TARPON SPRINGS — The Tarpon Springs City Commission will have at least two new people after next year's municipal election.
Mayor Beverley Billiris and Commissioner Peter Dalacos can't run again because of term limits.
Six candidates have qualified for the March 9 election. Vying for three seats will be:
• Former City Commissioner David Archie vs. Matt King for the mayor's job.
• Jeff Larsen, the city's Planning and Zoning Board chairman, vs. Joseph Muzio for the seat being vacated by Dalacos.
• Incumbent Chris Alahouzos vs. newcomer Beverly Kurpinski.
"I'm looking forward to having cooperation, mutual respect and team work," Alahouzos said of a new board. "We don't have to agree on everything, but we have to work together for the common thing and that's the betterment of Tarpon Springs and its residents."
The candidates seem to agree on the importance of two things: revitalizing downtown Tarpon Springs and maintaining financial stability.
"We have several vacancies in Tarpon Springs and seven vacant stores in downtown and we just lost Kmart," said Muzio, a local Realtor. "We need to offer some incentives to bring in new businesses. If the store is empty, we (the city) receive nothing."
Economic recovery in Florida is going to take some time, said Larsen, 32. But he says he "will have his eye on the long-term future and health of the city."
"One thing that needs to happen is to improve the look of the downtown area," said Larsen, a middle school educator. "Facade grants are a way property owners can get involved with the look of their properties."
King, 33, agreed that the city needs an economic boost and said that "tax abatements" should be offered to prospective businesses. But King cautioned that the city needs the right kind of business.
"That doesn't mean that every business that comes along should be welcomed and have the red carpet laid out for them," King said. "One of the things, as oppose to creating service jobs, is to bring in some industry, higher paying jobs that raise the quality of life."
Political veteran David Archie, 56, served on the commission from 1996 to 2001 and had to step down due to term limits. Archie was re-elected in March 2002 and served until 2008 when he again had to step down due to term limits.
"Because of the economic climate, we need to have people who will make fiscally sound decisions about what's important to the citizens as a whole," Archie said. "We can't have people who have special interest groups in mind. I only have one special interest group and that's the citizens of Tarpon."
This is the second time that Archie, the executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Progress, and King, a local attorney, have faced off. In 2005, Archie defeated King for a commission seat.
King said he knows firsthand the effects of the tough economy. About three years ago, he purchased a bigger home for his growing family. King ran into trouble getting rid of the first home, which has now gone into foreclosure.
"We were talking to multiple people and they didn't think it (selling the first house) was going to be a problem," King said. "We ended up in a bad situation like a lot of people did. I don't want people to think I was investing in real estate trying to make a quick dollar because that's not what we were doing."
The March election marks the first time that Alahouzos has had to face an opponent. He was appointed to the seat in December 2006 after state Rep. Peter Nehr left the commission for Tallahassee. The following March, Alahouzos ran unopposed.
"I want the city to be a city that is independent," Alahouzos said. "We need to control our spending and make sound decisions and to do more with less."
Alahouzos, 58, also favors giving incentives to attract businesses to the area.
Kurpinski, a retired owner of a cable installation company, became a fixture at City Commission meetings about eight months ago. She said at the encouragement of her friends, she decided to seek political office for the first time.
"The most important thing is to maintain that balanced budget," said Kurpinski, 63. "If anybody knows how to do math, without it, all we need and we desire will not come to fruition. That's one of the hardest things, keeping the city in balance."
Demorris A. Lee can be firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174