Getting down to business: Q&A with County Commission candidates

In light of the upcoming November election, we asked the County Commission Seat 2 and Seat 4 candidates about their business-related policies and plans. This is what they had to say.

Ken Cornell (D), District 4

What is your approach to encouraging economic development locally?

We need to encourage development in parts of the county that have traditionally struggled economically, and we can do that by offering businesses incentives for development in the labor surplus portions of our county. This would include the establishment of enterprise zones and Community Redevelopment Areas for the unincorporated parts of the county to spur job growth. In addition, we need to explore opportunities that would create jobs with the state’s Qualified Target Industries programs.

We must simultaneously focus our resources on children and their education before, during, and after they enter the public school system. We’ve made a lot of headway through the Community Agency Partnership Program, and we need to continue to leverage our taxpayer dollars through these private entities.

Do you support or oppose Plum Creek’s sector plan? Why?

Plum Creek Timber Company is one of the United States’ largest landowners and owns approximately 15 percent of the lands in Alachua County. I don’t oppose Plum Creek; I simply oppose their current proposed sector plan application. I don’t believe we should give Plum Creek special privileges that other local landowners don’t receive. I believe Plum Creek should work with the county, address the concerns of the County’s staff and the public and develop a plan that will both facilitate real job creation while safeguarding our natural infrastructure. Finding common ground, similar to what their application proposed around Hawthorne, would provide a win-win situation for both Plum Creek and the public.

Do you support or oppose the transportation tax? Why?

It is clear that we are behind on maintaining and investing in our road infrastructure, and the transportation tax is a reasonable approach to addressing this critical problem. I am in favor of asking for permission and support from the Alachua County taxpayers, and I support the transportation tax. If the voters do not support this referendum, I would support using general fund dollars to begin addressing this backlog problem.

Do you support or oppose the proposed county-funded conference center? Why?

I oppose the county-funded conference center. Government‐financed convention centers rarely, if ever, generate enough money or pay operating costs or debt service, and they require perpetual public subsidies. To be more than a second‐tier market, we need substantial, convenient air service and hotels concentrated in close proximity. Through collaboration with the TDC and hospitality industry, we can enhance the community as a destination for visitors. Utilizing previously committed bed tax monies on the east side of town to support a private developer on the west side of town doesn’t make sense.

 

How would you address income disparity/poverty locally?

Providing real jobs with qualified citizens is how we address income disparity and underemployment. We should invest in our children both before and after school to provide them with the skills and support they need to ultimately enter the workforce. We need to support programs like those provided by the Boys & Girls Club, Reichert House, the Early Learning Coalition—these locally based programs and many others have been instrumental in uplifting our community. In addition, we should invest in additional infrastructure services that support income disparity like better bus routes and more frequent headways in areas that serve our underemployed population.

What do you think are the main issues facing local businesses, and how would you address them?

Economic development in our county should occur in a collaborative way.  High energy costs and our crumbling infrastructure needs must be addressed. The Property Assessed Clean Energy program and the infrastructure surtax are both steps in the right direction. In addition, we need to work with the diverse groups in our community to ensure that growth fits our long-term plan and improves the experience of living here. We should always ensure local businesses have a fair chance to compete with big corporate outside interest, because our innovative small businesses are what make our community special and are the drivers of real jobs in our community.

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John Martin (R), District 4

What is your approach to encouraging economic development locally?

As for government’s role, it is mainly to foster an environment that is conducive to economic growth and not one that puts up impediments. The attitude needs to change in County government. The prevailing attitude is one of how can we make you comply with the “book” when it should be how can we help you reach your dreams for your business.

Do you support or oppose Plum Creek’s sector plan? Why?

I am in general support of Plum Creek’s plan.  I admit to having some level of bias as it appears to help my hometown of Hawthorne. In general, their plan is the best I have seen at combining economic development with private capital and permanent conservation of large amounts of land. Before I can say exactly how I would vote, I would need to see what the final plan looks like.

Do you support or oppose the transportation tax? Why?

No. The financial backlog in road repair may in fact be too deep to overcome with existing revenues but, until the majority of commissioners show they believe road repair is a core service and part of their basic jobs I will not support additional taxes. The commission could demonstrate that by putting more and consistent general fund revenue toward roads. When tax revenues go up, dedicate a portion of that increase directly to transportation infrastructure. During the next budget cycle, commit to rolling back property taxes and equivalent amount equal or close to the amount generated by the sales tax.

Do you support or oppose the proposed county-funded conference center? Why?

I support the concept of the convention center but before I could commit bed tax money, I need more information that demonstrates a need that is not being currently met.

How would you address income disparity/poverty locally?

The best way to combat income disparity and underemployment is through education. In whatever capacity I could, I would work closely with employers through organizations like the Chamber to find out what skills were needed and with the various educational systems to make sure we were training and educating our citizens to match the demand. I would look at the disincentives for job growth such as high taxes, fees and utility rates and try and lesson them.

What do you think are the main issues facing local businesses, and how would you address them?

The county needs to do more to eliminate the disincentives to business growth countywide, not just for innovation. This disincentives include high taxes, fees and stifling regulations along with high utility rates. The county and city patted themselves on the back for fast-tracking Innovation Square, but this implies there is a slow track for everyone else. If we do it for one, we should do it for all.

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Lee Pinkoson (D), District 2

What is your approach to encouraging economic development locally?

To encourage a complete range of good paying job opportunities from GED to PhD. Everyone deserves the chance to be able to support themselves and their families. Listen to the users of policies and in instances where unintended consequences have occurred, find solutions. Government shouldn’t be an unnecessary impediment.

Do you support or oppose Plum Creek’s sector plan? Why?

I would hope the majority of the commission is willing to sit down with Plum Creek and discuss and work through whatever issues the commissioners might have with the proposal. The initial discussion will take place on Oct. 21st and I hope we work to find solutions to move the application forward.

Do you support or oppose the transportation tax? Why?

Yes. We will not be able to begin to address our backlog without additional funding. The sales tax generates significant dollars and allows people outside the county who use our roads help solve our the problem. The option of property taxes burdens the same people again and we can avoid that entire discussion with the sales tax.

Do you support or oppose the proposed county-funded conference center? Why?

I support the project and have asked for the analysis to see if there are uncommitted funds from the bed tax that could be used to go to it. As of yet, I haven’t seen the analysis to see if the bed tax could be a funding source. We will be having the discussion soon.

How would you address income disparity/poverty locally?

See question one. We need to recognize not everyone has an advanced degree and actively seek acceptable manufacturing and distribution jobs. They pay well and offer benefits. Make sure our children are prepared (emotionally, nutritionally, and educationally) when they start school. If not, their educational future isn’t bright.

What do you think are the main issues facing local businesses, and how would you address them?

Taxes. Work to expand the tax base. Electricity. Encourage the City Commission to continue to be creative in finding ways to lower rates. Navigating the business and development policies. Make sure we create an atmosphere of cooperation and customer assistance.

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Write-in candidate Harold Joseph Patterson (District 2) could not be reached for comment.

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