Full video of the High Springs commission candidates forum hosted by the High Springs New Century Woman's Club, Inc.
HIGH SPRINGS – Residents who have lately focused on the national election debates switched gears on Tuesday, Oct. 23, to focus on the upcoming Tuesday, Nov. 6, local city election. A referendum and a race between candidates Pat Rush and Byran Williams for the city commission seat being vacated by Mayor Dean Davis hang in the balance of this year’s election.
Approximately 65 residents of the 3,366 registered voters attended the hour-long forum as candidates expressed diverse opinions in answer to questions posed by the High Springs Woman’s Club.
Following a two-minute introduction by both candidates, each had three minutes to respond to prepared questions asked by moderator Alison Horvath. Candidates had one minute each to rebut his opponent’s answers. Once the prepared questions were answered, Horvath drew names of audience members who asked questions from the floor.
In his opening statement Rush cited lack of communication between the citizens and city government. Citizens “are not sure where the money is being spent…what the commission is doing…or the different functions of the city,” he said.
Attending meetings where commissioners talk to the city manager and attorney didn’t seem satisfying to Rush. He expressed a desire for a more hands-on approach. “I took the opportunity to go around and tour the sewer repair with some of the workers here in town and I think that type of involvement – meeting with the employees – helps to educate and let you know what’s exactly going on.”
Williams discussed his lifelong history and education in High Springs, his service to the city as mayor, vice-mayor, commissioner and pastor of a local church. He stressed that he did not “serve any particular group, but instead all of the citizens of High Springs.”
Saying he would like to restore the city’s reputation as “a friendly city…a place where people can come and meet a person on the street and say hi and shake their hands.” Fondly remembering the days when everybody spoke to everybody else on the street he said, “That’s the kind of High Springs I’d like to see again.”
In answer to a question about the amendment to the city’s charter to restrict municipal borrowing to $1 million on any single loan transaction unless a majority of commissioners and the voters approve a higher loan amount, Rush responded saying that the city is “$8.5 million in debt on a sewer system that loses money on every single user. It was a bad idea,” he said, indicating a gravity system would have been a better choice.
“Those of you on the system are on a grinder pump and they fail routinely,” he said. “Now we’re $8.5 million in debt on that.” Indicating the sewer system loan was a 40 year loan, he said, “I will be 95-years old” when it’s paid. “It must be stopped. We’re going to go broke if it continues. Yes, I think it was a reckless thing in the past and I’d like to see it stopped,” he added.
Williams expressed concern that if the funds are needed for an emergency, there might not be time to bring it before the commission and then before the citizens in a referendum. “It would take you forever,” he said. “You’ve tied the city’s hands.”
Indicating that commissioners are elected to act in the best interests of the city, he explained it will be confusing and divisive for citizens “and it’s time out for all that confusion and division in the city of High Springs.”
In rebuttal, Rush said, “It really wouldn’t affect my vote in the city as I have no intention of taking out loans for a million dollars… It’s real easy to take out loans. The reason I feel that this amendment is important is because it has happened in the past.”
Rebutting Rush’s comments, Williams emphasized the possibility of an emergency in which the city might have to act quickly. He explained, “If an emergency situation comes up, we don’t want to leave our citizens hanging around,” he said. “We elect our commissioners to make a judgment…a sound, sensible judgment to do what’s right for the city of High Springs. In spite of what other people may say or think,” he emphasized, “it can be done. It’s been done in the past,” he said.
In answer to their position on expansion of the sewer system, Williams said, “The city made the decision on the sewer system around 2000. I came onto the commission in 2003.” Citing figures indicating that if the current city population, which consists of 1,456 dwellings, was hooked up to the sewer system upon construction completion and at the city’s current rate of $34.41 per month for 12 months, the amount of money the city would generate would be $601,211.
Should the city decide to raise the rate to $69.45 per month, again with the same number of dwellings, the city would receive “$1.2 million per year,” he said.
“That’s easy math,” said Williams, who also said he was concerned that the city’s water system might be affected if the sewer system is not completed and expressed even more concern about the possibly of citizens being required to buy bottled drinking water.
Williams spoke about his concern regarding the “fairness” to those already hooked up of not completing the system. “It’s just not fair,” said Williams emphatically.
Rush countered by saying, “This is one huge difference between Mr. Williams and myself. I disagree with every single word he said.”
Rush went on to explain that half of his water bill was going to pay for people who were on the sewer. “In total we get about $180,000 per year, which is taken out of the water fund to pay for the sewer. That’s money that’s lost,” he said, “because the sewer loses that much money. An additional $8,000 comes out of trash pickup. We are dropping about $260,000 a year.”
Rush added, “Everyone who is not on the sewer is helping to pay for the sewer…This system is just a calamity.”
Because this election coincides with the national election, the Supervisor of Elections must certify the election results prior to declaring any candidate a winner. In past years, the winning candidate would have been sworn in at the next regular commission meeting after the election. This year it is estimated that swearing in of the new commissioner may not take place until possibly the second regular commission meeting in November.
The Supervisor of Elections office reports 3,366 registered voters for High Springs. During the 2011 election, 771 votes were cast by High Springs residents.
Voting locations this year are at Precinct 20, located at the High Springs Civic Center, 330 NW Santa Fe Blvd. (US 441) and Precinct 60, located at Fellowship Church of High Springs, 16916 NW US Hwy 441.
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