Now that we made it through a day of true confessions, let’s circle back to the county commission District 4 debate from the June 30 Chronicle forum.
District 4 has three candidates — Rebecca Bays, John Murphy Jr. and Winn Webb — so I thought I’d try this from a different angle. I’ll present the topics, a summation of their responses and then how I see it.
For brevity (ha!) I left out a few topics, including the Chronicle question, which was answered. (Here’s the video. The District 4 race starts at about 2:20.)
All three said the millage rate shouldn't increase because people are hurting with inflation. Each promised, if elected, to take a hard look at the budget to find efficiencies.
JWC take: Never been a big fan of the “I’ll find the answers once elected” approach. Saying taxes shouldn’t go up while promising some deep dive into the budget tells the voter nothing. And it’s ridiculous to suggest the current board of penny pinchers hasn’t already figured that out. If candidates have specific places to save money, let’s hear it now so we’re not surprised down the road.
Bays suggested a countywide MSBU (flat rate) to fund the sheriff’s office, forcing the sheriff to make his case directly to citizens who will be paying it. (I’ve heard this idea before and would like to hear more.) She said the sheriff needs to show what he’s done with money budgeted for personnel positions that have remained unfilled. And Bays wants to see a more detailed breakdown of the sheriff’s requests.
Murphy supports the sheriff's budget, but not in total. He supports pay raises for first responders, including deputies. But he doesn’t think now is the time for body-worn cameras, which would remove some money from the sheriff’s request. He also was critical of the sheriff’s lack of budget detail.
Webb, a retired deputy, took a much more pro-sheriff approach. He not only supports the sheriff's budget, Webb claimed the county has shortchanged him the past few years. I didn’t research this, but I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen. Board Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. repeatedly says the sheriff has received everything he’s asked for.
JWC take: Bays’ suggestion for an MSBU to fund the sheriff deserves some discussion. Her interest in getting to the meat of the sheriff’s budget, knowing that once approved the county can’t touch it, is spot on.
Both Bays and Webb suggested setting aside taxes from new residents for neighborhood road repaving. As far as I know, that’s a new idea.
Murphy said the county should use impact fees. I was 99% sure that’s not allowed, so I reached out Wednesday night to a county commissioner, who confirmed my first thought. Impact fees are used to expand capacity to offset growth. Impact fees pay to widen roads, not repave them.
JWC take: Bays and Webb both have ideas that are worthy of discussion, though they don't really touch the long term problem. Considering the public interest in this topic, all three candidates would be wise to sharpen their wits on road repaving. The public wants solutions.
Murphy pointed out his opponents are former commissioners and he is not.
And that, he said, is his advantage because he understands today’s challenges and can best plan for the future.
He said Bays and Webb served honorably, adding though:
“Their time has come and passed.”
That’s about as direct as one can be. Anyone have trouble understanding Murphy’s feelings on the experience issue?
Bays, naturally, disagreed. (I love her reaction in my screengrab of the forum video. There’s actually fun chemistry between the two.)
“Experience matters,” she said. “I think this is a time that’s critical in the history of Citrus County.”
JWC take: Judging from the forum alone, both Bays and Murphy have a solid grasp of what’s at stake here, and that’s encouraging. Webb, perhaps not so much. Whether you agree with their positions, that's another matter.
Thursday night was a good start for both commission races. Friday is the chamber of commerce forum. Others are still to come. We look forward to seeing and hearing more from these candidates as the primary quickly closes in.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.