District 2 candidates list issues
By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA PALMS -- Primary elections are less than three months away, and Hillsborough County Commission candidates for District 2 have been pounding the pavement across New Tampa, articulating their vision for a community that has grown from a woody swamp to a sprawling suburb in less than a decade.
Five Republicans, one Democrat and one independent candidate have filed for the Sept. 10 primary to fill the seat that represents most of northern Hillsborough.
At a Flag Day celebration in Tampa Palms last week, all seven, dressed mostly in patriotic red, white and blue, introduced themselves to a crowd of roughly 90 parents and kids. Most avoided political stump speeches, but in a series of subsequent interviews they offered a glimpse of their political priorities, if elected.
Jim Davison and Rod Gaudin keyed on roads, Will Craig and Denise Layne on growth management, and Ken Hagan, Ron Dyser and Denise Lasher discussed the need for better cooperation between local governments.
With a few exceptions, the candidates did not present voters with a plate full of new ideas. Instead, they pledged to better manage the ideas that have already been served.
Two major transportation projects -- construction of an east-west road and the widening of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard -- are already being studied, but some candidates are arguing that the roads must be built sooner.
The county has discussed building another regional park similar to the 40-acre park near the Freedom High and Liberty Middle School plot in Tampa Palms. Nearly all the candidates said they wanted to ensure the park's completion.
Critics have accused the current county commission of petty infighting and poor cooperation with surrounding local governments. A few candidates promised to return civility to the board, and all tout themselves as consensus-builders.
For New Tampa residents, roads are the issue that comes up most often in what-can-you-do-for-me conversations.
The city is in the sixth month of a 30-month study of the construction impact an east-west road would have on the area. The road would connect New Tampa to Interstate 275, but construction is unlikely to begin until at least 2006.
Dyser, Gaudin, Hagan and Davison said the road needs to be built sooner.
"We're taking too long getting the transportation needs up to par," said Gaudin, who has not registered for a primary and considers himself "co-partisan."
Expediting the project's time line will be challenging if not impossible, however. The road will be built with state and city dollars, but the project's guidelines, set by the U.S. Department of Transportation, are inflexible.
Ron Gregory, a senior vice president with URS Corp. assisting the city on the east-west road, said the most that could be shaved off the 30-month study is a couple of months.
Davison mentioned the need for "another east-west road" that would cut through the Live Oak and K-Bar Ranch properties at the northern edge of Hillsborough County to ease congestion along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
A road is planned through Live Oak, but it will be gated, restricting access to residents. Davison wants to convince the developers to open that road to all motorists.
Everyone but Gaudin, who is from Lutz, mentioned the need for more parks. But none was specific about where those parks should be located or exactly how big they should be.
The city has only five acres of park space bordering the west side of Interstate 75 in Area 3 of Tampa Palms. Currently, Hillsborough County officials are in discussion with Live Oak developers about how much land they might be able to buy with $1.5 million.
Lasher, a Republican from Lutz, said a cluster of small parks that parents can drive between easily is the best approach. The facilities should be built and shared equally by the city and the county.
"Maybe one puts in the land and the other one puts in the park system and operates it," she said.
Craig, a Republican from Carrollwood, said he was "pretty comfortable" with the facilities already planned and that the city and county need to follow through on their promises.
One facility that is desperately needed to serve Pebble Creek and Cross Creek, said Davison, a Republican from Hunter's Green, is a two-bay fire station with a paramedic ambulance.
The building and the vehicles would cost about $3-million to open and about $1-million a year to operate. He said $500,000 could come from an existing account of Hillsborough County impact fees. The rest of the money could come from Community Investment Tax revenue, but Davison did not elaborate.
All the candidates agreed that better cooperation between the city, the county and other local governments would be the key to handling New Tampa's lightning-fast growth.
Layne, a Republican candidate from Lutz, said New Tampa is no longer the "livable, workable, walkable" community that its original planners had conceived.
She said developers need to recruit doctors' offices and business complexes instead of restaurants and retail stores.
"The residents are white-collar professionals, but the area has only created jobs that pay $6 and $7 an hour," she said.
A recent report card issued by the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce gave the county a D for its handling of growth management.
Craig said a smarter growth plan for New Tampa would mean lower-density developments instead of more apartment complexes that clog roadways and use up the area's precious water.
Hagan, a Republican candidate from Cross Creek, said he got into the race in part because he was "sick and tired of reading about the current county commission that can't seem to get along and get anything done."
One such issue is getting reclaimed water up to New Tampa. City and county officials have been at an impasse on terms.
Dyser, a Democrat from Carrollwood, said implementing a reclaimed water system for northern Hillsborough County would be his top priority.
The financing of such a system is scheduled to begin next year at a total cost of $45 million to $47.5 million, said City Council Member Charlie Miranda, who is also a mayoral candidate.
So far about $32.5 million would be covered by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Pasco County government. Dyser did not say where the rest of the money would come from.
In their speeches to New Tampa voters, a few candidates also touched on what they said was the ineffectiveness of those already in office.
Hagan made this promise to the Flag Day crowd: "The only thing I'll promise you is that once I am elected I'll bring a strong sense of civility and leadership to the board that is desperately needed."
-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at email@example.com
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