Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce President Tom Morrissette, left, hosts a candidate forum for Largo Commission Seat 4. Candidates are James Robinson, center, and Robert Hunsicker, right.
LARGO – What is the single most pressing issue that you would deal with if elected? That question was asked of the two candidates vying for Largo’s Commission Seat 4, the only seat being contested in the Nov. 6 election.
Candidate James Robinson replied that he would restore staffing levels throughout the city, but most particularly in the police and fire departments.
“Those departments are undermanned,” he said. “We need to bring the staff back; we need it for safety first.”
Candidate Robert Hunsicker said his most pressing issue is also part of his election campaign.
“I have promised the residents of the Paradise Island Mobile Home Park to find out why they have had to put up with the smell of sewer gas for a dozen years,” he said. “The city has ignored their pleas for too long.”
Hunsicker is a 25-year resident of Largo and describes himself as a semi-retired electrical engineer. Robinson is the manager of the Largo Feed Store.
The men faced off Sept. 26 at the Palms of Largo. The forum was sponsored by the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce. Seat 4 is being vacated by longtime Commissioner Gigi Arntzen. Chamber President Tom Morrissette was the moderator of the event
Hunsicker lamented the manpower shortage in the city’s Fire Department and pledged to have the manpower restored.
“State regulations say there must be four firefighters on hand before they can enter a burning building,” he said. “With only three firefighters on a truck they must now wait for back-up before they can effectively fight the fire.”
He also said he would work to upgrade the city’s infrastructure, work to make Largo a more business friendly city and move to have the Southwest pool open for longer hours on the weekends.
“Why aren’t we selling the naming rights to some of our more prominent public buildings? Corporations get exposure, we get money and everybody is happy. It is a win-win,” he said.
Robinson is a 34-year Largo resident. He stressed that fact heavily in his opening remarks.
“I grew up here,” he said. “As the manager of a local business I feel I know the city well.”
He went on to say he intended to work to make Largo the best place to live and work.
“I don’t have any lofty political goals,” he said. “I want to make our city have the best and ideal quality of life.”
Each candidate was asked in light of Largo’s recent tax increase what they would cut if the economy and property values stayed down.
Robinson said with the tax increase there should not be any need for more cuts.
“But if more are needed, then the cuts should be spread around evenly among all city departments.”
Hunsicker said he would go into City Hall looking to become more efficient.
“We should privatize the golf course so it makes money,” he said. “Perhaps there are some parks and rec fees that could be increased, but there should not be another tax increase.”
In response to a question about making the city more business friendly, Hunsicker said, “Government has got to get out of the way. Business has no warm and fuzzy feeling toward the city. New businesses have occasionally had their plans lost by the city. The Community Development Department should provide a mentor for each new business to shepherd them through the process so someone is responsible,” he said.
Robinson said as far as he was concerned the Community Development Department was doing a good job for new businesses.
“The department has become friendlier,” he said. “The city is doing as much as it can. It has taken Realtors around to show them empty lots with descriptions of what can go on them.”
When asked if Largo should institute a domestic registry so unmarried couples can be listed and qualify for the same benefits as married couples, Hunsicker said he would need to know what the registry would cost before he would support it. Robinson said he would support it and cited a member of his own family who was in that position in Tampa, where a registry has been established.
Regarding a sales tax hike for possible light rail through Largo, Robinson said while it would be a big boom for the city, more study would be needed on the whole issue. Hunsicker had a different view.
“Light rail is a disaster,” he said. “There is no room for it and no money to pay for it. Just look at Tampa now saddled with a money-losing trolley system.”
The candidates were also asked their views on the city’s sign ordinance, which will ultimately limit the numbers and types of signs businesses can use. Robinson said the city has to better inform business owners about the regulations.
“We have to step up information programs,” he said.
Hunsicker said the ordinance has to be altered.
“Small business will be killed,” he said. “Quite a few businesses have failed already. Largo is Largo; it is not Beverly Hills.”
In his closing remarks, James Robinson reiterated his goal of making the city a good place to live.
“With my family and business my life is in Largo,” he said. “I’m just a regular kid from Largo and I want to make this a city of progress.”
Hunsicker was brief.
“I will try to change this city for the better and I think if you elect me you will agree the city will change for the better.”
The Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce will have another pre-election event on Thursday, Oct. 11. Regional candidates have been invited to speak at a forum in the main building of the Largo Medical Center. The program begins at 7:30 a.m. with coffee. The actual event gets under way at 8 a.m.