Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who has represented District 4 since 2000, is not running for re-election. Ten candidates qualified to run for her seat, including seven Republicans, one Democrat and two independents.
Because it is a single member position, only registered voters who live in the district are eligible to vote. Because the Aug. 26 is a Republican primary for this race, only those registered as a Republican can help choose a candidate to run in the November election.
The field includes Dave Eggers, Johnny Johnson, Tim Keffalas, Wanda Kimsey, Macho Liberti, Peter Nehr and Jim Ronecker. The winner will face Democrat Mark Weinkrantz and non-party-affiliation candidates Carl Folkman and Marcus Harrison.
District 4 includes Tarpon Springs, East Lake, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Dunedin, and areas of Clearwater.
Tampa Bay Newspapers sent out a candidate questionnaire to provide readers with information to assist them with their decisions. Candidates were asked to keep their answers as short as possible.
About the candidates
Eggers, 57, lives in Dunedin. He has lived in the county for 29 years. He is married to Becky and has three children Emily, 37 and Mitchell, 34.
He has served as mayor of Dunedin since 2009 and as Dunedin City Commissioner from 2003. Since 1988, he has been the president of Centerpointe Realty. He worked for Oliver Realty/Grubb & Ellis from 1984 to 1988; US Steel, 1982 to 1984; and National Steel, 1979 to 1981.
He received a bachelor of sciences in engineering from Duke University in 1979 and a master’s in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh in 1982.
In Eggers’ list of community service, he includes serving as mayor and commission for the city of Dunedin, 10-years plus service on the Mease Manor Board of Directors, including as chairman and his service on Dunedin’s board of finance and board of adjustment and appeals. He also has been a Little League coach and umpire.
Johnson, 58, resides in Tarpon Springs. He has lived in the county for 37 years. He is married to Patricia “Trish” and they have two children, Kristin, 28, and Katherine, 22. His work history started in 1972 at Publix and continued to 1978. He started his private dentistry practice in 1985.
He graduated from Seminole High School in 1974 and attended St. Petersburg Junior College from 1974 to 1977. He graduated with honors from the University of South Florida in 1979 with a bachelor’s in chemistry. He received his D.M.D. dental degree for the University of Florida in 1984. He earned a master’s in pediatric dentistry from the University of North Carolina in 1985, as well as a certificate in pediatric dentistry. In 1979, he became a diplomate with the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry.
His list of community service items was extensive. Highlights include being a member of the YMCA Healthy Living Committee and a Forest Steward. He had helped his church and participated in charitable fundraisers. He provides custom-made mouth guards for Palm Harbor High School boys and girls basketball teams at no cost. He has been involved in several programs to bring dental care to the needy. He is a strong advocate for fluoridation.
Keffalas, 59, lives in Tarpon Springs. He has lived in the county for more than 30 years. He is married to Julie and has a 29-year-old son.
Keffalas has been self-employed cine 1997. Prior to that, he served as executive director for the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority, a federally funded public housing authority, and was responsible for grants and a budget in excess of $1 million. He has a bachelor’s in business management from Eckerd College and associates of applied science in accounting from Butler Community College, Butler Pennsylvania.
His community service includes time as a parish councilman at St. Nicholas Cathedral Greek Orthodox Church and assistant to the administrator to the Sunday school and chair of the youth committee. He also served as secretary to the Tarpon Springs American Hellenic Education Progressive Association, a nonprofit men’s organization affiliated with the church. He assists with more church festivals.
Keffalas does not have a website.
Kimsey, 59, lives in unincorporated Tarpon Springs. She moved to the county in 1974 and then moved her residence to Hillsborough County in 1981. She returned to Pinellas in 2006. She has been married to her husband, Jerry, for 40 years.
According to her resume, she has more than 30 years of experience as an administrative professional. She worked as executive assistant and administrative assistant for county commissioners for 1978 to 1997 and 2004 to 2008. She was the agenda coordinator to the county administrator from 1997 to 2004. From 2010 to present, she has worked part time as a student support specialist at St. Petersburg College in Clearwater.
Kimsey graduated from Rossville High School in Rossville, Georgia in 1972. She received a general associate’s of arts from St. Petersburg College in 2012 and completed 21 hours towards a bachelor’s of science in public policy and administration.
Her community service includes being a director on her homeowner’s association. She also is “very active with my church.” She is a member of the Top of the Bay Kiwanis Club, Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce, North Pinellas Republican Club and the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve.
Liberti, 35, lives in Palm Harbor. He has lived in the county for 15 years. He is engaged to be married. Liberti has worked as a firefighter/emergency medical technician for 11 years and at Largo Fire Rescue since 2009. He worked at Belleair Bluffs Fire Department from 2003 to 2009. He is a state-certified firefighter, EMT, fire officer and instructor.
Liberti’s community service includes various charitable efforts regarding breast cancer and other cancers. In 2013, he coordinated a fundraiser for two firefighters who were diagnosed with cancer. He is the head coach of Palm Harbor Middle School boys’ basketball team.
Nehr, 62, resides in Palm Harbor. He has lived in the county for 25 years. He is divorced and has three children, Chris, 35, Brian, 33, and Cliff, 31. He has been a small business owner for the last 25 years. He has a bachelor of arts in political science.
