Candidates criticize biomass plant, transportation

Candidates for Mayor and District 4 City Comissioner take part in a Gainesville Business Community Coalition forum during the in Gainesville Monday March 10, 2013. The forum was hosted by a coalition comprised of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Gainesville/Alachua County Association of Realtors and the Builders Association of North Central Florida. from left to right, Ed Braddy, Sherwin Henry Pete Johnson, Mark Venkze, Alfredo Espinosa and and Mac McEachern.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.

On the day that early voting started with 156 ballots cast, challengers for mayor and District 4 city commissioner criticized the city over the biomass contract and transportation issues.


Upcoming forums

Mayoral forum
What: The Democracy Commitment @ Santa Fe College
When: Wednesday, noon-2 p.m.
Where: Santa Fe College Downtown Campus at the Center for Innovation and Economic Development, 530 W. University Ave., open to the public

City candidate forum
What: Chomp the Vote
When: Wednesday, 7-9 p.m.
Where: University of Florida Campus, Reitz Union, Rion Ballroom, open to the public

At a Gainesville Business Community Coalition forum, five candidates for mayor and two commission candidates said the biomass contract would drive up electric rates that already ranked among the highest in the state for most usage levels.

At a forum hosted by a coalition comprised of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Gainesville/Alachua County Association of Realtors and the Builders Association of North Central Florida, candidates said the coming rate hikes associated with the biomass plant posed a threat to the viability of businesses.

There was also general consensus among the candidates that the city does not pump enough money into road repairs and opposition to the current commission's plans to develop a bus rapid transit system.

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The only candidates absent were the incumbents, Mayor Craig Lowe and Commissioner Randy Wells, who were attending the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization meeting. They were gone but not forgotten.

As candidates commented on the biomass plant, District 4 candidate Alfredo Espinosa said it was time to “vote out the incumbents” in favor of candidates who would try to get out of the 30-year contract to purchase power from the facility.

In response to a question from the audience, every candidate criticized Lowe for the fact that the city hired his former campaign manager as a mayoral assistant without a competitive hiring process.

On transportation, mayoral candidate Pete Johnson said local governments spend too much time debating and discussing the design for road resurfacing projects and that delays the repair work.

Johnson said gas tax monies are not sufficient to cover the backlog of road work and a sales tax referendum is “probably likely needed to fund the amount of repairs that have been deferred.”

Former City Commissioner Scherwin Henry said a sales tax would be a “dedicated funding source” for transportation and the money should go toward roads and improving the current transportation system, not toward the development of a bus rapid transit system.

Former City Commissioner Ed Braddy said the city was putting too much gas tax monies toward transit and not enough toward road repairs. Braddy, who previously said the majority of additional Regional Transit System funding should go toward better service in east Gainesville, added a new wrinkle Monday. He suggested outsourcing nonstudent transit to establish an on-demand shuttle or taxi service.

Mayoral candidate Mark Venkze supported investing in the enhancement of the current bus system, saying the congestion on some area roadways showed the need for “efficient public transit.”

Espinosa said a “comprehensive” transportation system has to include cars, buses and facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. He said RTS could run more efficiently and even some of the University of Florida routes have buses with light passenger loads.

Former City Commissioner Mac McEachern said the city used to put money toward road repairs until “the progressive liberals decided to narrow the streets” in order to “force people out of their cars.”

Arriving late, mayoral candidate Donald Shepherd said putting money towards roads was a priority. Shepherd has previously criticized the city over spending money on projects such as median landscaping and roundabouts.

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