Gulfport Candidates Talk Next Big Issue

All registered voters in Gulfport will be eligible to vote for council candidates in the March 13 elections. Incumbent Dan Liedtke will face resident Bruce Plesser for the Ward 1 seat; Paul Ray has already won the Ward 3 seat by default.

In anticipation of Gulfport’s Municipal elections, the Gabber asked the candidates to identify one issue in Gulfport that they feel has yet to be addressed, and to tell us what, specifically, they would do to address the issue moving forward.

Responses have been edited for style only.

Dan Liedtke, incumbent and vice mayor, candidate for Ward 1

From a realistic and practical standpoint the biggest issue we have yet to discuss is the additional $25,000 homestead exemption being voted on this November. Floridians rarely vote against tax breaks. I believe the additional exemption on homesteaded property will be approved. With the passing of this exemption, the average homeowner will save $230/yr beginning in 2019.

Unfortunately, this exemption comes with many unintended consequences. Commercial properties will end up with a greater share of the tax burden, and landlords will likely shift that expense on to their tenants. The city of Gulfport will see about a quarter million dollar decline in property tax revenue. Pinellas County Government will see a decline that exceeds $27 million. Statewide the hit to local governments will be around $600 million. Some of this loss will be made up by steadily rising property values. But with the 3% annual cap on property tax increases, there will still be a long term expanding gap.

Pinellas County is now the 4th highest taxed county out of 67 counties in Florida. The last option for any Pinellas Municipality or the County Commission should be a millage rate increase. Options to close the gap that should be given first consideration include absorbing the loss, tighter budgeting and/or maximizing revenue from other sources. The challenge is workable. I look forward to helping the city of Gulfport maintain the services it currently offers while we continue to deliver large-scale capital and infrastructure improvements.

Bruce Plesser, candidate for Ward 1

Democracy only works if citizens feel that their voices matter and vote. In America, the biggest threat to democracy has always been  in the form of malaise, disengagement and disenfranchisement of the American people.

Today more so than ever before, young people have lost complete faith in the political process, viewing it as corrupt, non-transparent and unfair. I want to change that by implementing a formal and nonpartisan civic engagement program for Gulfport’s youth called the “Engage Enact Empower (EEE).”  The program, open to all Gulfport’s residents ages 10-17, will provide a welcoming environment for them to voice their concerns on town issues and engage in meaningful policy, planning, and decision-making. There will be an organized infrastructure in place that allows for cross communication between representatives of local government and EEE and a wide range of activities offered that provide for a variety of ways to participate in local government as well as In the city itself (e.g. volunteering, writing in the Gabber and The Patch and other local newspapers, shadowing local officials).

In order for this to work, however, there must be a commitment by the adult members of Gulfport that enables the young people to take an active role in the town and in its politics and in doing so, take a meaningful step towards a more active participation in our democracy.

By implementing this, everyone is a winner. This might be implemented in a way that such participation by the youth can be somehow documented in their school records, as extra credit, or credits for civic study and government activities.

This plan will be put to work with the first ever mailing to all registered voters in Gulfport taking a survey of voters’ likes, dislikes and needs for our community. The top five likes, compiled from all returns, will be made into an agenda.

Democratic government is designed to be for the people and by the people. The elimination of even the perception that government is at odds with the needs of the people will bring back confidence in our Gulfport government. We are losing a new generation of voters. That has to stop and as a community, we the people can bring that confidence back to our Gulfport government.

Paul Ray – candidate for Ward 3, running unopposed, wins by default

I can think of a few things that rise to the top of list but fiscal matters trump all else; without revenue, most other issues are moot.

Currently a measure to increase Florida’s Homestead exemption to $75,000 – a $25,000 increase from the existing – will be on the August 2018 ballot and its passage is undoubtable. While on the surface this seems like a windfall for the resident property owner, it does have a dark side, that being a decrease in revenue to the city. Our city’s revenue is made up by various sources, including but not limited to Property Taxes (only a percentage of those taxes come back to Gulfport’s coffers) and Pennies for Pinellas. Should (and all bets are that the voters will overwhelmingly pass it) the increase in the homestead exemption [pass, it] would deprive the city of significant funding annually. To the decline in property tax income, add a decrease in Pennies for Pinellas funding. Pennies for Pinellas is calculated by a municipality’s percentage of the county’s total population. Gulfport’s population is roughly 12,200 and Pinellas County has swelled to over 1,000,000 which has altered the overall percentage of our share of the Pennies for Pinellas, bringing it down considerably, which once again represents a meaningful change in revenue to our city. Coupled with several other revenue losses, the decrease is dramatic enough to cause not just a small measure of concern.

One of the most important tasks facing the incoming city council is going to be an understanding of not just the budget process but also the budget contents. The delicate balancing of the budget will require both the city management and city council to work closely together to examine the list of budgetary commitments and requirements, prioritize them, then apply some extreme frugality to make it all balance. This process is not going to be easy; some very tough decisions may have to be made. It will be my responsibility while on council to present the options to my neighbors and residents city wide and listen to their concerns and inputs to obtain the most acceptable outcome. My love of Gulfport, involvement with the city merchants, ability to reach out to a very wide spectrum of residents, and my 30+ of business experience will assist me in contributing in a unique way to arriving at acceptable resolutions. I will be doing my share to ensure that the voice of the community is heard on the decisions that could directly impact them, but I also hope that community understands this and are using this as a measure when deciding their choice for city council positions.

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