Commission District 1 race a battle of philosophies
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 8:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 8:42 p.m.
Of the three Alachua County Commission races this fall, only one involves an incumbent commissioner.
City of residence: Unincorporated county near Micanopy
Political party: Democrat
Current occupation: Owns and manages rental properties
Political experience: Alachua County Commissioner, 12 years
City of residence: Hawthorne
Political party: Republican
Current occupation: Small-business owner.
Political experience: Hawthorne City Commissioner, eight years; Hawthorne Mayor, five years
County Commissioner and Democrat Mike Byerly has 12 years' experience on the board, while this would be Republican opponent John Martin's first term at the county. Martin served on the Hawthorne City Commission for 13 years, including five as mayor.
“This is not just about choosing between two personalities,” Byerly said. “It's about choosing between two different philosophies of government.”
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While Byerly said he supports modest reductions to the county budget and is willing to increase property taxes, Martin said he would maintain or reduce taxes and re-evaluate the budget.
The commission held the millage rate for general fund property taxes at its previous level for the current fiscal year -- a move Byerly did not support because he said it would lead to reduced revenue because of declining property values.
Martin said he would re-prioritize programs, with the highest consideration going to core services such as law enforcement and fire services. These programs might be reduced, he said, but wouldn't get the deepest cuts.
Byerly said the leftover programs primarily would be environmental and in social services, which could be drastically reduced or eliminated under Martin's funding hierarchy.
Byerly said he supports steady reductions but not severe cuts. He said he considers his and Martin's budget philosophies to be their biggest difference.
One of Martin's goals, if elected, would be to zero-base the budget by starting with zero dollars and re-justifying every county program.
“We've got to put everything on the table, and some things may need to be cut altogether,” he said.
Martin said his top priority post-election would be selecting a new county manager, preferably a fiscal conservative.
He said he also wants to review the county's land development codes, which he said are “so thick and so cumbersome” the commission can't even get through them.
For example, he said sign ordinances need to be reviewed because, while Byerly sees signs as pollution, they can be vital to businesses.
Byerly said he considers such ordinances to be public interest regulations that protect quality of life and sees this as one of the top campaign issues along with the budget and environmental protection.
Byerly said Martin and other candidates are using the slow economy as a reason to get rid of policies they dislike, such as environmental ones.
Martin's top three campaign issues are creating a healthy local economy, re-prioritizing the budget and evaluating Gainesville Regional Utilities' biomass plant and its effect on residents' utility rates. Martin suggested forming an independent board to represent GRU's full customer base.
The commission this month will hear a GRU presentation on the issue, which Byerly has said oversteps the county's bounds.
For Byerly, one of his goals if re-elected would be to further reduce the county's energy and water consumption. Local government should prepare for water scarcity problems by maintaining or strengthening wetlands protections, he said.
Byerly said increased local control over water policy is important -- something on which he and Martin agree. Martin was an outspoken opponent of transferring area water rights to South Florida in 2003.
Byerly said he also wants to provide infrastructure such as transportation for incoming developments in the Interstate 75 corridor like Celebration Point and create a transportation surtax for the 2014 election with better cooperation between the county and its municipalities. He does not support the “Fix Our Roads” sales surtax on the November ballot.
Moving into the last leg of the campaign, Martin said he plans to meet as many voters as he can and will launch direct mail and media advertising.
Meanwhile, Byerly said he will make the differences between himself and Martin clear to voters.
Martin said he wants to make the county more business-friendly, but Byerly counters that the local economy is struggling but faring well overall. He said calling the county “business-unfriendly” is code for getting rid of public interest and environmental regulations.
Byerly would largely continue down the path the commission has taken during his tenure, which he considers a progressive and environmentally conscious one.
“I hope and I think that the majority of the people in this county still believe in the things that I do, and if they don't then I shouldn't be their representative,” he said.
Martin, however, said he wants to divert from that path, which he said would bring continued government expansion, high taxes and job-killing regulations.
“I've lived here all my life, and I honestly believe this is the most pivotal election in my lifetime in Alachua County,” he said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/morganwatkins26.