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Issues familiar in commission races

DISTRICT 2: A longtime resident and a newcomer differ on growth management. In the race for the District 2 County Commission seat, candidates John Hodgkins and Gary Bartell are providing voters with some stark distinctions.

If a long history in the county is what voters want, Hodgkins, the Democrat, has the edge. He has lived here 26 years and served on the School Board 16 years.

Bartell, a Republican and former Gulfport City Council member, has lived in the county less than two years but says he planned his move to Citrus for about a decade.

"I have a better understanding of the community" than Bartell, Hodgkins said. "I've been here all my business life. I've grown up with the county."

Bartell says his newcomer status is a virtue. He says he is free from special interests and that he can use his experience in the overdeveloped Pinellas County to see that Citrus County maintains its rural atmosphere.

For voters who support strong growth management, Bartell would have the edge. Hodgkins has taken campaign contributions from the building industry and has referred to the county's comprehensive plan as "what the state of Florida is trying to shove down our throats."

Bartell says the state had to step in and impose growth

restrictions because the County Commission has shown it is unwilling to do so.

Hodgkins, 51, says there is a simple reason why voters should support him. "I'm the most qualified," he says.

In addition to his years of scrutinizing school budgets, Hodgkins served on the County Commission for years, from 1966 to 1968. He has been in the restaurant business and now is a hotel inspector for the state.

Confident he will win the election Nov. 6, Hodgkins already has put in his letter of resignation for his state job.

Hodgkins says the two most important issues in the campaign are taxes and the environment. He is critical of the current commissioners for leaving too many budget decisions in the hands of the county administrator. The commissioners have not "been digging through the budget on an item- per-item basis," he said.

To protect the environment, Hodgkins says the county should work harder to interest people in recycling and should try to get the newspaper industry to recycle more. He is, however, pleased with efforts to date.

Hodgkins does not see any need for local taxes to be raised to buy environmentally sensitive lands.

"Citrus County is reaching the point where it's going to have to ask itself, "How much land can we afford to purchase and take off our tax rolls?'

" He said existing laws protect wetlands from development.

Bartell, 45, served three years on the Gulfport City Council. He resigned early last year to move to Citrus County.

Hodgkins has criticized Bartell for quitting half-way through a two-year term. At a campaign forum Thursday night, Bartell said that after his first term on the council, he did not want to run again because he was planning to move to Citrus.

"My supporters asked me to go ahead and run," he said, so he did, explaining to voters that he might not complete his term. "I've planned on moving to Citrus County for 10 years."

Bartell has been a self-employed businessman for most of his adult life. On a part-time basis, he restores antique cars and sells them.

He says he supports the idea of raising taxes to buy environmentally sensitive lands. Commissioners plan a special election in the spring to ask voters if they want to raise taxes to buy sensitive property.

Bartell says the county can "streamline government bureaucracy" and "drastically reduce consultant fees." Whenever possible, he says, county staff should perform tasks that now are contracted out to consultants.