He lists his membership with the Rotary, Kiwanis, Tarpon Springs Historical Society, as well as time on the Tarpon Spring Commission and as a Florida State Representative as his community service.
Nehr does not have a website.
Ronecker, 49, lives in Oldsmar. He has lived in the county for 37 years. He is married to Denise and has three children, Brooke, 23; Tanner, 16; and Jordan, 10. He has worked as a mortgage loan originator for Integrity Financial Services since 2013. He has owned and operated On Demand Printing since 2005.
Other work experience includes IBF Industries and On Demand Printing from 1993 to 2004; international sales director of KBS Exports in Oldsmar, 1997 to 2002; sales director at Suda Graphics, 1990 to 1993; and Suda Graphics, 1982 to 1987. Ronecker is a graduate of Countryside High school and St. Petersburg Junior College.
His community service includes two terms on the Oldsmar City Council in 2003 and 2006. He was elected mayor in 2007 and 2010. He is chair of the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Printing Association of Florida. He serves on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Agency on Bay Management and the Pinellas Metropolitan Organization. He was named Oldsmar Citizen of the Year in 2013 and is the 2014 chairman of the Oldsmar/Safety Harbor Relay for Life.
Eggers: “I have found public service enjoyable, challenging and rewarding and feel my small business ownership and public service background will bring a unique perspective of successful experiences, fiscal prudence, and improved dialogue between the County and municipalities, all of which is needed.”
Johnson: “This is my time in life that I had set aside to give back to my community. Unfortunately, my career was ended with a bicycle accident and subsequent total fusion of my dominant right wrist. I have felt called to do this work since I became clinically disabled from practicing dentistry.
“I am a successful small businessman who grew a start-up dental office to the largest practice in North Pinellas County over the past 30 years. I have lived the American Dream. I have the time, passion, energy, and ability to be a leader and consensus builder for our county’s needs. I will bring my time, talents, and business acumen to our county and use sensible decision making processes for the future of our families.
Keffalas: “To offer an unbiased and independent voice. I did not accept any PAC money and not a member of any special interest group.”
Kimsey: “After retiring from Pinellas County Government in 2008, one of my goals was to run for county commissioner in the future. Prior to running, I wanted to return to school to obtain my degree. Over the past several years, there has been a growing concern from residents that their elected officials do not listen, and citizens are very disillusioned with their government. The public deserves better.
“My campaign is about serving the people of District 4, being accessible to the public, and listening and responding to their concerns. An important aspect of my running for Pinellas County Commission, District 4, is that I chose to file my announcement papers with the Supervisor of Elections’ office in October. This decision was based upon my passion for our county, the desire to serve the residents in our communities, and was made prior to the incumbent announcing she was not seeking re-election.
“My campaign is about serving the people, being accessible to the public, and listening and responding to their concerns. As your county commissioner, it will be my responsibility to keep you informed about issues and how they will impact individuals before policy decisions have been made.”
Liberti: “Working for local government for the last 11 years has made me more aware of government in general. Paying more attention, I noticed how agendas can be pushed instead of what may be necessarily best for the people. I decided to run for office as I feel I know what it means to serve the public and not my own interest or special interest. I believe elected officials are privileged to be elected, not elected to be privileged.”
Nehr: “To use my 10 years’ experience in public office to the benefit of my constituents.”
Ronecker: “The reason I decided to run for County Commission is that I felt there was a need to have a candidate with a decade plus worth of positive and proven government experience and someone whom is also a Pinellas County manufacturer that can bring a business perspective to the decision making process. I have had the pressure of making payroll, paying insurance, taxes and leading employees in a difficult and challenging time in our community.
“Over 40,000 businesses call Pinellas County home. Over 390,562 people are currently employed in Pinellas. Yet, there is not one small businessperson on the Commission. I have a proven resume of making things happen and getting results without raising taxes. As mayor, I led the effort to reduce taxes in Oldsmar twice while just about every form of government was looking to increase taxes, cut back spending or both. I care about our community and feel Pinellas County has enormous opportunities for growth, job creation and beautification. Pinellas needs someone who understands many businesses are continuing to struggle and families are living pay check to pay check.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Eggers: “I hope to bring a sense of improved trust and communication between county and cities and communities, to explore how the County can become greater than the sum of its parts (cities) through carefully designed visioning sessions with residents, staffs and commission leaders around the county, to continue expanding economic development opportunities through coordinated regional efforts, to improve re-development opportunities and to continue developing ways to save taxpayers money through consolidation of services.”
Johnson: “My goals are simple. Apply my extensive private world successful business experiences and fiscal responsibility to spend our tax dollars wiser for our county’s taxpayers. To deliver the same level of services and quality of life that we enjoy for less money, faster, and better than is currently done.
“To keep our county as the best place on earth to live, raise children, for visitors to come to, and a place where our grandchildren and great grandchildren will want to come back to live. Sensible solutions to our transportation challenges. Reduce Red Tape that hampers redevelopment of our aging properties and discourages businesses from expanding or moving to Pinellas. By reducing red tape, we will encourage businesses to come to Pinellas and bring jobs, higher paying jobs, to employ our workforce, which will in turn increase our tax base and land values.”
