Wyandt.
Political newcomer Linda Norris offered the boldest solution of the evening: She said she's moving her company from Tampa to Oldsmar. Providence Painting Inc. has been in Tampa since 1999.
"I'm going to lead by example," said Norris, who also said she would donate her $8,400 council salary to local nonprofits such as Oldsmar Cares if elected to Seat 4. "I'm in the process of renovating my garage in order to bring the base here."
Robert Brown, another novice running for Seat 4, said stimulating economic growth is "not always a matter of building something new.
"A lot of it is just explaining to people who we are, where we are, what we have to offer."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.