On March 10, St. Pete Beach voters in the general election will choose either Rick Falkenstein or Joanne Lentino as their next commissioner for District 2. Last month, the candidates responded to introductory questions. In this issue, the Gabber asked them a series of questions about the issues facing St. Pete Beach.
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Rick Falkenstein: My top priorities will remain the same as they were when I was appointed, starting with doing everything possible to unite our community. My priorities must include funding the repair of our aging and broken sewer system. Solving this problem was delayed for too long, but the current Commission have made it a top priority. Our storm water systems, city streets and sidewalks must also be addressed aggressively. We’re doing that now – slowly, but steadily – and it will remain a priority for me if elected. I have provided leadership to see Penny for Pinellas Funds are successfully spent to move power lines along Gulf Boulevard underground. Lastly, with the recent legal settlement still pending, one of the greatest priorities in our city’s history will be to see our comprehensive plan put to work to redevelop our community in a manner that will benefit every resident and business.
Joanne Lentino: If we are going to move ahead as a city, we need a viable business plan. The right plan would not only maintain focus and accountability, it would enable citizens’ understanding of the city’s priorities. In addition, I would work to make sure small businesses grow and thrive.
What would you do to resolve the sewer backup problem?
Falkenstein: Effectively solving our sewer system will demand a commitment we have only recently seen on our city commission. Only in the last year did our mayor and commission choose to recognize the urgency of the problem and act to resolve it. The solution starts with continuing review of our Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) Survey Master Plan, but ultimately it is a matter of funding the necessary sewer repairs. We cannot “kick this can” any further down Gulf Boulevard for future generations to solve.
Lentino: It is necessary to have a long-range plan to resolve any issue of this magnitude. The sewer back-up problem is not something that can be fixed in six months, but a strong vision with clearly defined goals will keep us accountable.
Are there specific environmental issues St. Pete Beach faces? How would you address them?
Falkenstein: Our city faces several environmental issues. Our sewer system overflows, underground sewer pipes are leaking and storm water is discharging into the bay. The solution is simple to identify, but challenging to secure: Funding! We can start by earmarking more funds to install baffle boxes where the highest volumes of discharge occur.
Lentino: The environmental impact of the recent sewer situation affects the local economy, tourism and growth. I would request an ongoing status report on the repair of the system; I would also insist that it be made public on a quarterly basis. It could be an email blast or an item in the electronic SPB newsletter, and backed up with a regular report at city council meetings.
How would you keep the small community feel of St. Pete Beach while encouraging growth and new business?
Falkenstein: We must never fail to listen to all concerned parties – affording everyone the respect they deserve – and making our first priority to remain united. Using costly lawsuits to resolve problems must stop – they have stopped with the current commission.
Lentino: The city of SPB should reinstate the development director’s position, which would explore all the existing opportunities. In particular, we should not underestimate Corey Avenue as a valuable resource. There are three lots in close vicinity to Corey Avenue that should be considered for possible development. The Corey Avenue Business Association could use their small business know-how to work with the development director.
Do you feel the infrastructure is adequate for growth?
Falkenstein: We are currently conducting surveys to review our infrastructure. Given our problems with sewers, storm water discharge, potable water pressure and roads, I think it unlikely past a certain point.
Lentino: Things are at a standstill, until the comprehensive plan is approved and studies completed. At that time, I promise to make sure that the approved plan is enacted in a measured and sensible way.
What is your take on the ongoing lawsuits and how would you handle them?
Falkenstein: See answer 4.
Lentino: Based on the court’s findings, the lawsuits have merit. The court’s decision stands and we abide by it. As would any law-abiding citizen.
Do you feel there are any transparency issues on the commission? If so, how would you address them?
Falkenstein: Not any longer. Not with this commission. I will only participate in public meetings unless instructed by our attorney that we must meet in the shade – and then I will ask why!
Lentino: It is important for citizens to question their elected representatives and expect full disclosure. If elected officials violate the trust of the people, that trust is lost and nearly impossible to regain.
How can public services such as the library and community center be improved to better serve residents?
Falkenstein: It starts with our employees. We must continue to seek out and hire people with the skills, talent and commitment to create a library and operate our community center to the highest standards affordable. We’re doing that now!
Lentino: With the increased demands of new technology, as well as an overall increase in the number of patrons, it is time to renovate or rebuild the St. Pete Beach Library. Citizens deserve a 21st century community resource. Plans have been developed to make this happen. We can best improve The community center by providing additional parking for residents and visitors alike. An investment in the center sends a strong message that SPB honors its commitment to maintaining a high-standard quality of life for all.