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Candidates Q&A

Candidates Q&A

The races for two Alachua County Commission seats are hotly contested, with candidates taking differing positions on economic issues.

The races are as follows:

In District Two, Democrats Harvey Ward and Lee Pinkoson, the current commission chairman, oppose each other in the August primary election. The winner will face write-in candidate Harold Patterson in the November election.

In District Four, Democrats Ken Cornell and Kevin Thorpe face each other in the primary, and Republican John Martin is opposed by Lucas Jewell. The winners will face each other in November.

Business in the Heart of Florida asked the candidates who have been most active in campaigning to answer five questions that are important to our readers.

 

 

Harvey Ward, Democrat, District Two

What is your position on the sector plan on Plum Creek’s lands, and why do you hold that position?

I’ve met extensively with people on both sides of the “Envision Alachua” debate, and I’ve chosen to stand by the county’s comprehensive plan. There is a great deal of emotion wrapped up in this Plum Creek proposal — on both sides — but I don’t see the concrete reality of jobs in their plan. I do not oppose the changes requested near Hawthorne, but the bulk of the Plum Creek plan is not something I can support.

 

How would you address income disparity and underemployment?

 The first thing I would do is support adding more — and more efficient — bus routes to underserved, economically challenged neighborhoods of the county, particularly on the outskirts of Gainesville. Helping our neighbors get from where they are to where the jobs are is the most basic thing county government can do to address this issue. Also, as one of the largest employers in the county, county government needs to carefully address compensation for its employees.

 

Do you favor the one-cent tax referendum for transportation funding?

Yes. The county is in desperate need of funding to fix our roads. This will not fix the entire backlog of repairs (it will address about 25 percent of the problem), but it is a start. I do have concerns about the county’s list of road priorities, as the east side of the county is drastically underrepresented.

 

Do you see opportunities to reduce redundancy by consolidating some county and city services?

I understand the interest in consolidating services, but I am skeptical that efficiencies can actually be reached without sacrificing service to our people and affecting the character of both city and county neighborhoods.

 

Do you believe that the county can do more to provide economic incentives to expand the innovation-based economy?

I believe the best thing government — particularly county government — can do to expand economic opportunity is to invest in infrastructure. If we provide good roads, smart transit, and bike (and) pedestrian alternatives, that will be the first step in attracting business.

 

Lee Pinkoson, Democrat, District Two

What is your position on the sector plan on Plum Creek’s lands, and why do you hold that position?

After consultation with the county attorney, I don’t want to state something that may jeopardize my ability to participate in the hearings or, worse, do something to potentially invalidate an action the commission takes.

Issues that I believe are important to consider are:

  • Economic development for the eastern side of the county
  • Water consumption utilized with the currently authorized land-use pattern compared to water usage with the changes being requested.
  • Is the plan comprehensive, including the entire holdings?

 

How would you address income disparity and underemployment?

We lack the mix of broad-based job opportunities. We need more jobs for those without Ph.D.s and masters — jobs (for those without advanced degrees) paying enough to support those individuals and their families. The commission has participated in the Qualified Target Industries program, resulting in jobs and millions of dollars in capital projects.

(Also), making sure our children are ready to learn when they start school. If they aren’t, catching up is almost impossible.

 

Do you favor the one-cent tax referendum for transportation funding?

Yes — unfortunately, existing dollars will never address the problem. The initiative has something for all modes of transportation.

The sales tax raises a substantial amount of money and anywhere from 25 to 33 percent comes from people outside the county. If this doesn’t pass, the only other source is property taxes, and that is an option not particularly palatable.

Safeguards are in place to ensure the money goes where it has been promised.

 

Do you see opportunities to reduce redundancy by consolidating some county and city services?

Yes. I have brought up consolidation of planning, fire services and even law enforcement while on the board. As you will hear about in the next few weeks regarding fire delivery, sometimes the actions taken are different than they would have been had the decision been made based upon what was actually best for the public. I am not opposed to examining this issue.

 

Do you believe that the county can do more to provide economic incentives to expand the innovation-based economy?

