From staff reports

Seven days and counting.

The Apopka City Commission Seat #2 election is exactly one week away, and while a record number of voters have already cast ballots, many are still researching the candidates or undecided.

On Friday, October 16, The Apopka Voice sent eight questions to all four candidates, inviting them to respond within a week if they wanted to participate. Three candidates (Yesenia Baron, Nick Nesta, and Diane Velazquez) returned our survey, while one (Gene Knight) did not. The questions included topics such as priorities, challenges, and hopes for Apopka, economic development, and the potential annexation of South Apopka.

Over the next four days, we will publish the responses to those eight questions by featuring two per day.

In part one, we focus on what the candidate’s priorities would be as a member of the City Council, and what they believe are the most significant challenges facing Apopka moving forward.

While there is agreement on many of those issues and priorities, their differences are also noteworthy. 

Priorities

If elected to the Apopka City Council, what would your top three priorities be, and what metric would you use to know if they were accomplished or not?

Yesenia “Jesi” Baron

Yesenia Baron: Open communication between city, county and state; attain state and federal grants, and South Apopka beautification

“If elected to Apopka City Council, Seat 2, my top three priorities would be to establish and facilitate open communication between the City, Orange County officials, and State officials for our district. By doing so, it would develop an opportunity to build much-needed relationships and a spirit of cooperation. I would prioritize current city issues such as the current budget, current expenditures, retention, and sustainability by obtaining state and federal grants permissible to law enforcement and firefighters as well as land development issues within existing communities. Finally, I would collaborate with local organizations in South Apopka that would assist in the beautification of the area and to begin the improvement of homes in order to hold discussions with the new Orange County Property Appraiser.”

Nick Nesta

Nick Nesta: Ensure responsible fiscal spending, sustainable growth, and create open lines of communication 

“The metric tied to responsible fiscal spending would be the amount of reserves we have at any given time. I feel it not only needs to meet a minimum requirement based on what we have done in the past, but also exceed that. Placing a specific figure on that would be premature as it would have to be based on that current fiscal year and what issues the City is addressing at that time. Creating additional avenues of revenue would help in this process as well: increasing our eco-tourism, tournament industry and investing in more diversified / high risk investments. 

In reference to sustainable growth, the metric most closely tied with that would be new jobs that have been created within the city limits. As new jobs are created more homes will need to be built. Through carefully planned development, we will be able to increase our tax base without increasing taxes. This increase in jobs will also help our local small businesses. We will be able to keep our business taxes low while still receiving more taxes from the increase in business sales. My goal is to ensure we can increase our tax revenue without increasing the tax burden on our residents and small business owners and the best way to do that is through sustainable growth.

Open lines of communication are key to ensuring relationships stay strong throughout the community. We need open communication between the City Council and the City staff, local small businesses, underserved communities and with developers wanting to build in Apopka. The metric for ensuring open lines of communication will be the residents feeling heard and part of the process of building Apopka’s future. Residents that have a feeling of pride in where the community is growing is the most successful way to bridge our community.”

Diane Velazquez

Diane Velazquez: Budget workshops; keep Rock Springs Ridge and Errol Estate residents informed; cushion the impact of COVID-19

“I would work to reinstitute budget workshops where department supervisors will address their needs directly to the Council. The metric would be City Council meeting minutes will document discussion to promote the workshops.

I will keep the residents of Rock Springs Ridge, and Errol Estate informed on the most current status of the golf course situation. 

I will work to cushion the impact of COVID-19 in our community. Actions include recommending expanded utility payment programs, so those impacted by job loss due to COVID 19 do not lose essential services.”

Challenges

What do you see as the greatest challenge(s) facing the City of Apopka, and how would you go about helping the City to overcome it?

Diane Velazquez

Velazquez: Find ways to fund infrastructure and recreational opportunities

“In my opinion, the City’s greatest challenge is to find a way to fund the demands by the community for infrastructure improvement, greater recreational opportunities, expansion of city services and to align with the ongoing growth and development. Throughout the budget year, we the Council, must be honest with the our residents and businesses about what it costs to run the city services. We must seek out other revenue-raising opportunities to help lessen the burden on the taxpayers.”

Yesenia “Jesi” Baron

Baron: Employee retention, recruiting anchor businesses

“In my opinion, our city’s current greatest challenges are the importance of retention through proper training, promotion and increase wages for our City personnel, the increase of the City’s income by beginning the recruitment of businesses and anchor stores to leverage the opportunity for us to create a Live Here, Work Here, Play Here environment with an absolute exclusion of stores that do not attract people to the City of Apopka, and finally the beautification and development of South Apopka.”

Nick Nesta

Nesta: Managing growth and retaining quality staff

“To ensure we are not outgrowing our schools we must have an advocate on the City Council level that understands how to represent the City to Orange County Public Schools. They have built schools that are functionally obsolete the first day they open. We are building faster than the school board can keep up and that is not a development issue, it is a school board failure. We also have infrastructure that is being used more than ever before and we as a city need to keep up while budgeting for the increase in use. 

Retaining quality staff/police/fire within the city is a must as we work to grow the city sustainably. If we do not support the employees that are supporting our efforts, we will never realize the true potential of this city. We must ensure that our benefits are at the very least equal to other local municipalities and, we should be able to exceed those. Apopka is an incredibly unique city with unique qualities and needs. We can continue to grow, build out our infrastructure and retain quality staff through innovative initiatives. We cannot continue to try to do what we did in the past and expect a different result. We must do more and we can do more with a thoughtful, strategic plan.”

In part two of the series, which will be published tomorrow, the candidates answered the following questions related to inclusion:

  • Assuming the residents of South Apopka want to be annexed into the City of Apopka, would you be in favor of it?

  • What will you do, if elected, to increase the inclusion, engagement and civic participation of minorities in Apopka and make underserved voices within Apopka are heard and represented?

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