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Commission candidates share views

By Staff | Jul 27, 2010

County school board candidates and commission candidates whose names will appear on the primary ballot attended a forum hosted by the Cape Coral Civic Association Tuesday night.
In the county race, District 1 Republican candidates Chris Berardi, Robert Chilmonik, Mike Jackson, and John Manning; District 2 Republican candidates Brian Bigelow, Sonny Haas, Cecil Pendergrass and Dick Ripp all answered questions crafted by Civic at the Cape Coral Yacht Club.
Each of the candidates present at Tuesday’s forum are vying for the primary nomination.
Throughout the forum, candidates were asked about a number of countywide issues such as the Conservation 20/20 program, what to do with Lee County’s prodigious reserves, and whether they support single member districts.
When asked whether they support transferring money from the Conservation 20/20 program to help balance the county budget, candidates generally responded that they didn’t support using money out of a voter-approved program for other purposes.
“The voters approved 20/20 and we should spend the money the way the voters want it spent,” said Jackson, who said he wants the program maintained and used for the purposes approved by voters.
“We should leave that fund alone and not use it to try and balance the budget,” said Chilmonik who said that difficult decisions on balancing the budget shouldn’t be postponed, and simply shifting dollars prolongs the pain and increases the chance of a tax increase the following year.
“I would not be in favor of moving that money to the general fund. It has been renewed and hopefully that will continue, and to move that money back in the general fund in any fashion is wrong,” said Manning.
Candidates were asked other questions related to the county budget, specifically whether they would shift county reserves into the general fund to balance the budget.
“As far as the contingency, I believe we need to live in our means. We can’t continue to spend the contingency down,” said Ripp.
Bigelow, the only incumbent present at the forum, said the former boom years bloated the county’s budget.
“We were hoarding in more than $1.5 billion and we were sitting on that money year after year,” he said, adding he has tried to use interest from county reserves to cut taxes.
“People talk about identifying core services, saving core services and chopping everyone else. After you trim their budgets down, after everybody’s need and want bases are solved and the budget is as tight as it can be, I’d have no problem taking some of the reserves in a step down approach,” said Haas.
Because the forum was hosted in Cape Coral, candidates were also asked how they would improve relations between Lee County and the city.
“As a county, we need to stop suing the City of Cape Coral,” said Berardi, adding that he wants to host monthly town hall meetings in the city to hear the needs of the community.
“I personally have been coming to Cape Coral, speaking with the people, walking your streets ad I have heard your concerns,” said Pendergrass. “I will come to your meetings, I will come to your house and I will listen to you.”