The county has been active in providing incentives where we can afford them. The commission asked the chamber to examine our policies and the way we conduct business and to examine what we do well and what could be improved. I await the report and hope the board takes steps to implement changes, which might improve our customer service or efficiency.

The county hopes to create an industrial area, and since the county lacks industrial space, it could be a real benefit.

 

Ken Cornell, Democrat, District Four

 

What is your position on the sector plan on Plum Creek’s lands, and why do you hold that position?

I have significant concerns about the plan that the Plum Creek corporation is presenting. Our comprehensive plan has been built to ensure the long-term prosperity of our entire community. Our plan encourages compact growth around our existing cities and rural areas for job creation, enhances our communities and neighborhoods and protects our public health and natural resources. Our comprehensive plan allows for Alachua County to grow up to 600,000 residents while protecting our wetlands and strategic ecosystem. Plum Creek is asking for special treatment that local businesses don’t get to increase the value of its land, which is primarily located in Alachua County’s strategic ecosystem. Plum Creek’s plan for the Windsor tract is the definition of urban sprawl and would take investment away from our current cities and services.

 

How would you address income disparity and underemployment?

While our unemployment rate in Alachua County has been steadily declining, this recovery has not been shared by all. At the same time, the costs for basic needs of our citizens, like food, utilities, housing and health care, have been steadily rising. According to city-data.com, unemployment in zip code 32641 exceeds 17 percent. With more than 84 percent of the population over the age of 25 seeking employment without college degrees in this zip code, we need to address the need for real living-wage jobs, and this starts with education. We should invest in our children, both before and after school, to provide them with the skills and support they need to ultimately enter the workforce. Like programs provided by the Boys & Girls Club, the Reichert House, the Early Learning Coalition — programs like the weekend hunger backpack program and so many more. In addition, we should invest in additional infrastructure services that support income disparity, like better bus routes and more frequent headways in areas that serve our underemployed population. Providing real jobs with qualified citizens is how we address income disparity and underemployment.

 

Do you favor the one-cent tax referendum for transportation funding?

It’s clear that we are behind on maintaining and investing in our road infrastructure. The best way to address this shortfall would be with the permission and support of Alachua County voters. The current sales tax proposal is a good, common-sense solution for this problem, and if passed by the voters, I will use my skills as a certified public accountant to work with the citizens oversight advisory committee to make sure these funds are spent in the most efficient and effective way possible. If the voters do not support this referendum, on the commission, I will continue listening to the citizenry and work to collaborate and cooperate with our other elected officials and private organizations to put a proposal on the ballot that will address the transportation concerns of our entire community.

 

Do you see opportunities to reduce redundancy by consolidating some county and city services?

The county government and governments of our cities and towns have different focuses and different priorities. Home rule for our cities and towns doesn’t just protect the individuality and interests of our diverse county — it also ensures that each city and town has the chance to raise and spend money according to what their residents think is best.

I would only be in support of consolidation if municipalities express interest in consolidating services with the county and it would both save money and earn public support.

 

Do you believe that the county can do more to provide economic incentives to expand the innovation-based economy?

The primary reason for the success of the innovation economy and the growth of Alachua County’s small business startups is collaboration. Projects like Innovation Square are only possible when local government works as a team with our biggest employers. On the commission, I’ll make sure the county government isn’t alone in investing in our local economy and build partnerships within the community.

 

Kevin Thorpe, Democrat, District Four

 

What is your position on the sector plan on Plum Creek’s lands, and why do you hold that position?

See Also

 I support the Plum Creek sector plan application. I am a proud member of the task force, and I support the application for the following (reasons): 1. It is a plan. An Alachua County landowner has made an application for land use changes for property that it currently owns. All landowners have this right and should continue to be treated by county staff as such. 2. Plum Creek has used an approach to developmental planning that should be viewed as a model for other developers. They have partnered with county staff, a broad spectrum of community, professional (and) educational partners and, most importantly, local residents in the shaping of the project. 3. We should also be reminded that the dialog concerning the future use of the Plum Creek landholdings in Alachua County was initiated by the county and not by the landowner. In light of conservation, for the county to ask Plum Creek to take their acreage and place it into perpetual conservation is a noble request. However, it is equally as noble for the landowner to submit a community-based plan that addresses conservation, education, and economic progress and empowerment. 4. The application will continue to undergo a vigorous vetting process involving county building and growth department and environmental protection staff, the board of county commissioners, state environmental protection, citizen input and a final decision made by the board of county commissioners. I support this process.

