Incumbent Ken Welch faces challenger Buck Walz in Pinellas County Commission race

11/05/12 Samuel Johnson
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Three incumbent Pinellas County Commissioners face challengers in tomorrow’s election. One of them, Democrat Ken Welch, hopes to be re-elected over his challenger Republican Buck Walz. In the District 7 race Welch is emphasizing community health.

At a town hall meeting last month in Saint Petersburg Welch said although education is the county’s top priority it’s only part of the focus. He said with a limited budget combating systemic poverty will be the commission’s main concern.

"Five areas around the county. Tarpon Springs, the Greenwood area, Pinellas Park, and basically the mid-town area all the way over here to Chile's Park. And when you look at the impact of poverty, whether it's graduation rates of juvenile delinquency or bad health outcomes, they're off the scale in those five areas. So we can spend all the money that we want to just throwing it around the county. If we don't concentrate dollars on early childhood education, or healthy outcomes we're not going to get where we need to be so the county has decided we're going to concentrate our efforts. We have smaller budgets now so we're going to concentrate those dollars in those five health communities initiattive areas."

Both candidates were invited to participate in the town hall meeting. Buck Walz didn’t attend and was not available for an interview by deadline. Ken Welch said child homelessness is a problem with far reaching effects. He said the commission will invest in battling homelessness.

"We are the epicenter for homeless families and children. That it is a wave that is right here, right now. There are more than 2000 homeless kids in our schools right now. How do you expect the kids to achieve when they go to school and don't have a home to go to? So those are the issues that we're trying to deal with from a county-wide level in terms of homelessness. It requires us to make those investments. There are folks who just want to cut, cut, cut but we need to invest and give folks a way to get back on their feet."

Welch said the county is working with the federal government on programs to assist the homeless.

"We just reviewed plans for a $5 million health campus that's going to provide health care for homeless families which is the largest growing part of the population right now. That is all federal funding for that capital so we're taking advantage of those federal funds as well to meet a real need in the community."

The commission has re-appropriated $360,000 to social action funding. Social action funding supports programs like meals-on-wheels. Welch said he is pleased by the reversal. He said reinstating fluoridated water is essential to community health.

"We voted against science and against health and now all those kids and families in north county who can't afford to get fluoridation from their dentist, who don't have dental insurance, they're going to be affected. You're going to see impacts in terms of cavities, in terms of oral care and that also is a gateway to your total healthcare. That fluoride vote was a bad vote. We're the largest county in the southeast that doesn't fluoridate it's water. I think that's one of the worst decisions this commission has made and I'm going to vote to reverse that at the first opportunity."

At the end of the town hall meeting Ken Welch said his engagement in the community is in stark contrast with Buck Walz.

"Quite frankly he was recruited by the tea party because of my support for affordable housing. These are all emails that are in the public record. I'll tell you about that $15 million that we have slated for future years in our budget. When I fought to keep it there the leader of the Pinellas Patriots and others said that if you continue to fight for that we're going to run somebody against you and my words were, bring it on. Because I'm here to serve this county and we need affordable housing to move forward."

Residents can still turn in absentee ballots at Supervisor of Elections offices through tomorrow. Tomorrow precincts open at 7 a.m.

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