Tarpon Springs candidates focus on infrastructure, business, taxes

Published Jan. 31, 2017

TARPON SPRINGS — Names both familiar and new will grace city ballots next month when residents will choose a new Seat 1 commissioner to replace Townsend Tarapani, who has reached his term limit.

After a loss in the race for mayor last year, former Mayor Frank DiDonato says he has chosen to make another run at a spot on the dias. He is up against Tim Keffalas, who lost his race for Seat 3 last year, and political newcomer Jacob Karr.

Didonato, 69, is a local chiropractor who served as mayor from 1998 to 2004.

During his time out of office, DiDonato has remained involved in city business through the Charter Review and Budget Advisory committees. He says his priorities — better infrastructure and lower taxes — haven't changed since the last election. And he hopes to see a biking and walking trail installed leading to city beaches and connecting to the new public swimming pool at Tarpon Springs High School.

Keffalas, 62, is a small business owner who has lived in the city since the late 1990s. Despite losing big to Commissioner Susan Slattery last year, he decided to "stick with" those few thousand who did vote for him.

"I'm not part of anyone's inside team," he said, boasting a self-funded campaign. "I am my own person."

Keffalas says he priorities are infrastructure and responsible spending. He is the president of the Tarpon Springs American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association and the secretary of the city's Sister Cities Committee.

Karr, 30, was born in the city and says his passion for Tarpon Springs drove him to run for office. Karr says he wants to work to bring quality businesses to downtown and create better modes of communication with county and state government officials. He works as a purchasing manager for a national healthcare company based in Clearwater, but also serves on the city's Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation boards. Karr says he wants to ensure Tarpon Springs remains "a great place to live."

All three candidates have expressed interest in improving the city's infrastructure. Keffalas says he hopes to get the residents who still have septic tanks hooked up to the sewer system as soon as possible. DiDonato says drainage should be improved, and Karr says he will work with the county to address roadway issues.

"We have to proactive and hold the county accountable to its fix roads and sidewalks in our community," Karr said. "There needs to be overall better and more deliberate communication there."

He said communication with residents is a key priority for him, too, to make sure information about city projects doesn't get misconstrued.

DiDonato, who says he has the upper hand in the race because of his experience and higher government connections, says he hopes to be a voice of persistence on the board.

"We need to set out to get solutions rather than just give up when things get hard," he said. "We need to not be afraid to look at all the options of working with our county, state and federal governments."

He says he hopes to see downtown "dressed up" again with booming business and suggests using the economic development department to offer grassroots help to new businesses in town.

"It would be great if we could connect new business owners to city resources to help them be more successful," he said, noting the city's small business bureau and small business help at the city library. "We should be checking in on them every six months to make sure they are doing okay."

Upkeep of the Sponge Docks, DiDonato says, should remain a priority for the city to preserve the historic quaintness and beauty that draws worldwide visitors each year.

Keffalas maintains his campaign promise from last year to fight for a lower taxes, a lower budget and less spending of reserves.

"The more money the city gets, the more money it will spend," he said. "I want to make sure that whatever is being spent is being spent in a way that makes life better for all residents."