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HomeLocal & StateMeet the Candidates: County Commission District 2 - Aug. 23 Primary

Meet the Candidates: County Commission District 2 – Aug. 23 Primary

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This is not a Universal Primary Contest, so the candidates will only appear on Republican Primary ballots. The winner of this election will run against the write-in candidate in the General Election on Nov. 8. Candidates must reside in the area of the county they are running to represent. All voters in the county vote for candidates from a single district.

Each candidate was given the opportunity to provide a 150-word bio and respond to our questions within 800 words.

Thank you to the candidates for providing a bio and answering our questions.

BRIAN HAWKINS (REP)

Brian Hawkins, photo courtesy of Brian Hawkins.
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BIO:
My professional career began and continues as an entrepreneur, possessing exceptional leadership and delegation skills with the crucial ability to function well both independently and in a fast-paced business and political environment.

I am a veteran of the United States Navy. I served in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I am a staunch supporter of our military and first responders. Honor, Courage, and Commitment are values I learned at a young age and continue to be the cornerstone of my life.

I live in District 2 with my wife of 16 years, we have three children, and my family is proud to be active in supporting many local organizations including Jericho Road Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, and Friends of Hernando County Parks and Recreation. In 2018 I was nominated and completed the Chamber of Commerce “Leadership Hernando”, and in 2015 was a member of the inaugural class of the US Small Business Administrations “Emerging Leaders Initiative”.
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Describe up to three ordinances that need to be modified/removed/added.
I do not have three specific ones in mind however I think all ordinances should be reviewed periodically to continue to ensure their usefulness and appropriateness. Ordinances should be there to protect the public, not to empower bureaucrats and hurt businesses.

Do you see any areas where the county needs to increase funding? How could this be paid for?
It’s important to look at this question from a business approach and work with the revenue you have. For example, in the private sector, to increase revenues you must invest capital, to ultimately increase sales. This could be accomplished by attracting businesses to invest in our community, or by looking at our current silos of government and turn levers on or off to flow funds to critical projects rather than increasing taxes.

Do you see any areas where funding/the budget can be cut?
I will be a good steward to the taxpayers of this community, I will always look for ways to reduce the size of government and eliminate unnecessary spending.

If you are in favor of decreasing the budget, how do you pay for obligated salary increases, cost of living increases, and other inflationary costs?
A business approach, this is accomplished by ensuring the RFP/RFQ government bid process is modernized to ensure capital projects are completed in a timely manner and within the budget allotted, which in turn saves the taxpayer, strengthening economic development to capture the revenue spent outside of this county is another option, If we strengthen the workforce and create higher paying jobs this will decrease the number of commuters requiring jobs outside of our county.

Please describe up to three county projects that are most important to the county and why? (Example: Additional recreation, Airport development etc… ).
Population growth requires enhanced infrastructure, quality of life improvements for our residents and job creation to allow the current and new residents opportunities to earn a livable wage within our county. In my opinion these are the three areas we should be focused on as a community. Infrastructure, Economic Development, Parks and Recreation.

Please describe up to three top issues facing the county that need to be addressed. (Example: the opioid epidemic, flooding, managing development, etc…)
Emergency Services is a top priority. The increased growth will continue to put pressure on our first responders. We can not afford to outgrow our safety resources. Delays due to growth are annoying when it comes to permitting, it’s deadly when it comes to emergency services that cannot respond to our citizens.

Do you feel that the county’s COVID-19 response was appropriate? In hindsight, what changes would you make?
I do, We are extremely lucky to live in a State as free as Florida, thanks primarily to Governor DeSantis, and his Data first approach and leadership to the response to the pandemic. Our County took those recommendations, along with local data to respond. I commend the current Board for their response and leadership, and proud to serve on the Governor’s Hernando County host committee to help reelect the greatest Governor in our States history.

What inspired you to run for county commissioner?
I believe we are in a transformational period in our County. I feel, we all have an obligation as residents to ensure the sustainability and growth of our community and that when my children are adults, they can say with pride they were raised in Hernando County, Florida. In my life whether personal or business I’ve lived by a single motto “leave it better, then you found it”. Therefore, I decided to run, and ultimately why I and my supporters believe I am the right person, at the right time, for this position. It’s time to be hard on the process, and not the people’.

MIKE FULFORD (REP)

Mike Fulford, photo courtesy of Mike Fulford.

BIO:
Mike Fulford is a Civil Engineer since 1984. Mike retired in 2013 as an Army Corps of Engineer Officer in the rank of Colonel. His professional highlights include managing a civil works and environmental restoration budget in excess of $550 Million-annually. Mike is also a decorated combat veteran, having served three separate combat tours in Afghanistan (2002), and Iraq (2008 and 2011).

