With County Commissioner Tim Nance choosing not to run for reelection, Immokalee residents got their chance Thursday night to hear what the four candidates for Collier County Commissioner – District 5 had to say about the future needs of Immokalee.
The forum, which was moderated by Bernardo Barnhart, lasted just over an hour and a half. During that time, Douglas Rankin (REP), Tamara Paquette (DEM), Randolph “Randy” Cash (REP), and William “Bill” McDaniel, Jr. (REP) had the opportunity to discuss some of issues that they feel are important to the residents of Immokalee.
Each of the candidates took a few moments to introduce themselves followed by a series of predetermined questions before taking a couple of write-in questions by those in attendance.
The common theme among all of the candidates was that the needs of Immokalee have never been a priority for our current County Commissioners and the time to change that is now.
Candidate Randy Cash pointed out that small businesses are the lifeblood of the community and he would like to see impact fees waived for new businesses and businesses looking to expand their current structures. He also feels that the Immokalee Airport provides for a great opportunity to explore a public-private partnership in order to help fund expanded air services. In addition, he also mentioned that the County needs to invest in parks so that families have a place to engage in outdoor activities. Cash said that Immokalee also needs continued improvements for pedestrian walkways and he would also like to see improved roadways throughout the area.
Candidate Bill McDaniel feels that when it comes to government, “less is more” and suggested that there should be more accountability when it comes to ensuring our local leaders act in the best interest of Immokalee. McDaniel said that eco-tourism is one area that would benefit all industries in the area and that Immokalee could become an epicenter for shipping goods, if the focus were on transforming the Immokalee Airport into a facility adequate for passenger travel. By bringing job growth to eastern Collier County, McDaniel said that we would see an increase in road traffic traveling east toward Immokalee rather than west toward Naples. McDaniel also said that growth should pay for growth and he would like to see impact fees replaced by growth assessment fees.
Candidate Tamara Paquette took a different approach during the forum on some of the topics. When it comes to potential changes at the Immokalee Airport, she pointed out that she would listen to the people and be open to suggestions. She did offer the suggestion that county leaders look at improving Lake Trafford Road from North 15th Street to Lake Trafford. When asked about potential improvements to county parks in Immokalee, Paquette said that she has met with the current County Commissioners and they do recognize that Immokalee is behind on providing adequate parks and recreation facilities in Immokalee. Although she openly admitted that she did not know there was a museum in Immokalee, she mentioned that museums are important.
Candidate Douglas Rankin pointed out that he has a long standing relationship with county leaders and looks forward to implementing a sliding impact fee scale where developers in Immokalee pay lower impact fees compared to new construction in other parts of the county. Rankin mentioned that Collier County collects a tourism tax, yet not one penny of that money is being spent to bring visitors into the Immokalee area and that is something he wants to see changed. He stated that the largest home builder in Immokalee is Habitat for Humanity and there is a serious problem with that. Pointing to the fact that Arthrex is the largest employer in eastern Collier County, Rankin said that the availability of adequate housing for their employees is minimal at best. “We need middle-class homes, not just affordable housing in Immokalee.”
As the forum came to a close, local resident Fred Thomas reminded everyone that it’s important that local residents become involved in their local and county government. He said it’s not enough to come out and just listen, but that residents need to be involved in the decision-making process.
Because Paquette is running as a Democrat, she will not face the potential for elimination until the election on November 8th. However, candidates Cash, McDaniel, and Rankin are running as Republicans, so they will face each other in the Primary Election on August 30th and then the winner will go on to challenge Paquette in November.
Attendees were reminded that the window of opportunity to register to vote is coming to a close. In order to vote in the Primary Election on August 30, 2016, you must be registered to vote by August 1, 2016 and in order to vote in the General Election on November 8, 2016, you must be registered to vote no later than October 11, 2016. For more information about how to register and where to vote, contact the Collier County Supervisor of Elections at 239-252-8683 or visit their website at www.colliervotes.com.
Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org