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Brooksville City Council race pits incumbent, challenger

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:44 PM

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One is a political newcomer and sales consultant. The other a contract manager, incumbent on the Brooksville City Council and has been a community advocate since 1966.

In the race for city council Seat 2, voters will choose between Betty Erhard and incumbent Frankie Burnett.

Burnett, was elected to a city council seat in 2004, but lost his bid for re-election in 2008 to now-Mayor Joe Johnston III. Two years later he was selected to take the place of David Pugh, who resigned.

"I've been an advocate in the community since 1966," Burnett said. "It finally hit me that if you want to bring about change, you have to be part of the process from the inside."

Burnett became the swing vote roughly two years ago on the issue of keeping red light cameras in the city — voting initially in favor of them, but later changing his mind and voting against them.

He said he changed his mind because it was "what a majority of the people wanted."

His action resulted in the cameras being taken down citywide in 2010. However, last year council voted 3-2 to bring back the camera enforcement with Burnett again voting against them.

This year, Burnett and other council members came under fire for their decision to approve fees for fire protection, which charges property owners $71 or more depending on the improvements made to their property.

Those against the fee argue the fee is an additional tax, since property owners also pay taxes for the same level of protection.

Burnett agrees it is a tax, but added very few residents are actually opposed to the fees and agrees that they help ensure that everyone pays something for fire protection.

As to the budget, which included the fire fees along with increasing the tax rate from 6.37 to 6.6 mills, Burnett said during the final budget meeting that council members will have to consider further tax increases next year.

Although it's not a decision to take lightly, he said the need for infrastructure improvements will likely take precedence.

Even though they agree on red light cameras, Erhard has taken a strong stance against fire fees, arguing that implementing fees and other cost increases is the easy way out.

She said taxes and fees, along with red light cameras burden residents and deter potential business owners and residents from wanting to live in Brooksville.

Instead, the former chamber membership and sales representative says more should be done to look at cost cuts, hosting events and promoting the city.

"I'm very proactive," Erhard said. "And I stand on my decisions and I don't waiver, even if I stand alone."

She added that council members should have considered increasing the tax levy this year only if the fire fees weren't approved.

Other ideas she has include reviewing management salaries, having the city go paperless and placing a minimal sales tax increase on the ballot.

Where she also differs from Burnett is that she is not in favor of the city taking over the ownership of Hernando Park, which is being researched and will likely come before council this year or early in 2013.

She said it likely isn't feasible at this time for the city to take on park ownership when Brooksville is currently "operating on bare bones."

Overall, she said it's time the council had someone new who had fresh ideas and energy to tackle issues.

"Taking the path of least resistance and burdening the people is not the answer," Erhard said. "I know I can make a difference and bring fresh ideas and new energy to the council." (352) 544-5271

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