By reporter Michael Bates, as published in the Citrus County Chronicle July 13, 2020:
All eight Republican candidates for county commissioner said they would oppose a mandatory face mask ordinance if they were on the board right now.
The timely question was one of several asked of candidates at a Friday, July 10, 2020, forum. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been five months since Citrus County Chamber of Commerce members were able to physically meet for a monthly luncheon.
But following health protocols — including limited capacity and social distancing — 100 of them gathered Friday at Citrus Hills Golf and Country Club to hear candidates running for county commission in the Aug. 18 primary.
Present were District 3 republican candidates Thomas Corkery, Mark Hammer, Angel Lewis, Luis Marin, Edwin Roberts and Ruthie Schlabach. District 5 candidates Holly Davis and incumbent Jimmie T. Smith were also present.
County Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, present at the luncheon, ran for re-election to District 1, but won back his seat when no one filed to run against him.
Chamber members, representing about 1,000 businesses in Citrus County, submitted questions, which were then narrowed down by the chamber’s governmental affairs committee. Here are the questions and the candidates’ responses:
Is the county prepared for the completion of the Suncoast Parkway to State Road 44? What would you do to get us prepared?
• Corkery: The road is coming and the county needs to deal with it. There will be setbacks, but nothing the county cannot handle. “I don’t know why everyone gets so upset about the road coming. Let it come.”
• Hammer: Not ready. Improvements must be made to the county’s “convoluted” permitting process which restricts business from coming. The future land use map still is not established.
• Lewis: Not ready. The county needs to get “in front of the growth” by bringing in all the economic entities in the county to partner with the county and work as a team.
• Marin: Not ready. The county is still in disputes with land development codes around the West Cardinal Street interchange. He wants more discussions with the sheriff’s office to make sure public safety is addressed.
• Roberts: Not ready. More interaction with different county and community boards must take place to figure out how it wants growth to take place when the road is complete.
• Schlabach: Not prepared. After years of notice about the road, the county is still behind. She would also address the State Road 44 terminus and how traffic emptying out there will affect County Road 491.
• Davis: Not prepared. Commissioners need to look “decades out” and plan for infrastructure and the availability of high-speed internet. The preparation now seems “haphazard” and there’s too much emphasis on gas stations and fast food restaurants.
• Smith: Not prepared. The old comprehensive land use plan is a problem. The permitting process is too slow and impeding businesses that want to come here.
What is your position on using public funds for economic development? Some examples include infrastructure, tax abatements and incentives.
• Corkery: Don’t keep going to the taxpayer for money. Make sure businesses who come here build their facilities right the first time and they won’t need more financial help.
• Hammer: Use state funds, not local county funds, for economic development. The state has programs and tax abatements available if we look into them.
• Lewis: It’s time to pick and choose what kinds of businesses come here and get away from gas stations and fast-food restaurants. Give landlords that keep up their property incentives and penalize bad landlords.
• Marin: Before using public tax money, hold business owners accountable, possibly by exacting a promise from them that they will create so many jobs and live up to their promises. Ease up on impact fees on building.
• Roberts: Rather than create new taxes, use some of the previous tax money to help businesses. Look into grants. Use someone in the county who has ideas.
• Schlabach: The county is going to have to use tax dollars, as spelled out in the new economic development ordinance. Incentives are necessary because the county has to do something to attract business. The tax base has to go up and that happens with more businesses.
• Davis: There should be a cost-benefit analysis done when looking at new manufacturers and businesses. Look for alternative sources of money outside the county.
• Smith: The county must offer incentives to businesses wanting to come here. Look into grants. Make sure water and sewer is readily available to better entice business.
What is your top priority for Citrus County? (Short answer only)
Corkery: The Beverly Hills pool (currently sitting empty with supporters trying to get the county’s help to pay for a new pool).
Hammer: Preservation and conservation.
Lewis: Bridge the disconnect.
Marin: Public safety and jobs.
Schlabach: Growing our tax base.
Davis: Economic development.
Smith: Developing a future for our youth.
Other than the Suncoast Parkway, what are your top two road priorities for Citrus County? (Short answer only)
Corkery: Jobs, jobs and the Beverly Hills pool.
Hammer: Establish proper funding.
Lewis: Hurricane season.
Marin: Citrus Springs roads.
Roberts: Fix the roads.
Schlabach: County Road 491 and the road resurfacing program.
Davis:County Road 491 and road resurfacing.
Smith: Roads and jobs.
Would you consider a half-cent sales tax increase to further fund infrastructure? (Short answer only)
Corkery: Stay away from it.
Lewis: Find another solution.
Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or email@example.com.