An array of issues were touched on during Tuesday night's forum for the candidates for Tarpon Springs City Commission Seat 4, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters of North Pinellas County.
As residents entered Tarpon Springs City Hall, they were given the option to write down a question for the four candidates — David Banther, Jim Bouldin, Tommy Frain and Tim Keffalas.
Candidates were given two minutes to present an introductory statement, one minute to answer each question and then a minute and a half at the end of the forum to provide a closing remark.
The first question was in regard to the city and its responsibility for drawing small businesses to Tarpon Springs. Since the issue could be considered a hot topic for many Tarponites, candidates were eager to have their say.
Frain, who holds a degree in economics said, "the city's sole responsibility is to create a positive environment for business."
He added that the city cannot create or make business on its own, but that it can offer an attractive platform for entrepreneurs looking to open or advance their business.
As a member of the city's Budget Advisory Committee, Banther said that when the city hired an economic development director, it was a step in the right direction.
Banther said that "having an overall friendly environment where (businesses) can grow and expand" is a key role for the city.
Former newspaper publisher Bouldin suggested setting goals and creating a plan to execute economic growth rather than investing unnecessary funds.
"The city really should serve, in my opinion, as a facilitator to start the conversation and keep it going," Bouldin said.
Keffalas, a small business owner, proposed looking into Pennies for Pinellas to help grow the small business scene in Tarpon Springs. He added that utilizing the economic development director would help stabilize the local economy once businesses were on board.
"It's important that we get business in here and we know what we're doing once we have them here," Keffalas said.
Where They Stand: Taxes and Spending
The conversation moved from business to property taxes and how each candidate planned on keeping them from increasing.
Bouldin said that the economy seemed to be showing signs of improvement and that being responsible with the reserve fund would help balance things out in the mean time.
"There's still more work to do, but we can do some trimming," Bouldin added.
Keffalas voiced that he does no support an increase in tax rates for two years.
"I think the property values will increase and that will give an automatic rise in the tax base," said Keffalas.
Referencing the economy's rough patch, Frain suggested cutting back on little things like extra copy machines to maintain the current rate.
"The answer to the budget problem is we need to put every single department under some accountability and some scrutiny," Frain said.
Banther said that the issue needed the most attention and that the reserves should not be looked at as a safety net for the city.
"It would be my long term goal to bring in new business to bring in new revenue from economic development to lower the actual property tax rate," Banther said.
Where They Stand: Sponge Docks
Whether or not to give the sponge docks a makeover is a question that has been on the minds of many Tarponites.
A resident asked how a more evident partnership between the downtown district and the sponge docks could be achieved.
Banther, Frain and Keffalas focused on the improvement of the sponge docks with their answers, while Bouldin was more focused on the partnership between the two areas.
Frain acknowledged some business owners on the docks may never wish to adapt to changes, but that there should be an attempt at compromise for the betterment of the city.
He suggested holding workshops where the public is invited and having a working relationship between the local government and the people.
"I don't want to take away the historic nature of the sponge docks at all, that is what made us who we are today, but we also need to realize that we must advance," Frain said.
Banther said that he believes in making modern adjustments to the sponge docks by partnering with the Merchants Association, but he is not in favor of forcing change on anyone.
Letting the business owners on the sponge docks know that the city is there to help and not hinder their success would be a point of interest from Banther's perspective.
"That's one of the two, main historic gems of Tarpon Springs, and we have to be very careful what we would do down there that would alter its appearance," Banther added.
Bouldin said he faced a similar challenge in one of his previous experiences and that unity is the answer.
Through an agreement for both areas to promote one another, Bouldin believes that a steady flow of traffic can be achieved between the two locations.
"One day I think it can be done where they truly will be working, most of them, hand in hand," Bouldin said.
Keffalas said that he attended workshops in regard to improvements on the sponge docks. He then shared his support for the business owners and their right to decide how the area should be altered, if at all.
"I think that as merchants they know probably better than what the city does what they should be doing," said Keffalas.
He added that the historic nature of Greece is alive on the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and that it's a part of the community's overall appeal.
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- Meet the Candidates: David Banther
- Meet the Candidates: Jim Bouldin
- Meet the Candidates: Tommy Frain
- Meet the Candidates: Tim Keffalas