Richardson, Benac Debate Manatee Growth

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY OCT 11, 2016

Growth continues to dominate political discourse in Manatee County, and with the approval of major development and transportation efforts from Cortez to Parrish and Lakewood Ranch, there has been plenty to discuss in the countywide contest between incumbent Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac, a Republican, and challenger Jack Richardson, who is running without party affiliation. 

Days after the approval of a development plan for Peninsula Bay, Richardson says county commissioners, including Benac, were failing to properly manage growth. “Our departments are underfunded and this will greatly increase traffic without a solution in sight,” he says. He also criticized the approval of Tide’s End last week, and stressed that while he wasn’t against all development, he fears the county won’t be able to serve the public while accommodating so much new construction and so many new residents. “This increased density in a coastal high hazard area, and they did it anyway,” Richardson says.

Benac, though, says many don’t understand that existing state law leaves little room to deny projects in areas that are already served by roads. She says projects like Peninsula Bay, on large tracts of landing already surrounded by residential development, can’t reasonably be denied. “The idea we are somehow able to say no to development because there is road congestion requires a change in state law,” she says. The county has recently taken steps, though, to make sure growth will pay for itself moving forward. She and the board voted to phase impact fees back in this year, and the county has also moved ahead on bridge projects and road improvements. “We have got to keep moving forward,” she says. “We can’t go back to the Manatee County that was in our childhood.”

Benac also supports a proposed sales tax on the ballot to help pay for infrastructure in the region. “It is not going to new improvements and new capacity and will go to maintaining improvements made years ago,” she says. The fairest way to keep up infrastructure was a tax paid by all, she says. But Richardson doesn’t have faith in how revenues will be spent. A critic of the existing county administration, Richardson feels that unless waste is brought under control—he questioned the money spent on a bridge at Fort Hamer and major improvements to 44th Avenue East—he couldn’t support a tax. “It’s [Benac’s] job and the commissioners’ job to manage growth and manage our resources so we don’t have to raise taxes to satisfy services and have growth at the same time,” he says. “It will never be perfect but they haven’t even tried.”

Richardson and Benac are running for Manatee County Commission District 7 (At-Large). The general election will be held November 8.

Pictured: Jack Richardson, Betsy Benac.

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