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Lake, funds concern Safety Harbor voters

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Times asked residents in Safety Harbor to tell us about their concerns during this election season. Here are some of the questions and comments you had.

Based on the coupon responses we received, there doesn't seem to be a single, looming issue that concerns residents. A few of you asked what the seven commission candidates thought about the downtown redevelopment project and we gave you their answers in a previous story.

The other responses we received discussed issues ranging from Alligator Lake to marina dredging. Some people sent responses with biting comments and rumors about the candidates, while others used the opportunity to praise their favorite candidate.

Here are some of the candidates' answers to the potpourri of issues you said are concerns.

Alligator Lake

Whether motorized watercraft should be allowed on Alligator Lake has been an ongoing issue for many residents. There are two staunch factions: the people who say the water skiers are creating too much noise and ruining the environment, and those who use motorized watercraft and say they aren't doing anything wrong. The issue has been brought before city commissioners a few times, but they have not decided whether to prohibit motorized watercraft, or the amount of horsepower a motorboat can have. A task force was created last June to try to reach a compromise, but later dissolved with many members frustrated that they could not resolve the issue.

One resident commented: "Alligator Lake is too small for Jet Skis and water skiers. It is also a bird sanctuary. It should be limited to fishermen with electric motors or non-motorized crafts." Another resident asks the candidates: "Are you willing to limit lake access to remove noise and traffic from air boats, hydroplanes, Jet Skis and ski boats? Fishing boats fish, the others are disrupting the (bird) sanctuary."

Pamela Corbino, incumbent commissioner, running for Seat 2: "(The Commission) tried to limit Jet Skis being used. To my knowledge, the residents are working together so everyone can enjoy the lake."

Paul Marron, businessman running for Seat 2: "We should reduce the amount of traffic on the lake and maintain the proper environment for wildlife."

Bill Rupp, candidate for Seat 3: He agreed that residents should work together to reach a compromise and added, "I think the commission is doing what should be done."

Fran Barnhisel, Seat 3 candidate: "I think we should preserve the wetlands and the wildlife, and leave a place for future generations."

Sandy Huff, the third Seat 3 candidate: Huff said she canoes on Alligator Lake at least once a week and said the city should be working to preserve the wildlife already out there.

Jill Cincotta,date: She said that wildlife on Alligator Lake should be preserved, but that all residents should be able to enjoy it.

Don Fletcher, running for Seat 1: "I support banning air boats. I think there should be a speed limit out there."

The budget

For years, Safety Harbor has enjoyed a low property tax rate, a high level of services and a strong financial standing. One resident worried the city's finances were unstable, commenting: "I have been told the entire city surplus has been spent, many city jobs have been added and much additional money has been spent on public works . . ."

City Manager Pamela Brangaccio said the city has a more than $3-million general fund reserve, which accounts for almost 52 percent of the city's operating expenses. Further, she said, the number of positions has decreased from 161.5 to 153 and no additional money is being spent in the Public Works Department. In the past year, the city managed to balance its budget after identifying operating budget deficits, without dipping into the reserves.

The candidates all had different ideas about how to maintain the level of city services and save money for future years.

Jill Cincotta: "I think there are a lot of creative ways to save money. I've proposed cutting the commissioners' travel expenses and . . . renting a yard-waste grinder that would save the city $100,000. I think we can save money without cutting services."

Fran Barnhisel: "We need to start looking at the city like it's a business and be more efficient. We've been using the general fund to balance the budget, and you can't run a city like that for long."

Bill Rupp: "It's important to look at the budget because we're approaching buildout and impact fees will be a thing of the past. New businesses might help boost the tax base."

Paul Marron: He has proposed reducing trash pickup to once weekly from the current twice-weekly pickup during the winter as a way to save money.

Pamela Corbino: She said some cost-saving measures already have been enacted to balance the budget, like borrowing from water and sewer budgets and leaving some service-level positions unfilled.

Don Fletcher: He has said that money being used for the downtown redevelopment streetscaping project could be used for infrastructure improvements.

Sandy Huff: "I think we just need to take a look at the whole community and plan for the future."

Another resident was concerned about why it is taking so long to dredge the marina, especially because capital improvement money already has been budgeted for the project for several years. Brangaccio said the city is waiting to receive proper permitting from various state agencies.