Mike is active in his community as a member of the Hernando County Waterways Advisory Committee, serves as the current Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, a member of the Community Emergency Response Team, a member of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, and a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He is also a graduate of the Sheriff’s Department Citizens Academy and the Sheriff Department Situational Awareness Firearms Education program.

Mike is a fiscal conservative who believes in government by the people and for the people. Mike supports the 2nd Amendment and private property owner rights. He has been married for 35(+) years and has two sons, who are both serving in the US Army.
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Describe up to three ordinances that need to be modified/removed/added.
Three ordinances that need to be modified include the Sign Ordinance, the Accessory Structure Ordinance, and the Marine Construction Code. The Sign Ordinance is outdated. A recent Supreme Court Decision related to the 1st Amendment voids portions of the current ordinance. The Accessory Structure Ordinance needs to be updated to address permitting requirements for outdoor storage on private property and the Marine Construction Code requires a review as it relates to private dockage and boat lifts constructed in our coastal zone. Permitting for any construction project in my opinion is more complicated than it needs to be, and takes too much time in order to receive a permit.

Do you see any areas where the county needs to increase funding? How could this be paid for?
Hernando County is about five years behind in infrastructure planning and improvements, which includes our roads and services. One way of paying for these improvements is through a fair tax that everyone pays, including part-time residents, tourists, renters, and property owners. Currently, property owners carry the majority of the tax burden through our property taxes. My plan is to spread the cost out across all users and consumers.

Do you see any areas where funding/the budget can be cut?
Property taxes can be cut by reducing the millage rate and making up the difference by enacting consumption taxes. Additionally, by attracting industry to the Brooksville Airport Industrial Zone, corporations pay property taxes at a higher rate than residential property owners. The idea is to spread out the cost to a greater population and not just have homeowners. A secondary effect is jobs at the Brooksville Airport Industrial Zone pay on average 1.3 times greater, compared to Spring Hill. I am a strong supporter of small businesses which I consider to be the fiber of our society.

If you are in favor of decreasing the budget, how do you pay for obligated salary increases, cost of living increases, and other inflationary costs?
I am in favor of reducing government in general and providing only those services that taxpayers are willing to pay for. The exception is our first responders whose services I consider essential, especially in an economic downturn. The reality however is that with a current 8.9% inflation rate, rising labor costs, and competition for labor to provide services, there are little to no opportunities to reduce current county budgets. I am an advocate for seeking out inefficiencies. The alternative is for voters to agree that services need to be reduced and in what areas.
I am not in favor of reducing the budget this year but look forward to future opportunities when the economy right sizes itself. Having said that, I am in favor of looking now for each and every opportunity to reduce frivolous costs and reduce inefficiencies.

Please describe up to three county projects that are most important to the county and why? (Example: Additional recreation, Airport development, etc… ).
County projects that are important to residents and taxpayers are supporting the VoTech Facility that is being constructed through a partnership between the school district and PHSC. Another project that requires our attention is Veterans Services. Hernando County has one of the largest veteran populations in the state. Our services should be first-rate to address veterans’ Mental Health, Employment, and Homelessness. A third focus area is affordable housing in the right location. For example, a newly hired Sheriff’s Department Deputy will spend almost half of their paycheck in order to rent an apartment in Hernando County. Finally, recreational opportunities for residents also need to be addressed. Pine Island, Rogers Park, and the Ball Fields are in high demand given our growing Hernando County population.

Please describe up to three top issues facing the county that need to be addressed. (Example: the opioid epidemic, flooding, managing development, etc…)
Three top issues include the rapid growth of our population, the strain on our infrastructure and services, and managing the budget, recognizing that there may be a downturn in the economy and a reduction in tax revenues. I am an advocate for developing a two-five-fifteen-year Master Plan tied to funding. Currently, we have the Comprehensive Plan which addresses zoning. Capital improvements and planning for services fall on each County Office to develop. I am not convinced these plans have all been coordinated. It is a reality that economies grow and contract. We may be looking at a contraction in the near future implying lower tax revenues. The challenge will be to live within our means and not take from the reserve account, which has been done in the past.

Do you feel that the county’s COVID-19 response was appropriate? In hindsight, what changes would you make?
It is my opinion the COVID-19 response by the State of Florida and Hernando County was appropriate to protect the health and welfare of the community. We are a capitalistic society. Shutting down the economy would have had a destructive impact on our community. Florida today is the envy of almost every State of the Union because of our freedoms and economy.

What inspired you to run for county commissioner?
I would like an opportunity to address our rapid growth, control our rate of taxation, and maintain our quality of life. As a subject matter expert in coastal maintenance and regulation, infrastructure development, and environmental stewardship, and with over 35 years of civil engineering experience, my desire is to maintain our Hernando County quality of life.

