TREASURE ISLAND — Voters in Treasure Island will choose between two candidates for the District 4 City Commission seat who have differing views on how the city should pay for its infrastructure needs.
Challenger Ken Keys, 51, owner of a medical equipment company, believes requiring an annual parking pass for nonresidents and negotiating potential lawsuits is the best way to pay for repair of aging roadways and bridges.
Incumbent Alan Bildz, 51, thinks instituting a causeway bridge toll is the fairest way to cover the expense, requiring nonresidents to pay along with residents.
Keys and Bildz, both Sunset Beach residents, will face off in the March 15 primary in the only city race on the ballot for a two-year commission term.
Bildz has served on the commission since 2004. The owner of Al-Star Plumbing and the city's representative on the Suncoast League of Cities board, is a registered Republican but describes himself as "antiwar, pro-life and an environmentalist."
The Gary, Ind., native moved to the island in 1996 and brags that Sunset Beach "is the best part of Treasure Island with the best residents."
"Elections are good for the commission because you get more exposure to the residents going door-to-door," he said. "I'm not sure, however, that they should be every two years."
Keys, a political newcomer who moved back to Treasure Island in 2014 after being gone for 12 years, has sent out mailers, attended a meet and greet, and knocked on doors to introduce himself to voters.
"I care about a true representative government," he said. "If elected, I will be a consensus builder."
Because Treasure Island is a favorite with lots of winter visitors and surfers, Keys would like to investigate the possibility of requiring an annual $25 parking pass for nonresidents rather than putting a toll on the causeway bridge.
"We need to honor our agreement to Rep. Bill Young to not ever charge a toll," he said. "It was a handshake agreement, but integrity is important. I've talked to former commissioners who think if we institute a toll, it could spur another lawsuit."
Bildz says while he is not anxious to put a toll on the bridge, it is better than raising property taxes.
"People who live in Causeway Isles and Yacht Club Estates (just off the causeway but within St. Petersburg city limits) don't pay anything right now," he said.
In the past, the city has become embroiled in too many lawsuits on issues that should have been settled before they reached the courtroom, Keys said.
"If we hadn't lost all those lawsuits, our general fund would not be depleted," he said. "We need to be better stewards of our money."
While Bildz agrees the ongoing lawsuit by hoteliers protesting parking and driving on the beach was "definitely a case that could have been settled," he thinks city governments are often targets for litigation.
"I don't think we are that far out of line when you look at lawsuits other cities like St. Petersburg have faced," he said.
Keys also thinks the city needs to work with business owners to create an environment that helps them.
"People don't do well when businesses don't do well," he said.
He thinks the island needs "managed growth that is not overly tall and fits in the building code."
"Sunset Beach is a district where there is a lot of diversity in retail and residential," he said. "It's a real balancing act to represent it."
Bildz, who often is the minority vote on issues before the commission, jokingly describes himself as "the lone voice of reason" on the board.
"I'm there to voice the opinion I think is right," he said. "You can't take things personally."
Keys, who said he has no party affiliation but calls himself "fiscally conservative and socially moderate," thinks "government works well when people reach across the aisle on issues. There's always common ground."
"A no vote every time is not always helpful," he said.
The two candidates will face off in a locally televised March 8 debate on TITV644 on Bright House cable at City Hall, moderated by former chamber president Alan Martinez.
Editor's note: This article was edited to reflect the following correction: The open seat in Treasure Island's March 15 election is the District 4 seat. An article February 26 listed another seat.