LARGO — Candidates are sharply divided over the Greenlight Pinellas Plan, giving voters distinct options in the upcoming election for City Commission.
One candidate in each of the races for the three open seats on the commission supports the plan, while their opponents are against it. That became very clear at a candidates forum Tuesday sponsored by the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.
Greenlight Pinellas, which is also on the Nov. 4 ballot, would impose a 1-cent sales tax to fund a transit plan. The plan includes expanded bus service and a rail that would have four stops in Largo.
In the race for Seat 1, incumbent Michael Smith supports the plan, saying an improved transportation system is needed to help business development in the city and to bring Largo out of the financial downturn of the past few years,
His opponent, Bronson Oudshoff, says he wants to keep taxes low. The 1-cent sales tax, he said, will give Pinellas the highest sales tax in the state. The end result, he said, will give residents less disposable income, and drive businesses and residents from the county,
In addition, Oudshoff said, the demand for mass transit in Pinellas is not sufficient to support the proposal, he said.
Seat 2 candidate Samantha Fenger, who has a background in city planning, favors Greenlight Pinellas.
"I'm one of those people who is willing to park my car" and use mass transit, Fenger said.
Greenlight Pinellas, she said, is about the future and what the county needs then.
Her opponent, Daniel Ruffner, a banker, agrees with Oudshoff that the higher sales tax would be counterproductive and drive people away from Pinellas. Ruffner said he would be more willing to support it if more Largo residents were willing to use the system.
Both Fenger and Ruffner are making their first run at public office.
The race for Seat 5 pits longtime Commissioner Harriet Crozier against newcomer Donna Holck.
Crozier supports Greenlight Pinellas, but says an improved and expanded bus system must be in place before a rail line is built.
"Pinellas County needs to have a mass transit system," Crozier said.
Holck said she opposes Greenlight Pinellas because it adds a tax burden to Largo residents.
"The last thing we need is an additional tax," Holck said. But she said that if voters approve it, she would do all she could to make it happen.
Largo has a council-manager form of government in which a mayor and six council members set policy, while a professional, appointed city manager is responsible for the daily activities of the city. Council members serve four-year terms and are paid about $13,454 a year.
Contact Anne Lindberg at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes.