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Tarpon Springs candidates lukewarm on light rail but support medical marijuana

TARPON SPRINGS — The three candidates running for a City Commission seat here don't seem too impressed by the plans for light rail in Pinellas County. But none of them would have a problem with a medical marijuana shop opening in Tarpon Springs if a Florida constitutional amendment allows it.

Those eye-opening answers have come up at campaign forums, where the candidates typically get grilled about more basic Tarpon Springs issues like a Sponge Docks revitalization or the size of the city's reserve fund.

Still, questions about commuter trains and legal weed have come up. And it's notable that the Tarpon Springs candidates' positions aren't far apart on these issues.

The candidates — Chris Hrabovsky, Joe Muzio and Rea Sieber — are all running for Seat 2, held by term-limited Commissioner Susan Slattery. The election is March 11, and early voting started on Saturday.

When it comes to the Greenlight Pinellas plan for expanded countywide bus service and light rail, the candidates aren't wowed.

"The light rail again forgot about Tarpon Springs. It's going from Clearwater to St. Petersburg," Muzio said.

"As much as I am in favor of the project, I sense that we'll be fighting for our piece of the pie in Tarpon Springs," Hrabovsky said. "It would be nice if the light rail would come up all the way to Tarpon."

In response to the Greenlight Pinellas question, Sieber said she'd like to see a trolley running between the Sponge Docks and Tarpon's downtown business district.

The candidates' views about Greenlight mirror those of some of their neighbors. Advocates for mass transit say they're striving to overcome opposition to the plan in North Pinellas.

Their argument: Although plans for a Pinellas light rail route don't extend farther north than Clearwater, the Greenlight proposal would significantly increase bus service in North Pinellas. It includes:

• A bus route that would pick up north county residents and take them to Tampa International Airport

• A bus rapid transit — or BRT — route on N McMullen-Booth Road to ease traffic flow

• A fleet of minibuses that would circulate in north county, picking up passengers at their doorsteps.

• A trolley from Clearwater Beach arriving at the Sponge Docks every 15 minutes.

"The plan has a 400 percent increase in bus service in north Pinellas County," said Bob Lasher, spokesman for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. "Make no mistake, we would love to run the rail line all the way up to Tarpon Springs, but then you're looking at a massive increase in costs."

Light rail could eventually reach Tarpon, he added.

Pinellas voters will decide on Nov. 4 whether to eliminate the property tax PSTA now levies on county property owners and replace it with a 1-cent sales tax.

Medical marijuana

Florida voters will have another issue to decide in the November election. A proposed state constitutional amendment would allow Floridians with chronic debilitating conditions to use marijuana if a licensed doctor recommends it in writing.

The measure would require a 60 percent or better vote to pass. If it passes, the pot would be sold at state-regulated dispensaries.

If that happens, none of the Tarpon candidates would have a problem with such a dispensary opening in Tarpon Springs.

"I would not oppose it," said Sieber, citing studies showing the beneficial effects of medical marijuana.

"That would be permitted by state law," said Hrabovsky. "If somebody is going to benefit from medicine, who would stand up against it?"

Muzio wouldn't oppose it either. He said the emphasis should be on alleviating the suffering of cancer patients. "I've seen it. My dad suffered from it. It's not a good sight."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

. Fast facts

Early voting

Early voting for local city elections will be offered March 1-9 in three Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections offices. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Locations are the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Room 117, Clearwater; the Election Service Center, 13001 Starkey Road, Largo; and the County Building, 501 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

Tarpon Springs candidates lukewarm on light rail but support medical marijuana 02/28/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 28, 2014 6:26pm]
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