Gainesville's turn to vote is near


Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

With the nation's eyes on Iowa last week and New Hampshire today, it may be easy to overlook local politics and a proposed Florida state amendment.

Facts

City of Gainesville election issues

GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT

What will the city look like in the years to come? The current trend is for expansion westward at the expense of pre-existing infrastructure in the east and downtown areas. Recent moves by the City Commission have provided incentives for development in the downtown area, but also the controversial rejection of a proposed project in east Gainesville.

HOMELESSNESS

The 10-year-plan to end homelessness is on the books, but controversy still wages in the City Commission over issues like tent-city, the approval of a one-stop homeless services center at 3335 N. Main Terrace, and funding for various social programs.

BUDGET CRISIS

The budget cuts have already begun in Gainesville in the face of statewide fiscal woes, and city officials say if the property tax exemption amendment is passed things could get tighter. Tough decisions will have to be made about funding for police, fire and rescue services, social programs, transportation services and other city expenditures.

But on Jan. 29, the same day as the presidential primary election, three seats on the Gainesville City Commission are up for grabs, and the issues being addressed by the eight candidates are of the caliber to outline the future of Gainesville.

Early voting for the presidential and city elections starts Jan. 14.

"This is no longer a sleepy college town in which local politicians worry over where the last fire hydrant was put in," said Warren Nielsen, former Gainesville city commissioner who served from 2000 to 2006.

"It really has gone beyond that and turned into developing a great university city."

The issues that top most of the candidates' agendas are: the city's use of incentives and management to shape growth and development; social programs for the poor and homeless; and managing the looming budget shortfall.

"On a day-to-day basis, local governments are the ones that affect your lives, and they're the ones that are more closely attuned to what your concerns and what your needs are," Warren said.

Aside from the City Commission races, the ballot on Jan. 29 also includes a statewide referendum for a property tax cut.

The amendment would increase homestead tax exemptions. Homestead exemptions are for property that is a primary place of residence.

It would also allow people to maintain their homestead exemption if they move and limit the annual increase of assessed taxes to 10 percent on properties that don't qualify for homestead exemptions.

The League of Women Voters has taken a stance against the referendum, which was placed on the ballot by approval of the Legislature in an effort to provide tax relief.

"First of all, the amendment doesn't address comprehensive tax reform," said Crystal Goodison, voter service chair for the League of Women Voters of Alachua County. "The amendment will exacerbate the inequities that 'Save Our Homes' put in place, and not provide tax breaks to the people who need it."

Save Our Homes limited to 3 percent the amount of value a homestead property could increase on the tax rolls each year, but a homeowner would lose the benefit by buying a new home.

The Florida Homebuilders Association is in favor of the amendment because of potential to jump-start Florida's economy, said Edie Ousley, spokeswoman for the association. "It is a first step toward reforming the overall property tax issue," Ousley said.

A profile of each city commission candidate will run in The Gainesville Sun, according to the schedule below, beginning Wednesday.

Of the three City Commission seats up for election, one is elected by the entire city, while the other two commissioners will be elected by their districts.

District 2

Three candidates are running for District 2, which represents the northwest and is now held by Ed Braddy, who isn't eligible for re-election due to term limits.

Profiles for these candidates are scheduled to run on:

Jan. 9 - Bryan Harman, 32, who plans to return to his work in marketing for an assisted living company after the election.

Jan. 10 - Realtor Bonnie Mott, 58, a broker for Prudential Preferred Properties.

Jan. 11 - Santa Fe Community College professor Lauren Poe, 36, who teaches high school student dual enrollment classes in economics and government.

District 3

Three candidates are competing for the District 3 seat, which represents southwest Gainesville, and their profiles will run on:

Jan. 14 - Incumbent Jack Donovan, 63, is a pastor and has served on the commission since May 2005.

Jan. 15 - Army veteran Armando Grundy, 28, works for a local retail store and worked on air traffic control, engineering and logistics for eight years in the army.

Jan. 16 - Christopher Salazar, 20, works for The Limited clothing store in The Oaks Mall and attends Santa Fe Community College.

At-Large 2

Two candidates are running for the At-Large 2 seat, which is being vacated by Commissioner Rick Bryant, who has elected not to run for another term.

Profiles on the two at-large candidates will run on the following dates:

Jan. 17 - University of Florida Student Body President Robert Agrusa, 22, who graduates in May with a bachelor's degree in political science.

Jan. 18 - Attorney Thomas Hawkins Jr., 27, who specializes in growth management law for David Coffey's law firm.

Megan Rolland can be reached at 338-3104 or megan.rolland@ gvillesun.com.

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