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Hopefuls: Let voters decide big purchases

(ran LA edition)

Voters will have more say about big-ticket items if the two candidates for mayor and three candidates for two City Commission seats get their way.

In a forum sponsored by the Homeowners Association at City Hall on Monday night, one of the 70 members of the audience asked if the candidates want city commissioners to be able to buy property such as the former Cottingham School for $500,000 or if they want such issues to be decided by voters in a referendum.

The property at 206 23rd Ave. is for sale for $495,000. Commissioners voted 3-2 last month not to pay $5,000 for a one-year option to buy the property.

The True School, a private school in Clearwater that uses study techniques developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is considering leasing the property.

Vice Mayor James Palamara, a building contractor who is running for mayor, said he favors a referendum for property that costs more than $200,000 and is bought for non-essential services.

"It's a nice piece of property, but it isn't worth the money," Palamara said about the former Cottingham School site.

The other candidate for mayor, Bob DiNicola, said he would favor a referendum on the Cottingham School property. DiNicola, who served on the commission for eight years ending in 1991, said he favors the city buying that particular piece of property.

DiNicola is a retired stone inspector for federal buildings in Washington.

Larry Sandefer, a lawyer running for the commission, said that as a voter, he probably would want the chance to cast a ballot on such an issue.

He also said he thinks there needs to be a dollar cutoff on which issues go to the voters. "Otherwise, you get into whether voters vote on everything the commission does," he said.

Commission candidate Jean Scott, who owns and manages rental property in the city, said she thinks purchases over a certain dollar amount should go to a referendum. She did not say what she thinks that amount should be.

She also said she thinks the city's children need a place for recreation, but she's not sure the former Cottingham School is a good site.

Marilyn Morris, who served a two-year term on the commission that ended a year ago, said she thinks any buildings for non-essential use such as the former Cottingham School property at a cost of about $500,000 should go to a referendum.

"That's called democracy and I'm all for it," she said.

On another topic, the candidates seemed to agree that the Sheriff's Office was doing a good job. The city disbanded its embattled Police Department in December.

DiNicola said the Sheriff's Office was doing a good job so far, but he was concerned whether that would continue.

He said he doesn't think the city would be able to return to having its own department. "I don't think we can afford to bring back the police department," he said.

Palamara said if residents indicated they wanted to bring back the department, he would favor studying the issue and would help gather the financial information needed for it to be brought to a referendum.

"If it's the will of the people, I'd get the information," he said.

The election is Tuesday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., at City Hall, 1507 Bay Palm Blvd.

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