TARPON SPRINGS — Grappling for an edge in a four-way race, City Commission candidates are reaching deep into their own pockets to finance their campaigns.
The candidates have poured a combined $13,000 into their races, with most money going toward signs, automated phone calls and, in one case, a television commercial, according to campaign documents released this week.
City commissioners earn $8,000 per year for what is considered part-time work, and they serve three-year terms.
The most recent flush of cash, spent just before the Pinellas County supervisor of elections sent 6,640 mail ballots to Tarpon voters last week, is meant to sway those who remain undecided in a city where, in many cases, alliances go back generations.
The candidates are vying for commission Seat 4, being vacated by Vice Mayor Chris Alahouzos, leaving because of term limits.
By Election Day on March 12, about half of the votes may have already been cast by mail, said Irene Jacobs, Tarpon Springs city clerk.
"You see people put up signs and you think, it's so early. But that's because vote-by-mail has changed things," Jacobs said. "By the time candidates qualify in November, they really have to hit the ground running."
Tim Keffalas, 58, a business owner and so far the ballot's biggest spender, seems determined not to suffer another defeat. He has spent $4,249, nearly all of it his own money. Keffalas lost in 2011 to Commissioner Susan Slattery.
In an unusual move for Tarpon Springs politics, Keffalas bought a 30-second television commercial to broadcast in North Pinellas. The price tag was $2,700.
Keffalas also paid for about 6,000 automated phone calls, at about a penny a call, he said. He began the race with a stock of more than 50 signs left from his previous campaign.
"I felt my money was better spent on a television ad and on the other sources of advertising I've chosen instead of sending out another flier that's going to end up in the trash," he said.
Jim Bouldin, 59, a newspaper consultant, also has dipped into his own bank account for $2,602 in signs, door hangers and newspaper advertisements. His campaign is entirely self-financed.
"I'd rather do it on my own, I don't want to be beholden to anybody," he said. "The mailer just went out, and that cost almost $1,000. It's a lot of money, but if you're going to do it, don't do it halfway."
David Banther, 30, who is chief financial officer at his family's consulting firm, said he launched his campaign by asking for support in letters to 80 friends and allies in the community.
The result: a $3,500 stockpile with contributions from Orange Blossom Realty ($50), Unbehagen Tax Advisors ($100) and Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill ($500), where he's a longtime friend of the owners.
He has spent $2,779 of that cash, including $257 of his own money. Most went to mailers, door hangers and signs.
Tommy Frain has spent roughly half of his $2,845 war chest. He's relying not so much on paid advertisements, he said, as on door knocking and interacting with people on his Facebook page, he said.
He has received more than 40 individual donations, including a $100 contribution from Miss Vicki's on the River, the restaurant in Holiday where he works.
He has contributed about $720 to his campaign.
"I'm a very working-class individual and I can only invest so much," said Frain, 22. "But I did what I could to get the ball rolling."
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155.