Keffalas: “To be open and seek the residents’ opinion and to keep them aware of anything going before the commission. I will do my homework and seek the input of district 4 residents when determining how to vote. I will not be influenced by special interests, past commissioners, or other political figures. I will seek to conservatively spend your tax dollars.”
Kimsey: “Regain the public’s trust in their elected officials and their government by improving communications among residents, businesses, and governmental agencies.”
Liberti: “For one, I hope to lead by example by honoring what 73 percent of the voters decided in 1996, eight is enough. I pledge to only serve two terms.
“After that, what I hope to accomplish is being a true voice for the citizens. I will personally set up a communication network to enable me to stay in touch with my constituents. This goes the same for our small business owners. By doing so, I hope to always be working towards providing what they all need.
“Last, I want to leave behind a legacy of honor and integrity while in office.”
Nehr: “Keep taxes low and improve services.”
Ronecker: “I would like to improve the business climate assisting existing business to grow as well as attracting new businesses through enhanced efforts in economic development, Work to reduce the homeless population by finding them permanent housing through better use of non-profit entities. Look for economies of scale to save money. Clean up areas to improve property values. Better, communicate with cities and residents.”
After hiring two consultants, Pinellas County does not seem any closer to solving the problem with funding for EMS. In your opinion, what should be done?
Eggers: “In the immediate a short term (one to three years to coincide with the EMS contract and/or the St. Petersburg agreement) resolution needs to be reached followed by a reevaluation of firefighter transport becoming perhaps more a part of the final solution. All numbers used for financial calculations and assumptions need to be revisited and then stakeholders reenergized and consulted.
Johnson: “First, the latest word from fire chief and fire commissioner friends of mine I’ve spoken with sounds like the current interim County Administrator is close to working out a resolution with the two groups for a short term resolution.
“On a longer term resolution, from the outside perspective that I currently possess, I see this as a business model style of resolution issue. We have a provider of funds, let’s call it the “boss,” the County Commission, that is getting advice from its CEO about a division’s performance and accountability.
“We have the division under the spotlight, in this instance, the EMS folks, who feel that their performance, accountability, and fiscal responsibility is being questioned under a microscope at every turn.
“I would encourage empowering a Fire Commission Panel that would oversee the different fire divisions. This Commission would allow autonomy to the different fire divisions to oversee their budgets and accountability. The Commission would provide for quality assurance, fiscal responsibility and accountability of their fire divisions to be reported directly back to them. Not meeting the criteria that has been set up by this Fire Commission would have consequences commiserate with the failure to meet predefined goals.
“The Fire Commission would work in tandem with the County Administrator in determining the best outcomes for underperforming fire districts, as well as rewards for those who excel in their fiscal and performance outcomes.”
Keffalas: “As an independent unbiased voice I will seek to have another study done. I believe that we need to review the EMS situation but only after we have a fresh and timely study.”
Kimsey: “Once all 18 districts have finalized their budgets and have signed interlocal agreements, I would like the county to consider researching the financial feasibility of having the fire stations provide ambulance services. While the Fitch study did an in-depth analysis of comparing Pinellas County’s EMS systems with other agencies, the idea of the fire stations providing ambulance services was not thoroughly reviewed. In my conversations with EMS and fire personnel, it has been consistently stated they could maintain the current level of excellent service if afforded the opportunity. This issue has been going on for more than ten years; it is time to decide if in fact the fire stations can provide sustainable ambulance services to the communities.”
Liberti: “First off, it is worth noting that as property values continue to rise the EMS budget will be less of an issue. For a more long-term solution, my opinion, based upon working in the Pinellas County EMS system, is we need to move towards a system of fire department based patient transports. The vast majority of the State of Florida already utilizes fire-based/government operated patient transport systems.
“Currently, Paramedics Plus (d.b.a. Sunstar) is taking a profit out of the money derived from transporting patients. If the money stayed within our EMS system, our budget issues would be nil if not completely gone. My suggestion would be to start allowing fire departments with transport capable units (rescues) to transport patients. Then, over the next three to five years, gradually phase out the private ambulance company.”
Nehr: “Complicated question, but consolidation is in the answer as well as grandfathering the old system and starting a sustainable system for new hires.”
Ronecker: “In all of my years in office, I have not heard many complaints from residents in regards to paying for emergency medical services. Therefore, I am not sure that if the great recession had not occurred we would even be having the conversation of struggling to pay for EMS services. I think one of the problems is that all of the studies that have been done to look for economies to reduce costs always try to separate fire from EMS and they should be treated as a whole. To ensure long-term success a study really needs to be done with EMS and fire considered as one entity.
“I would like to see the Fire Departments be able to transport advance life support patients and the ambulance service deal with basic life support. In doing so, there would be a savings to the taxpayer as the Fire Departments would be able to charge for the transport offsetting expenses by obtaining additional funding. Long-term solutions have to start with creating a benchmark for efficiencies in deploying resources in the most cost effective methods. Finding ways to reduce pension costs also would go a long way in assisting in the ability to afford the services people expect. Now is a good opportunity to make sure the next EMS contract about to be negotiated shows some savings with better efficiency.”
