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Turanchik touts platform focused on jobs, transportation and neighborhoods

TAMPA — Rehab foreclosed homes. Hold the line on taxes, fees and cost-of-living raises for city employees. Deploy surveillance cameras in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

These are policy planks in the mayoral campaign of former Hillsborough County commissioner and builder Ed Turanchik. He touts it as the most substantive yet offered by any of the six candidates for mayor.

"Everyone else seems to be running on resume instead of on vision that works," he says. "Isn't it kind of odd that we're 58 days out and there's nothing going on? … There's not much awareness that there's a mayor's race out there."

It's coming, says rival mayoral candidate and former Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn, who expects to unveil his own platform, probably next week.

"You want to roll these things out when people are paying attention," Buckhorn says.

Turanchik says his post-government experience building affordable homes in West Tampa has done more to shape his campaign for mayor than the eight years he spent on the County Commission.

"You've got to know it to understand it," he says. "I've lived it, so I understand it."

His positions are clustered in four areas: jobs, budgeting, transportation and neighborhoods.

On jobs, a key plank is simplifying development rules to make it easier to open a business in Tampa.

Another focuses on turning foreclosed houses back into family homes.

The central city has a lot of homes for sale in the $20,000 to $50,000 range that don't qualify for Federal Housing Authority financing because they're abandoned, vandalized, stripped of appliances or otherwise in poor repair.

Turanchik proposes a program to help residents buy and rehabilitate those homes, making them eligible for FHA financing and affordable for families earning $25,000 a year or less.

To do that, he would retool an existing city program to help buyers with the down payment and closing costs. In return, the city would have a second mortgage on the house. Buyers would hire a general contractor to do the work from a list maintained by the city.

In the end, buyers would have a home with total payments of less than $600 a month, and carpenters, plumbers and electricians would be re-employed.

"It's a real concrete program for putting people back to work by making it easy for people to invest in themselves," Turanchik says. "This recession started in housing, and it's not going to end until housing turns around."

Turanchik also advocates bringing Florida's new Property Assessed Clean Energy program to Tampa.

Approved by the Legislature in 2010, the program allows cities and counties to encourage homeowners and businesses to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency.

Local governments can borrow money on the bond market and use the funds to pay the upfront costs of projects that include window replacement, insulation, installation of energy-efficient air conditioning, solar energy systems, and installing wind-resistant shingles and storm shutters.

Property owners then repay the cost of the improvements through an assessment on their property tax bills. The program is voluntary. About a third of the states in the U.S. have PACE programs.

Turanchik's proposals also include:

• No city property tax, permit or fee increases. No cost-of-living increases for city employees while money is tight. An end to letting employees accrue unlimited amounts of sick leave and vacation time. Reviewing employees' pay to make sure it's in line with the private sector. Consolidation of "non-core" services with other governments.

• Use money Turanchik expects the city to receive from hosting the Republican National Convention to buy wireless, Internet-based video­cameras that can be moved from one crime hot spot to another.

• Invest in neighborhood beautification projects in return for the neighborhoods agreeing to take ownership of the enhancements.

• Make bus service more frequent, ideally with on-board WiFi and GPS, so riders can text, tweet, type — and know when the next bus is due.

• Support efforts to create a regional rail system running hybrid commuter trains on existing CSX tracks between suburbs and downtown Tampa. The service would be faster, with fewer stops, and Turanchik says a bigger bus system could serve those stops and park-and-ride lots. More expensive light rail service should be reserved for urban corridors that have potential for large-scale redevelopment, he says.

Turanchik says he supports an approach to rail that's "more incremental" and provides broader suburban service that one recently rejected by Hillsborough voters. But he hasn't given up on the idea of asking voters to consider supporting mass transit improvements.

"I will be a strong advocate for going back for a fresh approach on the ballot in 2012 or 2014," he says.

The city doesn't run HART, the county's bus agency, but the mayor appoints members, serves on or exercises leadership with the boards of HART, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Turanchik says.

Turanchik says he has worked on transportation issues for 20 years, but until Mayor Pam Iorio took office, there wasn't an effective advocate for the issue in the mayor's office. Having a supporter of transportation there "makes all the difference in the world," he says.

Turanchik touts platform focused on jobs, transportation and neighborhoods 01/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 10:24pm]
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