 

How would you address income disparity and underemployment?

County government can no longer afford to leave these issues in the hands of the private sector alone. We must adopt an approach similar to the City of Alachua’s approach as it relates to employing its citizens from the GED to the Ph.D. We should participate in the aggressive courtship of companies that can produce clean, high-tech products that can result in light manufacturing, assembly and or distribution. The specific skill sets required for these jobs should be identified early and infused into the curriculum of the county public school system. This will create paths of living wage employments to young people who may or may not be college bound. Studies in cities such as Huntsville, Ala., have shown that this type of partnership will actually decrease dropout rates by providing an economic incentive for students who would otherwise end their educational pursuits prematurely.

 

Do you favor the one-cent tax referendum for transportation funding?

I do. With nearly a half-billion-dollar backlog of roads and infrastructure improvement, we’ve got to start somewhere. The fact that consumers passing through our county will also contribute to the initiative is an added bonus.

 

Do you see opportunities to reduce redundancy by consolidating some county and city services?

Absolutely. We must look at these opportunities as a long-term opportunity to reduce both the size and cost of government.

Do you believe that the county can do more to provide economic incentives to expand the innovation-based economy?

The University of Florida receives, reportedly, in excess of 700 million dollars annually in research funding. The City of Gainesville touts that we have the highest concentration per capita of high-tech incubators in the nation. Through the process of using “qualified target industry,” or QTIs, for all levels of employment, we can foster an economy that is not only fair to its existing citizens but attractive to future companies and business partners.

 

John Martin, Republican, District Four

 

What is your position on the sector plan on Plum Creek’s lands, and why do you hold that position?

I am in general support of Plum Creek’s plan. I admit to having some level of bias as it appears to help my hometown of Hawthorne. In general their plan is the best I have seen at combining economic development with private capital and permanent conservation of large amounts of land. Before I can say exactly how I would vote I would need to see what the final plan looks like.
As for the current comp plan I would have to see how the final plan looks but, the current comp plan separated the east side of the county with environmental overlays which I believe went too far and diminished private property rights of land owners in eastern Alachua County. The question is not “if” this land will be developed but how since the current comp plan would allow 1,000’s of homes now each with their own well and septic.

 

How would you address income disparity and underemployment?

The best way to combat income disparity and underemployment is through education. In whatever capacity I could I would work closely with employers through organizations like the chamber to find out what skills were needed and with the various educational systems to make sure we were training and educating our citizens to match the demand. I would look at the disincentives for job growth such as high taxes, fees and utility rates and try and lesson them.

 

Do you favor the one-cent tax referendum for transportation funding?

No. The financial backlog in road repair may in fact be too deep to overcome with existing revenues, but until the majority of Commissioners show they believe road repair is a core service and part of their basic jobs I will not support additional taxes.

  1. The commission could demonstrate the above in several ways. But more and consistent general fund revenue towards roads.
  2. When tax revenues go up dedicate a portion of that increase directly to transportation infrastructure.
  3. During the next budget cycle commit to rolling back property taxes and equivalent amount equal or close to the amount generated by the sales tax.

 

Do you see opportunities to reduce redundancy by consolidating some county and city services?

I support the unification of services were cost savings and increased efficiency of service can be demonstrated and believe if unification is done with law enforcement it would have to come under the Constitutional office of Sheriff.

 

Do you believe that the county can do more to provide economic incentives to expand the innovation-based economy?

The county needs to do more to eliminate the disincentives to business growth county wide not just for innovation. These disincentives include high taxes, fees and stifling regulations along with high utility rates. The county and city patted themselves on the back for fast tracking Innovation Square but this implies there is a slow track for everyone else. If we do it for one we should do it for all.

 

 

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