Pinellas County transit needs – is Greenlight the right solution? Please qualify your answer.
Eggers: “I believe the expanded bus system portion and BRT portion of the plan use is the right solution and believe a half a cent would have sufficed. The second part of the plan (rail) will only be a success if the first portion brings significant ridership numbers, increased densities along routes are approved by the various neighborhoods and municipalities, if communities in Hillsborough County and beyond have a rail component in their plan and if we are able to get funding in what is a very uncertain ‘grant environment.’ The current plan and agreement with Pinellas County have accountability standards (financial and operational) that will have the plan revisited with changes made if parts of the plan are not able to be implemented. That aspect and the idea of a tax swap allow me to support the plan.”
Johnson: “We have had a need for a robust transit system in Pinellas long before I moved here in 1971. Our county has grown as individual municipalities which have flowed one into the other since that time. Greenlight meets many, if not most, of our transportation challenges moving forward for the next 30 years. It is a well thought out plan that has been thoroughly vetted by Ernst & Young as a sustainable solution to our county’s transportation needs.
“The one cent sales tax increase is a fair tax. It is a true swap of a user tax for the PSTA line item on our property tax. The amount of money we will pay as residents from this penny increase will be almost, if not exactly, the same as what is taken off of our PSTA line item on our property tax. One-third of our penny sales tax increase will be paid for by our tourist industry. Tourists contribute one-third of the tax dollars paid into our tax base.
“The voters get to give the final yes or no to Greenlight. If they pass Greenlight, I will be there as a County Commissioner to make certain that the money is spent exactly as it was allocated. If it doesn’t pass, I will be there to help with planning an alternative that must meet our county’s dire needs rapidly.”
Keffalas: “No. Greenlight Pinellas will be bad. I believe that Greenlight Pinellas will cause the future failure of the Pennies for Pinellas because the negative results that will be learned once the Greenlight measure passes. In addition, this commission does not have a good history of fulfilling the obligation of referendums. It does not address the immediate needs for improvement in transportation in the five most impoverished areas of Pinellas County as defined in a 2012 Pinellas County report, the economic impact of poverty in Pinellas County.”
Kimsey: “Pinellas County has transportation problems that need to be addressed. Our roads are congested, traffic does not flow smoothly, the public transit system needs to expand their services and hours for individuals who work evening hours, and for those who are dependent on the bus system for transportation.
“Fortunately, the voters will decide if the Greenlight Pinellas plan is the best plan for the county. Before the Nov. 4, election I strongly encourage everyone to study the report, and visit the website, www.greenlightpinellas.com to determine if they believe this plan provides positive solutions to our traffic and transportation problems.
“Personally, I do not believe the current proposal is the best plan for providing transportation improvements especially for north Pinellas County. Part of the reason I do not support the Greenlight Pinellas plan is the increase in sales tax to 8 percent, which is proposed for 30 years. Furthermore the plan states, ‘... major investments in transit are expected to encourage and concentrate economic and community growth along rapid bus routes and around stations.’ Economic growth is important to all of Pinellas County, yet the plan focuses primarily on downtown Clearwater and areas south of Clearwater.
“Again, the final decision will be determined by the voters as it should be.”
Liberti: “Greenlight is not the right solution. I do not want our county to be known as ‘Florida’s little county with the highest sales tax.’ That is not a moniker a community dependent on tourism needs.
“Public transit is an issue that needs addressing. One place to start would be to better synchronization of our traffic lights. Also, embracing ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft would decrease the amount of cars on our roads.
“As for mass public transit, if we are going to have light rail in Pinellas, it should be elevated to not further hamper traffic on our roads. Also, I do not agree with the current layout of the tracks not including north Pinellas.”
Nehr: “No it is not the solution. Pinellas County residents should not be forced to pay an additional $1 million in tax revenue because of Greenlight. We would be the highest sales tax county in the state. The money to complete the light rail is not guaranteed. It would not help north Pinellas citizens and north Pinellas would be a donor community. Over 70 percent of north Pinellas District 4 voters do not want to pay for this.”
Ronecker: “I feel the county should have waited another year or two before the Greenlight referendum was placed on the ballot. This is a big step especially after Hillsborough County voters soundly rejected its transportation plans. Now we are asking our citizens to place themselves into position to pay the highest sales tax in the State of Florida.
“My concern is both federal and state funding opportunities will be limited or missed because the fact is we are not using a true regional approach required for obtaining grants. An automatic red flag should be raised that our local delegation in Tallassee and our local representatives in Washington are not endorsing the plan.
“The Greenlight plan has tremendous upside and potential to allow Pinellas to enhance quality of life issues and assist with economic development. However, without a concrete regional commitment from the other counties I have reservations. What if Hillsborough voters reject their next transportation plan?
“In waiting, a year or two Hillsborough and Pasco would have had an opportunity to piggyback off the Greenlight plan and improve the opportunity for State and Federal funding. The plan would be improved by collaboration with strategic partners.
