BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Commissioners Jack Nazario and Suzy Sofer are up for reelection this year, and are being challenged by Steve McNally, a newcomer to city politics.
The top two vote-getters in the March 9 election will win seats on the commission. Sofer and Nazario were both first elected in 2009 and will be running for their seventh terms.
McNally told the Bee he was motivated to run for the commission by issues he learned about while attending commission meetings. Among them, he said, was the proposed prohibition on parking RVs and boats in backyards, the proposed 10 percent surcharge on utility bills, which is being used to finance road improvement projects, and “various tax increases.”
The city’s millage rate has not been raised since 2011, but property value increases have caused taxes to rise, McNally said, “because the incumbents have never really embraced the roll-back rates, so taxes do go up, year after year.”
McNally said he has other issues regarding transparency and communication with the citizens, and feels he can be a stronger voice on the commission than in the audience. He moved to Belleair Bluffs over six years ago, and in that time, he said, he has never had an opportunity to vote for anyone for municipal office because the commissioners are unopposed.
“If I were one of the incumbents, I would probably feel validated, since no one ever challenges any of them,” McNally said.
As a longtime resident of Belleair Bluffs and a city commissioner for the past 12 years, Nazario said he knows the city and wants to improve it. He has been active in the Florida League of Cities and other state, regional and local organizations, and believes “our local officials are some of the best in the state.”
Nazario said he is running for another commission term because there are issues in the city that need to be addressed, such as the need for better communication with residents. He cited traffic as a major problem in the city. He pushed for, and was able to get, a crosswalk on West Bay Drive in front of the high-rise condo complex where many senior citizens live. The intersection of West Bay Drive and Indian Rocks Road “is one of the worst in the county for accidents” and needs to be addressed, Nazario said.
Nazario said he believes the city needs a vision of where it wants to go. “I have pushed for that in the past, and it has kind of gotten buried. I think we ought to resurrect it,” he said.
Sofer has been a Bluffs resident for 23 years, and an owner/manager of Cody’s Original Roadhouse in the Bluffs shopping center for 14 years. Sofer said she is the only candidate that represents both the residents and business owners in the city.
“I have always used my strong business background to keep our city taxes down,” she said. She was against the utility tax when it was proposed, and helped negotiate the tax percentage from 10 percent to 5 percent, she said. When it was later raised to 10 percent to pay for needed road projects, Sofer was opposed to the increase. She has since “made it my mission to ensure that the utility tax is used for improving our city’s roads and related infrastructure.”
If reelected to a seventh term on the commission, Sofer said she will continue to be “transparent in my work on behalf of our residents and business owners” and always accessible to hear the concerns of citizens and help them with any issues that may arise.
Sofer said she is a strong believer in giving back to her community. She serves on a number of boards, including Crime Stoppers of Pinellas, Leadership Pinellas, and Moffitt Cancer Center Partner Pinellas.