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District 3 commission race boasts crowded candidate field

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:39 PM

The District 3 county commission race features two well-known personalities in Democrat Diane Rowden and Republican Jason Sager.

The race also has a write-in candidate in Tanya Marsh, better known as "skater girl" and a no-party-affiliation candidate in Greg Sheldon.

Diane Rowden

Democrat Diane Rowden's name is well-known to Hernando Countians.

She and her husband Jay, moved to Hernando County in 1985.

She was elected to county commission in 2000 and served two terms.

Previously, she served four years on the Hernando County School Board.

Two years ago, she ran unsuccessfully against Robert Schenck in her bid for the District 44 Florida House of Representatives seat.

"Is Hernando County better in 2012 than it was in 2008?" Rowden asked. "I think most people living here would agree with me when I say 'No.' Over the last four years, the county commission has really lost its way.

"They don't have a real plan to help our existing businesses, change our dismal job market and reverse our shrinking property values. The people of Hernando County are suffering. It's like the commissioners don't care."

If elected, Rowden, 60, said she will use the business skills of retired local businessman James "Jimmy" Lodato to bolster economic development. She will also work with County Administrator Len Sossamon as he drafts a strategic plan for the long-term growth of Hernando County.

"We have a community right now on life support," Rowden said.

Partisan politic bickering, she said, must end and all board members must unite to find ways to attract jobs, end the foreclosure crisis and clean up area retention ponds and neighborhoods that are becoming overrun with weeds and litter.

Because of the housing collapse, elderly people are trapped in their homes, unable to sell them because they are upside down on their mortgages, she said.

Rowden said through her career she has stressed customer service and government accountability and that won't change if she is elected.

"For a very long time Hernando County was the best place in to live, open a business and raise kids," said Rowden. "We've lived here for nearly three decades — had a small business, raised our kids and even our grandchildren here.

"Since I left office in 2008, I've noticed a big change in the county, and it really hasn't been for the better."

Rowden said Hernando County has one of the worst unemployment rates in Florida, property values are sinking, and services are shrinking.

"This situation is not going to correct itself," she said. "Our county needs someone with a proven track record who will get things done. The people of Hernando need someone who really cares."

Jason Sager

Republican Jason Sager has a multi-pronged job growth plan, written after several months of meetings with local business leaders and ascertaining their needs.

He said the plan offers "common-sense solutions" to Hernando's growing unemployment problems by focusing on new educational opportunities matched with incentives to promote new and expanding business.

"Our community needs to have their faith in government restored," Sager said. "For far too long politics has overshadowed solutions."

The plan includes a focus on recruiting manufacturing, as well as technology companies, into Hernando County by lessening regulations, streamlining bureaucracy and stabilizing tax burdens.

Sager's plan also includes aviation education opportunities at the airport.

"The people of Hernando need solutions not campaign rhetoric. I urge my opponents to put petty political squabbles aside and do what's right for the people of Hernando County and the generation that will follow us," he said.

Sager said people have lost faith in government and it hasn't helped, he said, when the commissioners approve excessive salaries for unqualified managers.

Last year, Sager ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress. He was defeated by Republican and former county sheriff Rich Nugent.

Hernando County's unemployment rate, he said, consistently ranks near the bottom of the 67 state counties and county commissioners have not adequately addressed the problem.

Businesses, he said, will not even contemplate expansion until they are confident their local government officials will not do something counterproductive to their long-term plans.

Sager said property tax rates must be stabilized and will work with state legislators to separate the relationship between the general millage rate and commercial property tax and tangible tax.

One of the pieces of his plan will be to push for charter government, which gives the local electorate greater control over regional affairs, said Sager, who would seek consensus from the board to put the question on a referendum.

Sager is against privatizing the utilities department.

He also supports the elimination of impact fees, which he said only allows government to grow bigger.

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh, 51, qualified as a write-in candidate for the District 3 commission race and, as such, her name will not appear on the ballot.

Marsh, running with no party affiliation, can be seen frequently at the corner of Mariner Boulevard and State Road 50 where she holds signs advertising businesses while on roller skates.

The Georgia native, who refers to herself as "skater girl" said she represents the "everyday people" candidate.

She wants to get companies to form partnerships with local high schools so students can be taught the right skills for high-paying jobs upon graduation.

"We need to invest in kids at the high-school level," she said.

Marsh said she would push for more "in-ground" signs for businesses. Companies right now cannot advertise because of the restrictive sign ordinance and she believes the less intrusive smaller signs would be a benefit.

Marsh said she has been talking with Pasco County transit authorities about expanding bus service into Hernando County, especially at the Pasco-Hernando Community College branch off U.S. 19.

Such an expansion would increase ridership, she said.

Finally, Marsh said she would fight against raising taxes for Hernando County residents.

Greg Sheldon

If elected, Greg Sheldon, 33, said in an earlier interview he would make job creation his top priority.

As a no-party-affiliation candidate, he said he can look at the "big picture" and work across party lines.

Sheldon, the owner and operator of GCLS Contracting Inc., said he has management experience and is proficient in crafting budgets.

A native of Pennsylvania, Sheldon has lived in Hernando County for more than 20 years.

Instead of waiting out the recession, Sheldon said he knew he had to diversify his company to survive and it has now become a model of success.

Sheldon said he believes most people don't think the county is moving in the right direction.

Sheldon, a 1997 graduate of Central High School, said it is imperative the board give the county's economic development manager "the tools to do his job" and entice new industry.

Those tools include business incentives through land, tax breaks or money.

Sheldon said he would work with the school board to open an adult technical training facility to teach the unemployed the job skills needed to be valuable in the labor market.

Sheldon said it his love of family and roots in the community that drove him to run for county commission.

It's time, he said, to stop looking for cuts in governmental services and "start looking for growth."

He said it is important that area libraries and parks stay open.

"Hernando County needs to create an atmosphere conducive of growth," according to Sheldon's website. "It needs to, through community development, create an environment that not only draws in new residents, but that draws our bright graduates of today and tomorrow back to the county to engage in the productive future Hernando County has."

The county, he said, must appeal to companies "looking for a new home, with Florida's best workers, to take action and make this their home, too."


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