“It would have allowed for better clarification on many of the holes as to how the service works regionally. The time is now to work as a region and both Pinellas and Hillsborough need to STOP going at it alone. The idea of merging Hart and the PSTA and creating a true regional transportation authority has more value than PSTA and Hart independently.
“Something I learned a long time ago is it only matters what the voters want not what I want. If the referendum passes, the first three things that I would work on to help ensure its implementation is I would work to get the support of our elected leaders on the State and Federal levels. I would make sure we are properly informing the cities and public on all the opportunities available for usage and strongly encourage usage for businesses, workers and tourists. Then I would help assist the Hillsborough and Pasco get their plans implemented using a more regional approach.”
Land in Pasco County – should it be sold or not and why.
Eggers: “In general I don't like the idea of selling this land and giving up control of a source of water with the uncertainties of availability of that valuable resource going forward. In short, there is no rush to make a decision to sell now. I would like to have more information regarding our long range water availability and percentage of total water consumed as provided by this area (currently not large).”
Johnson: “I’m assuming that this question refers to the water fields. If so, then no. Keep it. I am a firm believer in fiscal responsibility. However, there are many things that must be taken into account when considering our responsibilities. While we are surrounded by water, we cannot readily drink it without expensive desalinization.
“We have possession of a huge valuable natural resource, potable water. And we own the land that lies above it. Should we ever need it, we would not have to endure the water wars of yesteryear again. Yes, Tampa Bay Water is providing an excellent service to our county and surrounding counties by supplying potable water. However, I do not believe in giving up ownership of these fields unless the value to us far exceeds the return on investment for retaining these fields.”
Keffalas: “The land in Pasco should be sold and the funds dedicated to acquire other sensitive properties in Pinellas County, such as the property known as the Walmart property (74 acres) determined to be too sensitive, which is near Pasco-Pinellas border.”
Kimsey: “Selling the land known as Cross Bar/Al Bar in Pasco County should not be considered and is not in the best interest of Pinellas County taxpayers. Pinellas County has owned Cross Bar Ranch since 1976 and the Al Bar ranch since 1989. Even though Tampa Bay Water owns the wells, the property is owned free and clear by Pinellas County Government. While we do have an agreement with Tampa Bay Water, there are municipalities such as Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar that have been achieving their goals of having their own independent water supply and will no longer be dependent upon Pinellas County Utilities or Tampa Bay Water. Water is a precious commodity and the ‘ownership’ of it can be very political as is evident by the confrontation regarding the water supply between the states of Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.”
Liberti: “At this point, it doesn’t make sense to sell the land. We bought it as a fall back plan if we needed to pump the wells for additional water sources. We should keep it as such. Clean drinkable water is a precious commodity in our area. Holding on to our natural resources should be a priority. We never know what the future holds.”
Nehr: “No. There is no rush to do this and I believe we need to be sure on a big decision like this before we lose our water independence.”
Ronecker: “I believe in the next 10 years water issues will be a major issue mainly potable water supply in Florida. The question before looking to sell is, are we confident Tampa Bay Water can provide our future needs. Until that, answer is known I would not consider getting rid of the property. The wellheads can produce 30 million gallons of water a day so there is a significant source if ever needed in a time of emergency.”
Economic development – is Pinellas headed in the right direction?
Eggers: “With a commitment to tourism, business recruitment, and to preservation of land to accommodate those businesses, Pinellas is heading in the right direction. More efforts will need to be made to ensure that the many businesses that are here remain. Further, more discussion within the County to confirm strategic direction with the various municipalities along with others Counties to work on a more unified effort to attracting and maintaining businesses is necessary. Finally, more effort is needed in trying to assist businesses with less regulations and excessive and onerous fees.”
Johnson: “This is dependent upon several factors. We must reduce red tape to encourage redevelopment of properties that have reached the useful end of their life cycle. Additionally, we must look to develop our limited developable county land by encouraging small, and clean large quality businesses to locate or expand here to Pinellas. These companies would bring new jobs, and better paying jobs to our workforce.
“Transportation is the No. 1 issue that we face in Pinellas. With the passage of Greenlight, or some other transportation solution should it fail referendum, is essential to allow for mobility of our workforce to get to where the jobs are located.”
Keffalas: “When the economic downturn hit all programs seemed cut back and now we must begin the process of rebuilding areas of Pinellas County. I also believe the county should help property owners in the areas along U.S. 19 as construction proceeds by lowering taxes to those merchants and to do everything we can do to speed up the construction process.”
Kimsey: “Yes. Pinellas County has a strong Economic Development Department and we need to promote and encourage utilizing these services whenever possible. If the Proposed Property Tax Abatement for Economic Development is approved by the voters on Aug. 26, this will further assist in providing business growth and expansion within the county.
“The county commission should work to continue improving relationships with the various chambers of commerce and municipalities to find solutions to help redevelop the business districts. We need to continue to monitor the effectiveness of the Pinellas County Tax Increment Financing for the Community Redevelopment Areas located throughout the county. Also, there are major proposed changes being discussed concerning Land Development Code. It is important that before these changes are implemented, that builders, homeowner associations, and businesses thoroughly understand how these changes will impact them.
