Candidates offer differing view on transportation, taxes

Published: Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 8:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 8:39 p.m.

Contrasting views over transportation, tax incentives to spur economic development and other issues highlighted Saturday's League of Women Voters forum for candidates for Gainesville mayor and City Commission District 4 posts.

While the six candidates were united on some issues — for instance, they all favored the proposal that would put Gainesville's homeless center in a closed state prison — differences of opinion emerged on other fronts.

Among them was a long-term master plan for parks and recreation — at a cost of $55 million — that drew varying views.

"It looks ambitious. At first blush it has a lot of appealing ideas," Pete Johnson, one of the candidates for mayor, said. "The concern I have is how we afford them. It's important to do these visions … but we are going to have to prioritize what we can do."

Former commissioner Ed Braddy, now running for mayor, said the plan is too ambitious.

"That's very expensive. As mayor, what I would focus on is equipment upgrades," Braddy said. "We want parks, we want recreational areas. We don't need to build the Taj Mahal of parks in order to fulfill some … vision of greatness."

Transportation was another key topic, in particular whether another referendum for transportation should be sent to voters after one last year failed.

Incumbent Mayor Craig Lowe said he favors a referendum that includes funding for roads, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and mass transit.

"We have another chance, and we as a community need to grasp that," Lowe said. "I'm for … planning that includes road maintenance, some new roadways that will ease congestion and for enhanced transit … including bus rapid transit."

Mayoral candidate Mark Venzke said he favors efforts toward a referendum, but he believes it should not include provisions for bus rapid transit.

"I think it is essential that we provide to our city the flexibility to have multi-modal transportation," Venzke said. "I would like to defer any further progress on bus rapid transit because of its prohibitive price, but I would like to see … express bus service."

Mayoral candidates also spoke about offering incentives to developers to build a downtown conference center.

Former City Commissioner Scherwin Henry said a hotel and conference center could help boost downtown.

"The City Commission has the land and the parking," Henry said. "The study that we had done showed that this hotel conference center … would generate $1.2 million in sales tax, $1.6 million in bed tax and generate over 200 jobs."

Candidate Donald Shepherd said Gainesville needs to focus on maintaining its historic buildings.

"Old homes are being bulldozed down. We need to put money aside so that when people need repairs of these homes, we have the money in our budget," he said.

Another panel at the forum consisted of District 4 candidates Alfredo Espinosa, former Commissioner W.E. "Mac" McEachern and incumbent Randy Wells.

McEachern and Espinosa said they would not favor a new tax for transportation.

"We have misused what money we have," McEachern said.

Espinosa said, "What the city needs to do is not implement a tax but … to make sure our bus system is operating as efficiently as possible."

Wells said new transportation funding is needed.

"I have spoken in favor of a balanced transportation sales tax that I would ask voters to consider," Wells said.

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