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Candidate forum draws big crowd

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Over 100 people turn out for Cedar Key event Tuesday night

By Lou Elliott Jones

More than 100 people turned out for the Cedar Key Lions Club Candidates Forum on Tuesday to hear the folks running for local and federal office pledge to be fiscal conservatives dedicated to downsizing government and government spending.
Lions Club President Dale Register read the two questions the club members devised before opening the questioning to the audience, moderated the event and kept strict track of the time allotment for answers. Candidates were limited to 90 seconds.
“When you can present a good answer shortly you are much more impressive,” he said.
Hernando Sheriff Rich Nugent, the Republican nominee for U.S. Congressional District 5, said the first thing he wanted to do was abolish the federal Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service.
While Nugent’s Democratic opponent was late due to a conflicting event, Jim Piccillo said he favors tax reform and simplifying the tax code, he would not endorse the FAIR tax calling it inflationary. “The fair tax takes an item that costs $1 and adds and inflationary 20 percent surcharge or sales tax,” he said. “I don’t think the FAIR tax is going to get us there.”
    Bernie DeCastro, Constitution Party nominee for the U.S. Senate , said, “The 16th Amentment should be repealed.” DeCastro, referring to the constitutional amendment that created the federal income tax, said it was never properly ratified. He also endorsed the FAIR tax.
    One questioner in the audience  said he had just paid $31,000 in  property taxes  due two years ago and asked candidates for the Levy County Commission if they could go back in time what would they do differently with the county budget.
    “I was just one vote but I came in and handed over the gavel to make a motion to bring the millage down,” said District 2 incumbent Nancy Bell of Chiefland, a Democrat. She said during the runup in property values the county had an “accelerating” budget that grew to $77 million. “The budget had gotten out of hand.”
The coming year’s budget is about $58 million — the same size it was five years ago. “Now the budget is back to almost exactly that,” she said. “I believe the commission saw what was happening … and we’re looking to spending less and bringing more efficiency.”
    Her Republican opponent, District 1 Commissioner Chad Johnson, said the “prevailing problem in government is politicians have used taxes to buy votes.” 
    His rule for budgeting is: “If you wouldn’t do it in your personal business, don’t do it in the public business.” He also mentioned that if a warehouse is needed by government there’s no need to build a brick building, and instead opting for a metal building. “That’s common sense conservatism,” he said.
    Businessman Ryan Bell of Chiefland the Republican nominee for District 4, said he would bring his business experience to bear in keeping budgets small. his approach is to think out of the box for ways to cut the budget. He also endorsed the idea of “whoever returns the biggest percentage of funds at the end of the year gets a bigger one the next year.”
    District 4 incumbent Lilly Rooks of Rosewood, a Democrat, said the important element in controlling spending is accountability for the funds. She said the commission started going through the budget line by line in the past few years and noted she worked to decrease taxation on specal assessments. “I live within my means and you live within your means, government should live within its means.
    The second question from the Lions members asked what candidates would do to support aquaculture and tourism — Cedar Key’s main businesses — that took a hit from the BP oil spill this summer.
State Rep. Leonard Bembry and his Republican opponent David Feigin of Cedar Key, each pledged to work in the state Legislature to help and to see to it that BP made good on its promises.
“I say we are going to have satisfaction on this,” said Bembry. “Our counties are going to be made whole.”.
    Feigin said the state operates only one fish hatchery while other Gulf of Mexico states have several and pledged he would work to expand the help the state gives aquaculture.
    Rooks said, “I fought against BP abd I stood alone,” she said, adding that the company was given a free hand and not made accountable to anyone in its handling of the spill, the cleanup or the claims process. “It’s time our federal government told BP they’re going to pay the claims,” Rooks said.
    Ryan Bell said the biggrst challenge is changing the perception of dirty beaches and fouled seafood created by the “negative media coverage” of the spill. “I’m a businessman. I feel your pain.”
    Johnson said he would work to create jobs by bringing money into the county and referred to the broadband authority that is bringing internet service to the county using federal stimulus money. He said it would create the opportunity for home-grown business.
    Nancy Bell said the state has an economy based on agriculture and tourism and it needs to look to manufacturing for its future. “I’d like to see something in solar like making rooftop units.”
    She also criticized the BP claims process for collecting oil spill damages. “These forms are a joke,” she said. They’re difficult to fill out and once filled claims must wait. “I can’t think of one person that has gotten a check yet.”