Liberti: “Generally, I believe Pinellas is doing well. My focus would be helping small businesses grow and prosper. This could be done by speaking with owners directly and also looking at what regulations are hampering small businesses.
“Downtown Palm Harbor is a perfect example of an area that has the potential to develop and grown. Businesses owners have stated reasons such as parking, lighting and overbearing code enforcement for example why downtown Palm Harbor is stagnant. Growing that area would have a direct effect on the county budget since it is unincorporated Pinellas.
“My other focus would be seeking out new businesses which offer better paying jobs willing to move into our area. Pinellas has a lot to offer with the many quaint downtown business districts and nationally recognized beaches.”
Nehr: “We need higher paying jobs and we need to pursue companies to come to Pinellas that are high tech.”
Ronecker: “The county commission should play a vital role in economic development. The first thing that should be done is make sure a new web site is created that has more modern and improved functionality. I agree with the commission’s decision to allow the voters to decide on the upcoming referendum on a program that would allow ad valorem exemptions to be given to new and existing businesses that want to expand. This encourages job creation and capital investment and allows Pinellas to be competitive both regionally and statewide.
“I do not recall a time the Pinellas community has taken a trip to recruit a business yet I hear of Hillsborough doing it all the time. We are No. 1 in the country for medical manufacturing and we have an excellent hospital system including John Hopkins one of the leading researchers in the country. Where medical manufacturing and life science come together is the life sciences industry. Pinellas has the largest blood bank in Florida. We need to be looking at Life Science as they provide great jobs that pay high.
“The commission needs to make sure funding for the Economic Development Department is appropriate enough to allow the ability to assist current businesses as well as attract and compete for new businesses. It is the businesses that pay the bulk of the freight in Pinellas and the Commission must do all it can to lead the economic development effort.
“I would propose setting up a “We Mean Business” visit program similar to what we did in Oldsmar. Where the city manager, the CEO of the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber and I (as council member and then mayor) would meet every fourth Friday of the month with three businesses plus a restaurant to find out how they are doing and discuss any issues they may be having. These visits benefited all parties from finding other business opportunities, to cutting red tape and simplifying processes.”
Homelessness and poverty – What is the best way to manage these issues?
Eggers: “Definitely the best way is with multi governmental involvement and agreement in strategy, public-private (501 c3) partnerships and more awareness of the costs to our residents if not addressed properly. Getting folks in some kind of housing, getting some basic access to care and helping folks prepare themselves for a chance of re-entry to the work force is critical if the cycle is to be broken. There is a cost to all of it and a bigger cost if not properly addresses.”
Johnson: “Homelessness: We must look to foster public and private partnerships to solve the issues of homelessness. Homelessness is a vicious cycle. Keeping families and children out of a homeless situation makes them many times less likely to fail in other areas of their lives in the future. We must work to find ways to make affordable housing and alternatives available to keep these folks off of the streets and to return them to the mainstream of society.
“Poverty: A hand-up, not a hand-out. I was born into a family who had precious little. My siblings and I are the second generation of our family that immigrated to the U.S. for the American Dream. We are also the first to go to college in our family.
“Children do not choose the family into which they are born. Almost all of us are offspring of immigrants. Most came to America with nothing. They were given the opportunity to live the American Dream. We owe it to our fellow man to give them a hand up to get out of poverty. That’s not too much to ask. Give them the opportunity to show their internal blessings and we will have a community that will be better off because of it, both in the lessening of poverty and suffering, but also from the increases in productivity of our families.”
Keffalas: “To partner with various organizations. When I was the executive director of public housing, we partnered with the Salvation Army and Pinellas County schools to house the homeless.”
Kimsey: “I support the continued operation of Safe Harbor and would like to continue working closely with the Homeless Leadership Board and their partners to ensure we are providing the best possible solutions.”
Liberti: “The best way to manage these issues is actually fixing the issue instead of just putting a Band-Aid on it. Addressing mental health and addiction would be a first step. People have to have the desire to change for it to happen. The next step would be ensuring that our system helps the homeless and poverty-stricken and is not enabling them to stay in that lifestyle. Able body people need to work and be personally responsible. The county could develop work program to have the able body people in the system cleaning and maintaining county facilities.
“As for the disabled, more assistance would be necessary. I would try to engage the private sector for assistance through charities. One area I would want to particularly address would be our homeless and disabled veterans. I would work to make certain they all get sign up for the benefits they have earned through their service to our country.”
Nehr: “We have Safe House for the homeless. That is less expensive and better than putting homeless in jail.”
Ronecker: “I am supportive of continuing the operation of Safe Harbor, as there is no question on the value it provides by lessening the impact on our overcrowded jail and assists some of the homeless who are going through tough times get back onto their feet.
“What it does not do is get to the root of the problem. We should be supporting non-profit organizations like Community Solutions that works to provide housing for the homeless while strengthening the surrounding communities. They work to transform underutilized properties into housing and community spaces. This proven approach costs far less than current responses to homelessness such as shelters and hospitals. The chronically homeless need supportive housing staffed by councilors who try to help these individuals get off drugs or alcohol and find jobs.
