SWCCNA hosts District 1 commission candidates
The candidates for the District 1 Lee County Commission seat answered a range of questions Wednesday evening during a local club’s forum.
The Southwest Cape Coral Neighborhood Association held the meeting at Oasis Charter Middle School, located at 3507 Oasis Blvd. The candidates were the guest speakers for the program, which included two-minute opening and closing statements from each, along with a question-and-answer period.
The candidates for the District 1 seat are Chris Berardi, Bob Chilmonik, Mike Jackson and Carla Johnston. John Manning, who was recently appointed to the seat left vacant by Bob Janes, is also a candidate but was not in attendance.
The audience, which consisted of about 40 people, delivered the questions.
One asked of the candidates how they propose cutting the budget.
“It’s very clear government is too big,” Jackson said.
He suggested cutting discretionary programs, sunsetting programs as an incentive for staff to determine where things can be tightened and pushing some services into the private sector.
Johnston said she would review the budget “with a magnifying glass” and suggest cutting services being duplicated between the city and county. She questioned why economic development, which is pushed as a big solution to the county’s survival, is receiving less funding than take-home vehicles.
Privatization, consolidation and elimination was Berardi’s answer.
“We have to focus on core services,” he said, adding that like a family attempting to survive in today’s economy, some luxuries have to be cut.
Chilmonik said he supports consolidating services, such as fire departments and information technology departments, but he suggested comparing staff compensation packages with those of the private sector as his first choice.
“Personnel is going to have to be at the top of the list,” Chilmonik said.
Mayor John Sullivan asked what the candidates’ strategies would be to keep more money in the Cape, under the assumption it is not getting a fair share.
Chilmonik said representation by the city on the commission is key, along with better cooperation between the city council and the county.
Jackson echoed that, while Johnston added that collaborating with the county may save money. Berardi talked about the county’s opposition as an obstacle.
One person in the audience asked the candidates what they thought about using the county’s reserve funds to cover operating budget shortfalls.
Johnston voiced opposition to using reserves to cover the annual budget, adding that reserve funds need to be available in case of an emergency like another Hurricane Charley. Chilmonik pointed out that after Charley, some counties suffered and still are suffering because of a lack of reserves.
He emphasized that the budget needs to be reviewed and prioritized.
Berardi said the county will not have any reserve funding left by 2013 if commissioners stay the course. Focus on core services and cut spending were his points.
“Core services are what we have to provide,” Berardi said.
Jackson agreed with cutting spending, adding that the county needs to get business people on board. He talked about having a spending to income ratio.
“You need to have financial reserves for tough times,” Jackson said.
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz asked whether the candidates would support the city if it wanted to build a medical center in Cape Coral that has no relationship to the Lee Memorial Health System. All four said they would, either as a supporter of competition, private sector investments or both.
Berardi, Chilmonik and Jackson said they are not in favor of replacing the barrier in the North Spreader. Johnston said she supports clean water and does not think the discussion is over between the two sides on the barrier.
Other questions raised were about the Conservation 20/20 program, the tentative millage rate tied to it and transferring the funds to other areas of the budget, as well as the Boston Red Sox stadium, campaign donations and endorsements, and funding incentives to draw new industries to the county.
The minutes of the meeting will be posted on the Southwest Cape Coral Neighborhood Association’s website at: www.swccna.com.
The District 2 candidates are the guest speakers for the August meeting.
For more information about the meeting or club, call (941) 412-8978.