Taxes and fluoride in the drinking water command debates from Pinellas County Commission candidates

07/20/12 Liz McKibbon
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Three Pinellas County Commission seats are up for grabs in November. The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club met at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater to size up the candidates in two of those races.The four contenders argued about taxes and fluoride in drinking water.

Incumbent Nancy Bostock says even though she typically has a firm stance against raising taxes, she understands it’s sometimes necessary. The Republican has signed off on the last three years of tax increases in the Pinellas budget. She suggested that citizens volunteer to pay more taxes or even just write out a check to supplement the budget.

”Usually, though, when people are talking about raising taxes, what they’re talking about is raising other people’s taxes. And that’s where my responsibility as an elected official kicks in and where I have to take these decisions carefully and say ‘yes we could take this money and spend it on all kinds of good things.’ This group here, we could come up with an endless list of great things to spend that money on. We have to remember that money came from somewhere. Somebody’s family, somebody’s savings account, somebody who’s struggling to make their mortgage or their rent that month.”

Bostock does not support requiring customers to pay sales tax on Internet purchases. Her challenger for the seat is Democrat Charlie Justice. He counters that enforcing the tax would not be an increase.

”I don’t think anybody wants to raise taxes on anybody, but its about tax equity and tax fairness for our local small businesses. And um—if the Florida Retail Federation—you know that liberal think tank in Tallahassee—they’ve been pushing this for years as a way to bring balance for our small businesses. And by the way, its not a new tax. It is a tax that you’re currently supposed to pay. There is a website, a form that you go on Department of Revenue, print it out. When you buy your book on, you’re supposed to mail it in.”

Republican County Commissioner Neil Brickfield is also being challenged. He also does not support implementing an Internet sales tax, because he says it would hurt business. Brickfield says there’s nothing stopping any local businesses from selling online and taking advantage of the same thing.

”Because there’s 5,000 different sales tax jurisdictions in the United States and they already have the sales infrastructure to collect and pay those taxes, but if you’re a small business operating in beautiful Safety Harbor—out of your home—and you’re running an Internet business, you don’t have the wherewith all to compete for that. So why would we want to take the one part of our economy that’s really thriving and throw another tax on it.”

Former State Representative Janet Long, a Democrat, is challenging Brickfield.

”You know I don’t know why tax has become such a dirty word. It’s the price we pay for living in a civilized society.”

Long was critical of Brickfield’s stance. Long says she’s talked to local business owners who say they can’t compete with Internet companies.

”Well as some of you probably know, I did serve for four years in the Florida legislature, and I absolutely did support having sales tax applied to internet sales because the reason, Mr. Brickfield, it’s a good idea, is because it penalizes our small businesses in our state.”

Taxes ruled the discussion, but other topics arose including the commission’s vote to remove fluoride from the county’s drinking water. Commissioners Bostock and Brickfield both supported it and say it’s about having a choice. Charlie Justice disagrees. He says its one of many preventative care choices essential to lowering the cost of healthcare.

“And local governments will have to because Washington throws it down to Tallahassee and Tallahassee throws it down to locals… is help with preventative care. And one of the easiest ways that you can help with preventative care is make sure that low income people have fluoride in the water, to help their dental help.”

The vote for Pinellas County Commission will be on November 6.

Another incumbent, Ken Welch, faces a challenger, Maria Scruggs, in the August 14 Democratic primary.

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