“This type of proactive solution allowed the city of Salt Lake to reduce their huge homeless problem to almost non-existent numbers. It would also be beneficial to work with Sen. (Jack) Latvala and Rep. (Kathleen) Peters on their efforts to increase funding through the state of Florida. In regards to Safe Harbor funding, this is a county problem and each city should pay an equitable amount based on population size, which would assist the Sheriff in not paying for the bulk of the service.”
Some believe that government’s role should be to provide only life and death necessities while others believe government should provide amenities that enhance quality of life. What’s your opinion?
Eggers: “Quality of life (capital Q) involves Public Safety, infrastructure enhancement, and economic development all add to quality of life and I believe government should absolutely have a role in providing those qualities of life. Within reason, government should also provide open space (parks and recs) and access to meeting spaces and finally government should also encourage private commitments to arts and culture by incentivizing property owners and private investment. Government needs to become a facilitator and not an impeder to bringing willing ‘partners’ to the table.”
Johnson: “When did those two become mutually exclusive? Your house is on fire. The Fire/EMS services are dispatched. You are saved from your burning home and your house saved from total destruction. That is a life and death necessity. It is also an enhancement to your quality of life.
“My 91-year-old father broke his hip in a fall three days before Christmas last year. This was not a life and death situation. He was in extreme pain and could not move. The Fire/EMS and Sunstar services came to his aid. They provided comfort, medications for pain, and transportation to the hospital. After surgery and rehabilitation, he is once again driving his 2013 Chevy Camaro.
“Was my father’s situation life and death? No. Not immediately. Was it an amenity? Not to me, him, or my family and friends. Did this non-life and death amenity enhance his quality of life? You’re darned tooting it did. So again, I ask, where do you draw the line?
“These are the tough decisions that we make as County Commissioners. What is considered life and death and what are considered amenities that enhance quality of life. That’s what you elect us for. That’s where my training and business acumen will be a huge benefit to me and to the residents of our county.”
Keffalas: “Government should generally only provide life and death necessities, security, education and more. I believe parks and other amenities should be managed better and be kept cleaner and promoted internationally to attract tourists.”
Kimsey: “I believe the county should be involved in providing necessities and providing or assisting quality of life services for our citizens. Obviously, necessities such as police, fire, roads, etc., take precedent. Quality of life issues such as the Pinellas Trail and county parks are an asset to our citizens and should be considered when funding is available.
“Quality of life assets can be a joint effort between the county, cities, the state, and in some cases a combination of local businesses and organizations for funding.”
Liberti: “I absolutely believe a government’s budget should be prioritized. Essential services or life and death necessities should have top priority. The next priority is maintaining an attractive community for new residents and businesses to keep our economy going. As for enhancing quality of life beyond that, I would want to pursue some input from the community.”
Nehr: “Government role is to provide services we as a people cannot provide for ourselves. We need fire and police departments and we need a department to keep our food safe etc. I am all for giving people a hand when they need it but not permanent welfare or assistance.”
Ronecker: “This would be dependent on what form of government you are talking about federal, state, county, city? I will say the No. 1 role in government is to provide public safety.”
In your opinion, what is the No. 1 problem the commission will face in the near future and what should be done about it.
Eggers: “Ongoing Public Safety issues relating to health and welfare, fire and EMS and Sheriff departments. Access to physical and mental health care for the less advantaged/homeless and finding funds to deliver experienced Sheriff’s personnel along with a sustainable Fire and EMS services.”
Johnson: “The No. 1 issue that we face in Pinellas is Transportation. Greenlight has addressed many of these issues. If it passes in November, our problems will begin to be addressed immediately. If Greenlight does not pass, transportation will remain our No. 1 problem. As a County Commissioner, we will have to pick up the pieces of our transportation system of roads and public transit and work rapidly on a workable plan that will address these problems.”
Keffalas: “The budget is approaching $2 billion; it is difficult to pick one problem. I do believe the water issue will ultimately be a major issue in the county but for now most cities in north county will no longer be buying water from the county, which will impact water revenues in Pinellas.”
Kimsey: “One of the most important issues that need to be addressed in the near future involves Emergency Medical Services. The ambulance contract expires in 2015 and the contract will be rebid. While Pinellas County has one of the best EMS systems in the country, taxpayers will not accept continual rate increases.
“After all 18 districts have finalized their budgets and signed interlocal agreements; I would like us to seriously consider looking into the feasibility of having the fire stations provide ambulance services. In my conversations with EMS and fire personnel, it has been consistently stated they could maintain the current level of excellent service if afforded the opportunity, and it would be economically sustainable to the taxpayers.”
Liberti: “Beach renourishment. We need to make sure funds are allocated to maintain our beautiful beaches. Our beaches are the number driving force for the tourism that Pinellas County receives. When the federal dollars dry up, it will be left to the State and the local municipalities to care for and preserve our beaches.”
Nehr: “There are lots of problems not just one: transportation, water, waste management, environment etc. We will keep open discussions regarding these items and keep working to resolve them.”
Ronecker: “As The economy, rebounds and property values increase creating additional revenues the county needs to focus on quality of life issues that may have taken a back seat. Obviously, the big issue of transportation and economic development remain major issues and there are plenty of issues that need focus. One of our best ways we can reinvest is to look at quality of life issues.
