BRADENTON -- Infrastructure is on both minds of Bradenton's Ward 3 candidates, but they have different approaches to the issue.
Voters in the ward will decide the race Nov. 4.
Ward 3 City Councilman Patrick Roff has held the seat since 2006, a time when the economic collapse was fast approaching that would temporarily change the landscape of local government budgets that rely largely on property taxes. When property values fall, so does revenue and the city survived some dark days with what Roff calls good planning and preparation. Now that those days appear to be over and ad valorem revenue is on the rise, Roff said infrastructure is one of his top priorities.
Residents are likely to see some of that work going on now with downtown water main replacements and subsequent repaving. Roff predicts that every street in the city could be repaved within a decade's time with no new taxes thanks to the city's agreement with Manatee County to pump reused water to Lakewood Ranch. He said he will push for the council to devote that monthly revenue to infrastructure needs, including the long neglected 14th Street West corridor.
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"Like it or not, so many people use the 14th Street corridor and judge the town by what they see and we judge ourselves by that, as well," said Roff, who noted while a lot of exciting things are happening near the corridor, including the Village of the Arts, "We need to see 14th Street cleaned up."
His opponent, Paul Thomas, didn't offer a solution to the infrastructure problems, but said the city hasn't done enough to address it.
"Most people don't care about the Florida League of Cities or blah, blah, blah," said Thomas. "They don't care about economic development and things like that. I must have knocked on 2,000 doors and the general consensus is that the council is out of touch. Ask them about what the problems are and say stuff like cars going too fast on 17th Avenue or they have an abandoned house next door and no one is taking care of it. (Council members) got really important at some point and forgot about the pothole in the street."
Thomas said it's the everyday "broken-shoelaces" things that the city is neglecting, and officials need "to address the things that are really bugging people. It isn't the big economic thing, it's the broken-shoelace thing that is driving people crazy."
Thomas spent 20 years working for the city in public works and says that experience gives him an opportunity to take the everyday issues to the right person. A resident since 1953 and a retired member of the Florida National Guard, Thomas said he has lived through what is necessary to take care of the city.
According to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections website, Thomas has done well for a political newcomer in raising $8,558. As a former union man, he received heavy union support with a variety of unions donating more than $8,000 to his campaign. Thomas has spent $4,224 with his largest expenditures being about $2,000 for campaign signs, $1,160 on campaign mailers and $224 for campaign photos.
Roff said voters should look at his performance record in making their decision on Nov. 4.
"The biggest thing you are asked when you go on a job interview is, 'What have you done?' My performance record is well documented and includes everything I've done before I was elected in the community. That's what I have to offer. Judge me on my performance record," he said.
That performance includes the creation and organization of the Historic Ware's Creek neighborhood. Roff also spearheaded the $52 million flood control project that is not only making the neighborhood safer from flooding, but enhancing the neighborhood by having a long neglected creek cleaned and widened.
"I want to take that same focus to the neighborhoods around 14th Street West," said Roff. "I'm thrilled with what's going in the Village of the Arts and it's time to take that to the next level. When we created Realize Bradenton, we knew it was a good thing and now it's about how far can we take the village. I'm excited about the future and now that we are done with Ware's Creek, which really is an urban renewal project, my focus is on the 2,000 homes that are undervalued and not maintained. I believe we can get them cleaned and get homeowners in there and watch the American dream happen."
Roff said it's time "to focus on expanding the revitalization of the city into its southern neighborhoods and business districts. I am proud to be part of the team that steered the city through the worst economic crisis in history and I will continue to improve its economic health through jobs and smart growth."
Roff has raised $31,513 for his campaign from a variety of sources. He too, had some union support in the sum of $1,000 from the Fire and Paramedics Union. His largest donations were in a similar amount from builders Benderson Development, Minto Communities, Medallion Homes, CMPGE, John Neal Inc. and Patrick Neal. He also had local political support from fellow Councilman Gene Gallo for $100, retired U.S. congressman F.D. Miller for $500, and Longboat Key City Commissioner Jack Duncan for $100.
Roff has spent $10,143 with his largest expenditures being $1,554 for a campaign event at Soma Creekside, about $5,550 to Miller Strategies of Sarasota for retainer fees and political consultation and about $1,500 to Linda Cinque of Bradenton for fund raising strategies.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter