Candidates for Largo Commission Seat 4 are Robert Hunsicker, left, and Jaime Robinson.
LARGO – The primary difference between the two candidates for Largo commission Seat 4 lies in their level of contentment with the city government.
James “Jamie” Robinson, a lifetime Largo resident and manager at the local store Largo Feed and Garden Supply, believes the city is headed in the right direction.
“We just need to continue to go in that direction,” he said. “Money is a big issue right now for everybody. With what they’ve been able to do with what they’ve had, I think (the commission) is doing a pretty good job.”
Robert “Bob” Hunsicker, a self-employed engineering consultant and 25-year Largo resident, said he had a different reason for running for office.
“I think the city has lost sight of the basics, so I wanted to bring it back to police, fire, sewer and solid waste,” he said. “The city is raising taxes and fees and giving us less.”
Both candidates would like to see the city hire more public safety personnel, specifically adding back the three firefighter positions that were eliminated in this year’s budget.
“I think the greatest challenge right now is trying to get staffing levels back to where they need to be. The fire and police are definitely low,” said Robinson.
Hunsicker emphasized a need for four firefighters to staff each fire engine. An engine staffed with Largo’s current contingent of three firefighters has to wait for a fourth firefighter to fight a fire from inside a building, per federal regulations.
Hunsicker was not in favor of recent tax rate increase, which came coupled with overall budget reductions. Robinson said the increase in the tax rate, also called a millage rate, was necessary.
“They’ve raised millage so the budget should be where it needs to be to continue to have all the services we provide now,” he said. “Once we get that straight, we can work on getting the firemen and police staffing where they need to be.”
In general, Hunsicker said the city had “an overspending problem.” While he wouldn’t do away with any department, he said the city needed a greater focus on police, fire and the upgrading of its sewer system.
“We may have to cut down on some of the vaudeville acts at the (Largo) Culture Center,” he said.
Hunsicker also recommended leasing out the city-owned golf course to “professionals that know what they’re doing” as another cost-saving measure.
In contrast, Robinson said that part of the city’s job is to balance public safety issues with amenities that attract and retain new residents and businesses, such as parks and recreation centers.
“Raising my family in Largo, it definitely gives me a different perspective, as far as knowing how much parks and rec centers are used and how much enjoyment people get out of them,” he said.
Robinson, his wife Scarlett and their daughters, ages 4 and 12, use the city’s recreational facilities as much as possible. His youngest daughter’s favorite activity is riding the train at Largo Central Park, he said.
“When you can go down and see five or six thousand people in the park on the weekends because the trains are there … it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.
Hunsicker has made the opening of the Southwest Recreation Complex pool and Largo library on Sundays part of his campaign. Robinson, however, said that while “those are things that are great,” the city “can’t afford to do it.”
Hunsicker and his wife Christel of 44 years, who have three children and four grandchildren, have lived in the same home in Largo for the last 25 years.
“When we moved here 25 years ago, I think the city was more affordable. They provided a high level of service at reasonable cost. But they have become less efficient,” he said.
One of the major changes that needs to occur is an upgrade of the city’s sewer system in the older northwest part of the city, Hunsicker said. He pointed to the odor problem the residents at Paradise Island Mobile Home Park have dealt with for 17 years as an example.
“The sewer system really needs to be upgraded,” he said. “I can’t even get a number on how bad the problem is.”
The city recently began $10,000 in improvements to specifically address the problem at Paradise Island and Fairview Village
Hunsicker also said the city is out of touch with the business community, some of whom are “intimidated by the city.”
“The businesses have been abused horribly,” he said. “The bureaucrats at Community Development don’t understand business. They’re not bad people, but they don’t have a clue.”
To address the problem, Hunsicker proposes assigning, on a rotating basis, a city staff person to act as a direct contact and guide to each business person seeking a city permit or approval. His plan wouldn’t involve hiring anyone new, but utilizing existing personnel.
“I’m just proposing that they adopt an accountable system where one person will shepherd each of the businesses through that maze,” he said. “We could cut the time it takes to open a restaurant by two-thirds.”
Robinson said his management style is different than Hunsicker’s.
“Sometimes you have to make a decision, but I don’t think you can go in there bull-headed and try to tell people, ‘This is how it’s going to be, every single time’ and expect to get anything accomplished,” Robinson said. “I don’t think that’s a way you can manage a business or manage a city. I think that you need to be able to work with the people in the city to build a consensus.”
Robinson said he thought the city could be more business-friendly, “a little bit more understanding in what’s going on out in the street.” He said a more reactive attitude could help. But he doesn’t think the city is holding businesses back from thriving.
“Running a business, you get to understand that you try to do as much as you can to please everybody, but you can’t do it,” he said.
In contrast to Hunsicker, who cites several stories of complaints from businesses and residents, Robinson said he hasn’t talked to anybody with any major complaints with the city of Largo.
“The ones that really pay attention to the city and know what’s going on, I think that they like Largo,” he said. “It’s just a good place to raise a family, to run a business.”
The two candidates are hoping to fill Seat 4, currently held by retiring Commissioner Gigi Arntzen. Robinson is making his first run for public office.
“I thought I could get out and help. I’ve always been told to not complain about something if you’re not helping to fix it,” he said.
Hunsicker came in second against incumbent Commissioner Harriet Crozier in 2008.