Largo's City Commission race for Seat 1 pits a local business leader against a seasoned city leader — each with different approaches to dealing with tough economic times.
Joseph Falanga, a Largo business owner and former Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce chairman, is challenging incumbent Commissioner Mary Gray Black in Tuesday's election.
Black, who was elected in 2005, stresses controlled spending and lower taxes. Falanga, who served on the city's Finance Advisory Board, emphasizes bringing new businesses to the city to ease the burden on city taxpayers.
In September, Black opposed a property tax rate increase supported by the rest of the commission.
Even with the increase, typical Largo homeowners will pay less in city taxes because Amendment 1 provides an additional $25,000 homestead exemption. But Black said the proposed budget was calculated with a lower tax rate and the city could still maintain current services this year with a lower rate.
But Falanga said "it took a lot of spine" for other commissioners to support the raise, aimed at easing job and service cuts in future years.
"We know the wave is coming," Falanga said. "How big of a wall do we need to build to upset that?"
Black, who also served on the commission during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, has opposed tax breaks for businesses that wanted to relocate in Largo. She also opposed the city's purchase of downtown land to prime the area for redevelopment.
In June, Black opposed a tax break for an aircraft parts manufacturer that planned to relocate its headquarters in Largo and create nearly 200 new jobs and generate several million dollars in economic development. She said she opposed the incentives, backed by the rest of the commission, partly because the company couldn't commit to hiring a certain number of Largo residents.
Falanga, who supports such incentives, views his opponent as "anti-growth" and "anti-business."
The candidates also clash on the city's efforts to buy neighboring parcels downtown with the goal of marketing chunks of land to developers in the future.
Black has voted against such efforts. She said public money shouldn't be used for such purchases. Falanga supports them, saying the city will be ready to jumpstart downtown when the economy turns around. "I think she's just out of touch," Falanga said. "Progress is not really where she wants to be."
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Largo voters will also consider one amendment to Largo's city charter in the upcoming election. The amendment deals with canvassing boards, which certify elections and perform other tasks, such as processing absentee and provisional ballots.
Now, members of the City Commission who are not running for office serve on the canvassing board for city elections. Pinellas County's canvassing board can canvass city elections when city elections take place at the same time as countywide elections. A yes vote on this question would let the Pinellas County canvassing board perform canvassing tasks for any city election, with City Commission approval.