“We need to resolve the issues with the Bayside Health Campus. This would serve the county’s indigent population and supplement care provided by the Mobile Medical Unit. It will also include behavioral counseling services. This investment saves money in the long term as when we can proactively provide primary and behavioral care emergency calls and hospital visits drop and costs decrease.
“The second area where investment can create immediate improvement is the five at risk communities that have already been identified by the Board of County Commissioners. In these communities, 16 percent were living below the poverty level and account for 45 percent of the county’s total low-income population. These five areas were responsible for 57 percent of all arrested adults and 59 percent of arrested youths. The area accounts for 40 percent of all foreclosures with a 16 percent unemployment rate. These five communities are East Tarpon Springs, North Greenwood, Highpoint, Lealman Corridor and South St. Petersburg.
“These areas have been identified of having lack of transportation, limited access to food, lower educational attainment, limited access to health care, inadequate and insufficient housing. This impact in Pinellas County cost an estimated $2.5 billion a year. By investing in the implementation of strategic initiatives will greatly improve these neglected areas, decrease crime and promote better healthy living.
“The third item that needs re-investment is our county parks. Due to cutbacks over the last several years, the parks have noticeably deteriorated and need to be more frequently maintained and enhanced. Pinellas County has some of the most beautiful parks and they need to be a showcase for our resident and visitors to enjoy.”
What makes you the best candidate?
Eggers: “Being a small business owner for 29 years and public servant for 11 years working alongside residents and community leaders, having the necessary temperament to work with others for compromise and to challenge the status quo when needed and having the knowledge derived from my engineering and business degrees and working with organizations with senior and business issues all make me uniquely qualified to become the next County Commissioner for District 4.”
Johnson: “I have been without financial means in my life. I have worked to help put myself through college. I have started a successful small business with no patients and grown it into the largest practice in North Pinellas County. I know how to keep a company moving forward, profitable, and co-workers happy. The average tenure of my co-workers is 18 years.
“I understand how to work with everyone to build collaboration and to form a consensus opinion. I will bring my time, talents, abilities, tireless efforts, and passion to the County Commission to make our county remain the great place that it is now, and for decades to come.”
Keffalas: “I am an unbiased candidate and I will work hard to serve the people and I will seek input from the voters not PACs and I will work hard to be honest and will be a much needed conservative voice.”
Kimsey: “Having worked 30 years for two Pinellas County Commissioners and three Pinellas County Administrators, no other candidate has my distinct work history and first-hand experience of listening and responding to the concerns of residents.
“I will serve the people of Pinellas County by improving citizen communications by listening and responding to their concerns. I have been working a grassroots campaign and walking different neighborhoods throughout District 4. During these walks, hundreds of individuals have shared their opinions, their concerns, and their views about issues facing Pinellas County Government. One common theme has been they are frustrated that their elected officials do not listen to them, and they are disillusioned with their government.
“Improving communications among residents, businesses and governmental agencies is a priority of mine. This key ingredient is crucial to restoring trust and improving relationships with citizens and enhancing business partnerships throughout the county. As your county commissioner, I will hold monthly ‘Chats with Wanda’ throughout the communities to ensure citizens have opportunities to express their views and ask questions about issues. With more than three decades of experience, I know and understand the operations of Pinellas County Government.
“My enthusiasm for solving problems and my passion for our county will bring a fresh perspective to issues Pinellas County is facing. As your county commissioner, I will be an effective communicator and leader working for and serving you – I will listen to you!”
Liberti: “Acknowledging the many voters of District 4 I have spoken with, I have been told the next county commissioner should be a fiscal conservative and be more of a representative of the people. I have also heard the voters want to keep more of their money in their pockets as well as be assured that their emergency medical services are there when they need them and in a timely manner. Last but not least, the voters are still expressing that they want term limits.
“The voters of District 4 should elect me for Pinellas County Commission as I feel I best represent what I have heard they want and need. I am a fiscal conservative and being a representative of the people will be my first priority. I oppose Greenlight Pinellas and the tax increase that goes along with it which would cause our county to be labeled as ‘the county with the highest sales tax in the State of Florida.’ I oppose cuts to our emergency medical services as long as we still have a private ambulance company taking profits out of our county’s EMS system. Last but not least, I pledge to honor the vote of the people that “eight is enough” and only serve two terms. I am not a polished politician nor do I intend on making a career out of politics. I want to get elected, effectuate some change and then step aside.”
Nehr: “My 10 years’ experience in public office and my passion for helping people who cannot help themselves.”
Ronecker: “I have a proven resume of making things happen and getting results without raising taxes. As Mayor, I led the effort to reduce taxes in Oldsmar twice while just about every form of government was looking to increase taxes, cut back spending or both. I care about our community and feel Pinellas County has enormous opportunities for growth, job creation and beautification. Pinellas needs someone who understands many businesses are continuing to struggle and families are living pay check to pay check.
“I will continue to use a common sense approach, have no hidden agendas and use my business leadership experience to make the right decisions for Pinellas County. The answers are not increasing taxes or kicking the can down the road.”
Updateded to include Eggers answer about Pasco land.