APRIL JOHNSON SPENCE (REP)

April Johnson-Spence
Photo courtesy of
April Johnson-Spence

BIO:
April Johnson-Spence is a well-rounded candidate for Hernando County Commission District 2. A resident in the county for 17 years and a GOD-fearing wife and mother to 4 children, she cares for her aging father. Highly skilled in business with experience as a previous owner of a construction business, working for both for-profit and non-profit businesses. She earned her education of an A.S. in Human Services and a B.S. in Business / Public Safety from PHSC.

She is a conservative voice in government affairs, business groups, mental health, senior services, veteran’s support, educational, political, volunteer, and philanthropic areas. She will listen to you, learn from you, and Lead with your best interests in mind. Focusing on fiscal responsibility, proactive growth, and visionary planning, April will change the way you interact with local government. She will represent you and give the power back to the residents of Hernando County.
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Describe up to three ordinances that need to be modified/removed/added.
A new ordinance that allowed for term limits on the County Commission and advisory boards. Removing appointments for advisory boards out of the commissioners’ hands and into a peer board to avoid favoritism. A modified ordinance for Parks and Rec removing the limitation of pets in county parks. Making Hernando County pet-friendly would help to create tourism and quality of life for residents. I would also remove the stipulation that residents can not carry a gun on county property. That goes against our 2nd Amendment right.

Do you see any areas where the county needs to increase funding?
The county needs to prioritize the “human part” of the county budgets such as Parks and Rec, Health and Human Services, the Sherriff Department, and Emergency Service operations in the county. With growth you get more “people problems”, and we have not grown our infrastructure to meet the demand. How could this be paid for? The growing tax base from property values and the development of additional properties. We can cut wasteful spending and we can apply for more grant funding since we now have a full-time grant writer.

Do you see any areas where funding/the budget can be cut?
We really need to address wasteful spending and maintain a balanced budget. We only have about 3 months’ worth of reserves, yet we spend money on frivolous projects listed below. Almost $800k for a parking lot in Hernando Beach and another $67k for a feasibility study on a multimillion-dollar project that is not yet approved. Almost $90k for the salary and benefits for a video production position (who is since retired). Almost $400k for investment into a startup company in Brooksville. $1.7 million for covid relief payments to county staff for one-time payments (when they worked all the way thru covid).

If you are in favor of decreasing the budget, how do you pay for obligated salary increases, cost of living increases, and other inflationary costs?
I am not in favor of decreasing the budget but instead spending it more wisely. Although ultimately lower taxes would be the goal, we need to make sure we are managing the assets, services, and people we have before adding new projects. A constant tax is better than a flexible one that changes due to poor planning. Many of our local families have a fixed budget and fluctuations in taxes don’t parallel their income changes.

Please describe up to three county projects that are most important to the county and why?
(Example: Additional recreation, Airport development, etc… )

1. Airport development and expansion via widening the runway to attract more businesses.
2. Supporting the technical education center to help in the training and retention of skilled trades. I would like to see a workforce development program to train potential future county-needed staff.

Please describe up to three top issues facing the county that need to be addressed. (Example: the opioid epidemic, flooding, managing development, etc…)
1. Maintaining the recreation, we currently have and getting it back to a higher standard. Under Chris Lindback’s leadership, there is a great plan in place, and we need to fund and prioritize those projects before taking on new ones.
2. Economic Development to attract higher-paying jobs. We have so many lower-paying jobs in the county that many of the more skilled professionals leave the county for work and end up spending money in those other counties which is a loss of tax revenue. We need to keep our county as an attractive place to bring new businesses. We have to have good schools, infrastructure, and opportunities. Cutting some of the red tapes that delays businesses at the permitting stage will be a priority.

Do you feel that the county’s COVID-19 response was appropriate?
Yes, considering we were dealing with an unprecedented event. In hindsight, what changes would you make? I would have hardened our output capabilities for staff to be able to fluidly and seamlessly work from home as needed. I am proud that our county stayed open and didn’t enforce mask or vaccine mandates.

What inspired you to run for county commissioner?
I have served Hernando County by being involved with boards and advisory committees such as CHIPP, Mental Health Funding, Public Safety, Kass Circle, and Anderson Snow Planning meetings. How can they govern from the cloud? As the only candidate in my race that has been an active precinct person and member of the Hernando Republican Party, I have supported conservative values, growing the party, and encouraging other conservative candidates for the last 6 years. My dedication, education, experience, and community involvement make me a well-rounded leader and perfect for the position of County Commissioner.

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