Why are you running for the county commission?
In serving in the City of Alachua, I saw the importance of having good jobs for the families who live there and in the surrounding areas.
When I look at Alachua County, I see that we are lacking in an environment that encourages economic development and, if anything, stifles it.
I believe I have the experience and ability to help achieve a place where people can work, live and recreate and still protect our natural resources.
My motto is, “changing the direction of Alachua County Government.” Over the past 12 years, we’ve seen some heavy-handed policies that have to do with the comprehensive plan and the land- development regulations.
The other big issue that is going to be affecting the county is the GRU biomass plant.
I think county commissioners need to look out for all county residents because of the financial impact of the biomass plant. We need to explore having an independent board for GRU, instead of the city commission running it.
What are your qualifications?
In addition to serving on the Alachua City Commission, including four years as mayor, I served on the city’s planning and zoning board.
I’ve worked in real estate, and I was an acquisitions agent for the Suwannee River Water Management District. My experience in both the private and the public sector helps me bring a balanced point of view to the table.
What do you hope to achieve as a county commissioner?
My first priority is the hiring of a new county manager. This decision will be critical in terms of the direction that the Alachua County administration takes.
We look at the commission as the policymakers but the staff manages how the county operates on a day-to-day basis. Hiring a new county manager who understands the direction of Alachua County is taking not only in preserving our natural resources, but also in economic development is of prime importance.
My second priority would be putting a six-month moratorium on impact fees.
Impact fees were put in place in 2005 as a way to gain resources to offset impacts for transportation, recreation and fire services.
My opinion is they were put in place to stifle growth in Alachua County. They’re staggering. The impacts for a building on Archer Road that’s leased to the Veterans Administration were $45,000. The impact fee for a double-wide mobile home I know about was $6,000.
I would use the moratorium on impact fees to see if it will generate jobs. I am a firm believer that if you give people the opportunity to build their business, the business will generate more money than just the one-time shot of the impact fees.
My third priority is to evaluate our use of advisory boards. It seems like everything the county looks at doing gets bogged down with an advisory committee.
I would put a moratorium on the advisory committees, except for any that are statutorily required, so we can remove a layer of bureaucracy.
How would you change spending priorities?
I think we need to look at efficiencies throughout the county’s budget.
A staff person went to Indonesia on an exchange program for waste and recycling. I asked, “in these economic times, why would we spend money doing that?”
I was told that grant funds paid for the trip. Well, grant funds are generally tax funds. My other question is, “if she’s gone for three works, who did her job while she was gone?”
Those are the kinds of things that I think are outrageous. That’s a minor example, but if that’s the kind of management style that we’re operating under, then there are efficiencies that we can look at.
Many of the community services that the county helps fund through the CAPP program are badly needed. But my concern is that economic development and economic opportunity programs are not eligible for CAPP.
If the county’s Community Support Services programs are aimed at reducing poverty, why are you eliminating economic opportunity programs from CAPP?
Are there specific land-use policies that you would change?
The county has now taken the position that if property that has a certain amount of wetlands is being developed, the county wants the owner to sign a deed restriction regarding conservation. That is heavy-handed.
I think we need to look at land-development regulations that border on the taking of property rights.
The county is using policies on transit-oriented development and traditional neighborhood development as a heavy-handed tool to extract money from developers. I think that the county is overstating the need to reduce sprawl.
Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, Democrat
Why are you running for the county commission?
When Paula Delaney announced she was leaving the commission, I looked at the other likely candidates and decided that I needed to run,
despite having been largely out of politics for the past decade.
When I ran for the commission in 1998, we were facing major environmental and growth management issues.
The issues in 2012 include how we can do a better job with social services such as mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment, which will keep people out of jail who really don’t need to be there.
I want to figure out how we can fill the gaps and make sure that we’re not overlapping in the provision of social service. While the need for social services is growing with the economic pressures and aging population, there’s a lessening appetite for paying for them.
We need to find ways to divert people out of our system that is ruining lives without providing meaningful alternatives.
What are your qualifications?
In addition to having served on the county commission before, I’ve been involved in the community for 40 years doing whatever seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
I’ve served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, and I was the development director at the Florida Museum of Natural History. I’ve taught at Santa Fe College, worked as a planner for the City of Gainesville and served as an energy analyst at GRU. And I was the director of downtown redevelopment and the director of Alachua Conservation Trust.
What do you hope to achieve as a commissioner?
I’m focused on water, jobs and social services.
With respect to water, the Legislature has preempted much of local government’s authority in water-use planning and regulation. The state building code sets the standards for appliance efficiency, and water management districts control water-use permits.
What the county can do is to incentivize new developments to provide reclaimed water or make it possible to retrofit when it becomes available. We need is to do a much better job of dealing with urban runoff and not dumping it into our natural systems.
Government needs to help with economic development by providing good infrastructure and a regulatory climate that makes sense. We need to simplify our rules regarding growth. We need to have a business-friendly climate when people are seeking help with development plans and building permits.
When I was on the commission, and we were considering proposed rules that were hard to understand, I would insist that they be brought back in much simpler language.
How would you adjust spending priorities?
We’re spending too much on the criminal justice system, and this is more than just the sheriff’s office – it includes the entire court system. We have hundreds of university police and Gainesville police as well as sheriff’s deputies. If even a tiny portion of that money was diverted into youth programs like the Reichert House, we could make a positive difference in many young lives.
We need to do a lot more than chase people and lock them up. The number of calls for the sheriff has gone down as annexations have occurred, and yet the number of deputies hasn’t gone down.
This year, the overall county budget went down 3.4 percent, but funding for Community Agency Partnership Program was slashed 15 percent. CAPP is the program through which the county contracts with some social service nonprofits to provide shelter, medicine and food for the poorest of the poor.
For every dollar the county puts in, these charities provide six dollars in services, based on donations and volunteerism. If the county were to staff such programs, we would need to spend at least 10 times more than we do. This 15 percent budget cut was simply immoral, in my opinion.
How do you view of the county’s land-use policies?
When I was on the county commission before, we created a comprehensive plan that set up an urban services line.
It was not drawn arbitrarily but looked at how many suburban lots were needed based on population projections and demand for the next planning period. The line was drawn so that there were sufficient lots for the market, yet provided for more efficient provision of public services and infrastructure.
This approach makes sense for taxpayers. Letting property owners in the rural areas develop in whatever way they want can impact all taxpayers because poorly planned growth makes it more expensive to run more school buses, build utilities, and maintain roads.