By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - Residents will vote for two women in the Nov. 6 election when it comes to County Commissioner District 3 seat.
Incumbent Paula Lewis is facing off against Debra Swanson.
Hometown News asked the candidates the same questions about their campaign. Their answers are below in alphabetical order, and can also be found online at www.myhometownnews.net.
Hometown News does not endorse any candidates for political office, but instead provides information about each candidate for voters to make an educated decision.
Name: Paula Lewis
Occupation: Current County Commissioner, District 3
Family: Two children, a daughter and a son.
Name: Debra Swanson
Occupation: Real estate broker
Spouse: Two children, Corissa and Karl, and two grandchildren, Christian and Joseph.
Q: How long have you lived in St. Lucie County?
Lewis: 25 years
Swanson: 33 years.
Q: Why should voters choose you?
Lewis: This is an important election for the county. After a booming economy in the early 2000s, we were hit hard by the national recession as our high-growth rate meant a sharp decline when the housing bubble burst.
We're all very aware of the economic slump over the last five years. As we begin to see signs of recovery, such as the county building department's increases in permit applications for the last 12 months, even reaching the levels of July 2008 this past July, and our available housing inventory is down from a 24-month supply to a four- to five-month supply, we need to proceed with care. We need experience, knowledge and stability on the board of county commissioners.
As a former small business owner with experience in the business climate of the county, and a commissioner with the knowledge of how to get things done in county government, I can help to us move forward.
There is still a lot to be done and I've handled the tough times and dealt with tough questions. I can provide positive leadership; I have honesty, integrity and I believe in applying common sense. I am always open to discussion and to considering new ideas. With your input we can find solutions that will work for us all.
Swanson: There are numerous attributes that set me apart from my opponent, such as: education, past and current private business ownership experience, actual, recent management of large, diverse businesses and organizations within the community, new energy, and a fresh perspective and vision toward the future.
The major difference is that this isn't a career to me. I am a passionate, concerned citizen and business owner who feels that it is my duty to give back to the community that I have called home for over 36 years.
I know that our government system is broken and my determination to fix it makes me the right choice for the citizens and businesses of St. Lucie County.
Q: What are the top two issues you wish to see addressed?
Lewis: The two items both come under the heading of economic issues: we need jobs and we need an expanded tax base to enable services to be provided without adding to the resident's tax burden.
Economic development is a basic aim at this time, both the creation of new businesses and the expansion of our existing commercial sector.
Swanson: The first issue is jobs and economy. The economy has slowed. Unemployment in our county is above 13 percent now and is the third highest in the state. Counties attract new and expanding businesses by the business climate they create. The government is not the solution to this county's economic difficulties, private business is.
I believe that we need to review both our short- and long-term strategic plans and goals to support and promote the existing business community, as well as to aggressively recruit new industry and business. Thinking out of the box is a must in today's environment. Plans and goals need to address our local government's current regulatory and permitting process, as well as current incentive programs, with adjustments being made as economic conditions dictate.
We are fortunate to have so many assets in place within our community that are perfect for inducing expansion and growth of existing, as well as future businesses, such as our port, our airport and several progressive research development parks, including the Tradition Center for Innovation located within Tradition in Port St Lucie and the Treasure Coast Education, Research and Development Park located in St. Lucie County to name just a few.
I am committed to bringing new leadership that will change the direction of St. Lucie County and restore the vitality that I know this county can once again have.
The second issue is fiscal policy, accountability and transparency. The county budget continues to hemorrhage tens of millions annually. In the good economic times, St. Lucie County was growing rapidly, along with county government. County government has over-extended itself in many areas.
Times are different now however, and this county faces many tough choices in the very near future. Property values have shrunk dramatically with the burst of the housing bubble. A quick drive up U.S. 1 counting the closed store fronts tells the story.
Walk through our residential neighborhoods and see the abandoned homes. People in the county have been severely tightening their belts for some time now and it's time county government begins to prioritize and tighten its belt further, as well.
There is room within the budget to cut costs, particularly when the government is spending more than what they are taking in. One must prioritize the most critical and important programs and services and rethink the necessity for purchases and spending during deep declines in revenue streams.
The current board has made huge cuts in personnel and services in the past three years, yet there has been little corresponding deterioration discernible in core services.
The county's recent fiscal constraints over the last three years have driven up county government efficiency. In other words, the cost/benefit ratio (core services provided per taxpayer dollar consumed) has climbed over this time period. That sounds great on its surface. However, it also indicates that previous spending levels were essentially wasting taxpayer money.
Once elected, I will work and focus my efforts on restoring fiscal responsibility, improving the county's business climate and act with only the highest integrity.
Q: If you could, what would be the one thing you would change in the county and why?
Lewis: Communication within the county is a long-standing problem. We are a very small part of the larger media market to the south in Palm Beach County, so coverage is often lacking.
Many areas of the county have different providers and the unavailability of a widespread means to connect leads to fragmented information.
Swanson: I believe that the one thing that I would like to see change in the county is a better working relationship between county government and the city governments. It is time for all entities to come together and work for the best interests of all of our respective citizens in the community.
The time has come to put territorialism aside and work together to consolidate or regionalize appropriate services.
There is no doubt that if we work together we can reduce cost(s) and provide more efficient services to the citizens of St. Lucie County.