A Critical Election: How Do I Decide Who To Vote For? by Jim Melican

Later this month, there will be a very important election in Naples, determining for the next four years who our Mayor will be and the composition of half of the Naples City Council. The Gulf Shore Association of Condominiums (GSAC) recently conducted a Candidates Forum, in which both mayoral candidates and five of the six City Council candidates (to fill three seats) answered questions that had been submitted to them in advance.

What struck me was the considerable degree to which all their answers were the same, or at least very similar. There doesn’t appear to be that much disagreement about what the issues are. Citizens are concerned about maintaining Naples small town character and charm; feel that more attention needs to be paid to water quality in all of its manifestations; cite increased traffic as a concern, while having divergent views about the wisdom of installing more roundabouts; and feel that the city ordinances need to be changed so that it will be considerably more difficult for developers to get variances and site plans with deviations approved by the City’s Planning Advisory Board and City Council.

Most residents seem to be happy with Naples as it is, while worrying about proposed projects just beyond the City’s boundaries  which, if approved and built, will impose further strain on the City’s infrastructure, whether that be parks, available parking, restaurants or cultural venues. Yet most also recognize that we cannot build a wall around the city and throw away the key.
Our downtown areas need to be continually revitalized, or they will over time become stagnant.

So if there is, broadly speaking, a consensus about what does need to change, what is the best way to bring that about? Changing the city ordinances is a good first step. Although it will still be possible for developers to get variances from the City Code, the criteria are being changed in such a manner that approval will be far less likely.

And the City is at long last beginning the project of replacing the storm water pipes that discharge at beach outfalls, dispersing
the water directly into the Gulf of Mexico. The issue around this is the extent to which the water will be first treated to remove the ingredients, such as phosphates from fertilizers, that contribute to the algae and red tide problems that now seem to be much
worse than they were historically.

An even knottier problem is how to go about rehabilitating the twenty retention lakes that have long served to filter pollutants out of stormwater runoff. These lakes, which many people just see as decorative ponds, probably need to be dredged, but in most instances, they are on private property and the City does not own them.

There will certainly be a number of new projects that the City will need to fund with tax revenue, while at the same time
contributing additional monies to those city pension plans that are under-reserved. The fact that some of the candidates are
advocating that a zero-based budgeting approach be adopted is a definite plus. Zero-based budgeting means that every
expenditure is on the table and only those that offer the most “bang for the buck” will be funded going forward. At a time
when real estate values have increased markedly but the millage rate has not been reduced, we as citizens need officeholders who
will be effective stewards of our tax dollars.

It is relatively easy for the candidates to identify the issues. The challenge for us as voters is to determine which of them have
what I call the three e’s – expertise, experience and energy -to tackle those issues and make our beautiful City an even better
place to live during the next four years.

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