Tarpon Springs Election Q&A: Candidates for City Commission Seat 2 Share Their Views | News
Tarpon Springs voters have many decisions to make on March 15. The ballot includes races for mayor and three seats on the city commission. We asked candidates what their position was on several issues. This is the first in a series of articles that will highlight their responses.
We start with the race for place 2, which opposes Craig Lunt and Lisa Malamatos-Benitez. The current seat 2 incumbent, Costa Vatikiotis, is running for mayor and stepping down for the final year of his term.
Q: What are the three critical issues facing Tarpon Springs?
Malamatos-Benitez: I see the division among people as a detriment to accomplishing anything in the future. Community unity! Stabilize population growth. Keep our taxes the same or reduce them. Keep saving. Do not touch it.
Lount: Flood and infrastructure maintenance, completion of comprehensive and strategic plans, and affordable and accessible housing.
Q: How would you approach these issues?
Malamatos-Benitez: People expressing their differences of opinion and discussing them together is a step towards collaboration. Working with the Historical Society to enlighten people about our history would be unifying. Is the city government providing too many services? Is there anything that can be eliminated so as not to be such a burden on the taxpayer? The budget must therefore be constantly evaluated. We welcome new people and are truly flattered when they choose Tarpon Springs as their home. But I think the rapid influx of people has scared off the elders who love the lifestyle and culture as it is.
Lount: Flooding and Infrastructure: Many parts of the city are still prone to flooding and there are also areas of the city that have basic pedestrian and traffic safety needs. As Commissioner, I will ensure that these priorities are met through responsible budgetary allocation.
Global and strategic plans: We cannot pragmatically approach growth and development without objectives and established plans to achieve them. I will support any effort to ensure that both of these needs are addressed and codified.
Affordable Housing: Every effort should be made to provide quality affordable housing while ensuring that the unique character of Tarpon Springs is not lost.
Q: What was your position on the Anclote Harbor luxury apartment complex? How did you come to this position?
Malamatos-Benitez: As a candidate, I did not have all the information/backups that the sitting committee had to make its decision. The problem is that people don’t know how local government works and how these decisions are made. The commissioners must make their decision based on facts and sworn testimony, which has legal implications because this is a quasi-judicial hearing. The City Attorney announces before the quasi-judicial hearing what the Board of Commissioners must consider when making a decision and he did exactly that. I believe in personal property rights as provided by the US Constitution.
Lount: I was against. I was not entirely satisfied with the Morgan Group’s candor and had reservations about several statements they had made publicly. Security of access to/from US 19 was a major concern as well as the impact on surrounding wetlands. The fact that they overruled a 6 to 1 decision against this project from our planning and zoning board did not go down well and I felt the city staff went out of their way to accommodate indicating that they met all the requirements of our comprehensive program. plan, which I don’t believe they did.
Q: Does Tarpon Springs need an apartment moratorium? Why or why not?
Malamatos-Benitez: I’ve read about moratoriums and apparently they don’t work the way people think they should. That said, I would definitely consider a moratorium to see if it would be appropriate for Tarpon Springs.
Lount: It’s not. We need more affordable and accessible housing and creative use of apartments to help achieve this goal. A moratorium, in addition to limiting any currently proposed development, would also have the effect downstream of deterring developers from even considering Tarpon Springs as a possible development area in the future and could therefore harm our prospects in general. What is needed is careful attention and adherence to current code, zoning, global and strategic plans while encouraging creative ways to meet our housing needs.
Q: What makes you more qualified than your opponent for this position?
Malamatos-Benitez: I know Tarpon Springs, inside and out. I am a fourth generation Tarponite. I worked for the city and my family worked for the city and I watched everything that happened in this city for many years. I’ve held many board and committee positions and now is the time to put my money where I speak. Running for Seat 2 is my contribution to my beloved community. My work experiences and my community involvement give me an advantage as a commissioner. Tarpon Springs is in my heart and soul.
Lount: I currently work in the area of networking and cybersecurity focused on protecting education and local government and have been in this profession for over 40 years. As such, I am a person concerned with detail and teamwork. I am trained to listen and consider the thoughts and positions of multiple stakeholders before formulating a plan of action that matches their goals. I will listen to and consider the citizens and businesses of Tarpon Springs before making any decisions.
Q: What is your vision for the future of the city?
Malamatos-Benitez: My vision for the future of Tarpon Springs is that we can get back to that old feeling of a small fishing community. That feeling is really missed here. Yes, when it comes to government and infrastructure, we can make progress, but keep it simple.
Lount: I imagine a city that speaks to its citizens and businesses and includes them as a starting point in its decision-making process so that everyone is aware and understands the decisions made and ensures that these decisions reflect the needs citizens and want for their city.
I envision a city that prioritizes the maintenance of our current infrastructure, assets and services as a primary responsibility to all citizens and neighborhoods and not just an afterthought or focus in certain areas.
I envision a city where “Living, working, playing” is a reality accessible to all who wish.