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Tuesday, Aug 21, 2018
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Election forum hears from six city council candidates in Temple Terrace

TEMPLE TERRACE — Candidates for City Council offered varied ideas for Downtown Temple Terrace and called for budget control and lower taxes in a forum before residents this week.

Six candidates vying for two open seats on the council Nov. 8 spoke before a large crowd Tuesday at the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club. The two who draw the most votes win the seats.

Here is a summary of their main points:

Phillip Armiger, 62, retired Temple Terrace firefighter:

Armiger objected to the proposal by Eriksson Technologies to pay $250,000 for the corner lot in the Downtown Temple Terrace project, saying the city shouldn’t allow someone to “dictate to us what they’re going to pay us, what corner they’re going to be on.’’

He would like the building placed in the center of the property instead of being the anchor for the development.

Armiger criticized former Mayor Joe Affronti for the tie--breaking vote in 2009 that turned the property over to developer Vlass Temple Terrace in exchange for developing it according to the city’s vision. The land stretches along the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River. Vlass and the city parted ways and the city had to pay $1.6 million to get the property back.

“We have to have new people in with new ideas and a new direction.’’

Frank Chillura, 48, businessman, past council member and current mayor:

Chillura said the $250,000 offer from Eriksson is too low, and he wants the company to prove it has the finances to build a $21.7 million building, as it proposed.

He said the council and the citizens should be able to hear every reasonable proposal for the redevelopment area. Because of initial criticism of Florida Hospital’s plan to build an emergency department on the corner lot, the company withdrew its proposal before the City Council could hear the details.

He said Lowe’s showed interest at one point, but the council did not want “a big box.’’

Chillura said taxes “are out of control, the highest millage rate in the region,’’ adding that it discourages people and businesses from moving to the city

Wael Odeh, 56, professional engineer

He said the city should develop a “technology village’’ around the Eriksson project so that the city can pool the resources in the area, like the University of South Florida, Florida College, Moffitt Cancer Center and other institutions, to create high-paying jobs.

Odeh, who told the crowd that he has overseen multi-billion engineering projects, said he has the needed experience to deal with the city’s infrastructure improvements. He said the city must strive to have strong neighborhoods, smart growth and economic development.

The city should move cautiously toward annexing adjacent territory, he said, sharing a view voiced by other candidates. He noted that past annexations burdened the city with stormwater problems.

Andy Ross, 52, consultant, retired law enforcement officer:

He suggested that the city sell off the riverfront residential properties in the Downtown Temple Terrace acreage before worrying about commercial development on the northern portion.

“The developers will be lined up to buy that,’’ he said.

“Immediately, that’s money that would come into the city in terms of property sales, impact fees, the ongoing tax revenue.’’

He said the city needs to “get a handle on our millage rate,’’ avoid imposing new taxes and fees and keep the cost of doing business in the city low.

Gil Schisler, 62, retired chief financial officer:

He said while Eriksson may not be the ideal anchor for the redevelopment area, the city needs to move ahead with the project.

He said other developers are interested in locating there, but “they don’t want to be the first.’’

Schisler said the “budget is insane,’’ and he can get it under control.

He also stressed the need to retain police and other city employees, and pay them properly “so they don’t have to go to food banks to survive.’’

Duane Zolnoski, 57, retired telecommunications director

Eriksson’s offer of $250,000 “does not move the city forward,’’ he said.

He suggested that the city seek proposals from not just the region but throughout the country.

It would be less expensive, he said, if the city floated a 25-year bond issue to pay the $24 million debt it owes on the purchase and improvements to the Downtown Temple Terrace property.

He said that the city hires too many consultants. It could save money, too, by hiring a city attorney rather than having a private firm on retainer.

The only unopposed candidate appearing was former city manager Kim Leinbach, who will become mayor after Nov. 8.

Leinbach stressed the need “to negotiate very hard’’ with Eriksson, keep the lid on taxes and make the city more inviting to businesses and new residents.

Contact Philip Morgan at [email protected]

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