Maria Lowe is challenging the incumbent Steve McFarlin for the job of St. Pete Beach mayor
ST. PETE BEACH – Over the next few weeks voters will be making a decision as to whom the next mayor of St. Pete Beach will be.
Incumbent Steve McFarlin faces challenger Maria Lowe when voters go to the poll on March 11.
The Beach Beacon asked the two candidates a series of questions designed to help voters make a better decision on Election Day.
• Maria Lowe
Marital status: Married to Gerald Lowe. Age: 37. Education: High school, Woodward Academy, College Park, Ga.; Bachelor of Science, United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.; Masters of Business Administration, George Washington University. Number of years in St. Pete Beach: 1 year, 7 months. “After carrying our potted plant roots around the globe for military service, our family firmly planted roots in St. Pete Beach when my husband retired from the Navy,” Lowe said. Activities/Employment: Community volunteer and homemaker after 15 years working for the U.S. Army as a platoon leader, company commander, chief of advanced civil education and systems engineer; Pass-A-Grille Women’s Club, Disabled American Veterans.
• Steve McFarlin
Marital Status: Divorced. Age: 57. Education: High school and St. Petersburg Junior College graduate, various General Motors training programs. Number of years in St. Pete Beach: 20 years. Acivities/Employment: Former president and majority stockholder of Dew Cadillac, co-chairman of the St. Pete Beach Board of Adjustments and current mayor of St. Pete Beach.
Why should the residents of St. Pete Beach elect you mayor?
LOWE: My education and work experience are unique and relevant. I have a history of proven leadership. The residents of St. Pete Beach are well educated and well informed. They deserve a Mayor who will lead an open city government that encourages community participation through Blue Ribbon Committees, Town Halls, and Workshops with the Commission. We have critical decisions before us regarding wastewater management overhaul, and our capital improvement projects like roads and reclaimed water. Good government includes residents having a voice and I want to be a leader who welcomes citizen involvement.
McFARLIN: With over 50 years residency in the St. Pete Beach area, I have a complete first-hand comprehension of our city, its people and their needs versus the 17-month residency of my opponent. During my first term, I have demonstrated my ability and willingness to address serious issues that affect this community. Reigniting the Bayway Bridge project at no direct cost to our taxpayers, a merger with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office saving us millions of dollars going forward and increasing police presence, repealed the ordinance approving red-light cameras to be installed, reduced taxes while appropriating a record amount into funding for our long overdue road and infrastructure projects that will be initiated this year.
What are the biggest issues the city faces in the next two years?
LOWE: Litigation that impacts our city comprehensive plan and rebuilding our infrastructure.
McFARLIN: Certainly the National Flood Insurance program is one that affects us all, both in premium amounts and property values. Also, our aging infrastructure and ending the ongoing lawsuits.
What is your stance on these issues and how would you approach them?
LOWE: Embrace the judge’s decision and seek inclusiveness to prevent further litigation. Community engagement with clear communication about the infrastructure problems and their solutions.
McFARLIN: On the National Flood Insurance issue, I have been chosen to serve with the Pinellas County Commission in an effort to take our concerns nationally with hopes of bringing this to a sustainable and affordable conclusion. We are addressing the infrastructure issue daily. This includes stormwater, wastewater and inferior roadways. On the legal front, we now have settled many of the issues and are awaiting the court’s ruling on an appeal to a previous court decision.
What are your thoughts on Corey Avenue redevelopment?
LOWE: Our city invested almost $300,000 to hire the Baker Group of city planning engineers to study the downtown district and propose quality utilization of our city resources. The results are due in March, which will guide our city in good redevelopment efforts in this district. As mayor, I will support our residents and business owners by creating a path to sound redevelopment that is progressive and productive. To be successful, we need to purposefully set the tone for meaningful dialog that invites public participation and develops strong public-private partnerships.
McFARLIN: This redevelopment is paramount for the entire water-to-water district. Many issues will be addressed, including eliminating some of our areas of concern, increasing our tax base and revitalizing the unique old downtown feeling that existed here for many years. We can create not only a great destination area for visitors but at the same time provide our residents with many new amenities.
What are your thoughts on what should be done with the city’s former police station?
LOWE: I would most like to see proposals for the former police station that create revenue for the city. The building is paid in full, so it could be a real moneymaker for our city with the right tenant and lease agreement. The city invested in a consultant to provide expert engineering advice on how to use city resources to maximize the benefit for the residents. The review includes the utilization of the police station. Our city should continue to be patient in finding the right use as we invite resident suggestions for the space in addition to the expert advice.
McFARLIN: Currently, we are in talks with a group that is proposing the site to be used as an aquarium attraction. We are awaiting their feasibility results with the hopes of going forward. The community has shown strong support for this conceptual proposal.
What are your thoughts on finding ways to finance reconstruction of the city’s aging infrastructure?
LOWE: When a city has a good maintenance plan and practices prudent fiscal management, a city doesn’t have to find ways to finance infrastructure. We need to develop a plan and stick to it. The City Commission established three enterprise funds for our city that ensures money is set aside specifically to maintain our wastewater, reclaimed water and stormwater systems. The fees paid by residents go directly into these accounts. Property taxes go to the city general fund. The enterprise funds should be used first, specifically for the upcoming replacement of our malfunctioning waste water pumps and lift stations. However, I do not believe these funds will be sufficient and the city will exhaust the enterprise fund. Therefore, I believe that the commission should authorize a general fund transfer to pay the expenses for the wastewater repairs and upgrades. Henceforth, we stick to a maintenance plan for upkeep.
McFARLIN: Our present stormwater and wastewater funds are at levels that allow us to proceed with the issues currently before us. The continuation of these revenues will finance the projected replacement projects as we go forward. As far as emergency funds, should the need arise, last year we achieved a reserve level of over $4 million, which would now allow us to borrow at very minimal rate levels. This city is now in a positive financial position, actually one of the best levels in many years.