Dean Cheshire, Republican
What motivated you to run for the county commission, and what qualifies you?
I’m an Alachua County native and a two-time Gator grad, with both a BA and an MBA. Upon graduating with my undergrad degree, I co-founded an Internet technology company that took me all over the world. After that company wound down, I got back into Alachua County. My first tax bill was $7,200 for my 30-year-old home that’s the furthest thing from a mansion. My hands shook, and I looked at my wife and said, “What on earth is going on?”
We drive down roads that are falling apart. There’s no evidence of a robust local government that’s doing things that are helping people.
I decided to get involved. I joined the board of the Alachua County Farm Bureau and got involved in the chamber of commerce and the builders association.
As time went on, I realized that we have a very serious problem with our incumbents simply not listening to people. We have a dais that is composed of people, with the exception of one, that is composed of people with no business experience.
That’s a problem for a county that is fostering the innovation economy.
What do you hope to acheieve as a county commissioner?
The economy, jobs and spending.
Many business owners tell me that when they try to get something basic done with city or county government, they encounter “the culture of no.”
A farmer who wants to sell the organic wine that he grew on his farm can’t even put up a yard sign to say, “Turn here to buy organic wine” due to our oppressive sign regulation.
Someone approached me who had saved his entire life for a gorgeous 73-acre piece of property. The first thing he heard was, “No. You can’t build your house where you want to build it.”
County staff came and tried to get him to place 35 acres of his property in a dedicated conservation easement. He’s an attorney, and he wasn’t about to sign over his rights under pressure. We’ve gotten totally outside the realm of common sense in our policies.
We have 40 pages, five columns wide of newspaper listing of delinquent taxes, of people who are in imminent danger of losing their homes, their businesses and their farms—of losing everything. That sheer amount of delinquent property is a testament to a county commission that has not made the same sacrifices as individuals.
While the economy has continued to go down, the tax rate has continued to go up, year after year. As I knock on doors, I cannot tell you how many people on fixed incomes have told me that they’re thinking about leaving the county, even though their house
is paid for, because they can’t afford their GRU bill and their property taxes.
Through the Community Assistance Partnership Program, the commission gives about $1 million a year to charities of its choosing, based on the recommendations of an advisory board. I would replace the CAPP program and enhance it with something that makes more sense—which I call CAPP 2.0.
You would get to choose which approved local charities to which you would write a check, and you would be able to deduct up to 5 percent your county property tax bill.
These charities need more help, but they don’t need more help on the backs of citizens from whom too much has already been taken.
We should set a goal of the percentage we want to reduce county property taxes each year. I’m not saying, “Let’s swing an axe and cut everything.” What I am saying is, “Let’s make incremental differences.”
We have to remember that we can make improvements without damaging the things we love about our county, our beautiful springs and places like San Felasco State Park.
We don’t have just two choices—between strip development and conservation. Things have gotten too far in one direction, and the pendulum has got to moderate.
Are there specific land-use policies that you would change?
Haile Plantation is a really neat neighborhood, but not every neighborhood needs to be like that.
Let’s not try to create a supply of mixed-use developments for a demand that doesn’t necessarily exist.
As far as transit, it has a valuable role. UF is where buses are working. But don’t tell me that the vision is bus rapid transit and that we need to build it and then they’re going to come.
We don’t have a bus deficit. We have a road deficit. The county’s $380 million backlog in road maintenance is a stark testament to the fact that our commission has lost touch with the people.
Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV, Democrat
Why are you running for the county commission?
I felt my leaderships skills could be used here even more than in the Legislature. Tallahassee has become very partisan.
What are your qualifications?
As a city commissioner, I brought the WalMart to the eastside of Gainesville. Some people in the area didn’t want the WalMart, so I held a community meeting. I found out that there had been propaganda given out stating that “trash and shopping carts are going to be all over your neighborhood.” The citizens became at ease when they heard from a WalMart representative.
While a city commissioner, we expanded the airport industrial park. We brought in the Nordstrom Distribution Center and a Ryder facility and Florida Food Service expanded.
We passed a nuisance abatement ordinance that helped make the east side of Gainesville more appealing to new businesses. We passed an ordinance that said to owners of abandoned properties, “either you fix it up, sell it or tear it down.”
I made sure that those things that I wanted to do in East Gainesville were in the budget.
What do you hope to achieve as a county commissioner?
I think the person we select as county manager has to be someone who’s innovative in the direction he wants to take Alachua County. The county is at a crossroads, whether we move forward and continue to be progressive or whether we become stagnant and just be a quaint, small county.
The new county manager has to have great budget skills to do the kind of exercises I think the county hasn’t done. I don’t believe the county has looked for efficiencies or asked the constitutional officers where they can cut.
I don’t have the confidence that county has made the budget lean and efficient in the same way the state has.
I want a manager who can help us have growth while protecting our natural resources. I don’t see enough opportunities for my children to be able to stay in our community. Most kids just graduate and leave.
Innovation Square and the business that will spin off of it will help the economy. But we have to work with the school board on vocational training so that we make sure that our workforce is trained in the biomedical and technology fields.
We’ve always been a service community, but I believe we need to have more light manufacturing. At the recent job fair at the Martin Luther King center, the long line extending all the way to the street was unbelievable. It says that people are hurting.
I think we can help in job creation by streamlining the permitting process. In the Legislature, I was part of an economic development workshop that improved the process for comprehensive plan amendments.
We need to look at how we compare to other counties. Are our fees really high? Is that a reason businesses aren’t coming?
I don’t mind investing in things like tax breaks to attract new businesses.
How would you adjust spending priorities?
We need to make sure that our budget is meeting the needs of all of our citizens. The organizations funded through the social services budget, such as the Bread of the Almighty Food Bank, have great needs. Services for medical care and dental care are important. We need to fund Veterans Services and mental health services because the people we help are the kind of folks who will fill the county jail.
Now is not the time to cut these types of programs. I believe if you spend more on the front end, you won’t have to do as much on the back end.
When it comes to Medicaid billing, the county is kicking the can down the road. The state has increased the county’s liability for Medicaid by $6 million for the new fiscal year. The county did this by using remaining CHOICES funding, which is one-time funding, to cover the Medicaid liability. That’s not good public policy.
Are there specific land-use policies that you would change?
The county manager should be the leader in working with the Gainesville city government and the school board in pushing the growth of our county and the sustainability of our county.
We have to both foster economic development and protect our environment. We have to have a vision. We have to come to the table and compromise.
We have to have a conversation with all the cities about how the businesses in our innovation economy can stay in our county.