HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club hosted a meet and greet followed by a candidates’ forum at their clubhouse located at 23674 West U.S. Highway 27 on Tuesday evening, Oct. 24.

The event was billed as an opportunity for citizens to meet the candidates running for election to fill two seats on the High Springs City Commission on election day, Nov. 7.

Incumbent Ross Ambrose is being challenged for Seat 1 by Andrew Miller. Incumbent Gloria James is being challenged for Seat 2 by Steve Tapanes.

Moderator Vickie Cox introduced the candidates and allocated a few minutes for each to make introductory statements about their history and reasons for running.

Cox read three questions individually asking each candidate to respond after each question was read. The order of candidate responses was altered with each question.

Pressing issues facing the City were listed as infrastructure, which James said the Commission is working on, but, she said, she’d like to help move that forward. She also said she’d like to continue to work with the Commission to get debt taken care of.

Steve Tapanes also mentioned infrastructure, but said he’d like to slow down growth until the infrastructure can catch up. He said he’d like to see High Springs stay a small town, but that he’d like to see a multi-use recreation center built in High Springs similar to Legacy Park in Alachua.

Andrew Miller also listed infrastructure as a pressing issue and thought that the City should manage spending and take care of the current citizens.

Ross Ambrose also listed infrastructure, which he said includes roads and the downtown area, specifically improving and maintaining buildings in downtown High Springs through the CRA and other available programs. He said the City could use Wild Spaces Public Places funds to create a recreation center, which would help to improve the quality of life for citizens.

Identifying key problems and opportunities related to growth Tapanes said increased traffic comes with growth. He’d like to alleviate the bottle neck areas involving trucks and would work with City staff to alleviate the issue.

Miller commented that he believes schools are at capacity. He thought a roundabout in the downtown area would help alleviate the traffic issues and wanted to work toward job development.

Ambrose identified road capacity as an issue related to growth. He said the schools are at capacity. He said High Springs is the busiest fire station in the county and there is a need for fire and police department buildings.

James said the City has been working with FDOT to get the trucks out of High Springs, but the City is still waiting for signs from FDOT to tell truckers where they can and can’t go. She also wants the City to work on development of jobs that pay enough so that a person is able to sustain a family.

In response to a question about opportunities for decreasing City expenses, Ambrose said the County has been paying the City a set amount for the City providing tag agency services. He thought that contract should be reviewed. He also suggested the City negotiate a more equitable set of fees with the County for times when the High Springs Fire Department responds to the scene of a fire in the county. He mentioned automating some of the services the City provides. He said he has seen an AI program that reviews construction plans in a very short time period as opposed to days.

James suggested that some City-owned buildings are being used by non-City entities. She though some of those buildings could be repurposed to provide new services or events such as plays, dances, musical events. She would like to see multi-function businesses in town.

Tapanes suggested the City use less expensive vehicles. He also thought that each department should figure out how to reduce their budget by five percent.

Miller suggested the City should maximize properties like the old school building. He also thought the City could provide wedding licenses and drivers’ licenses to make more income.

In closing comments Miller said he would listen to the citizens and make decisions with the citizens in mind.

Tapanes said he would listen to the citizens and would meet with them. He said he thought the City needed new faces and ideas.

James said that if someone brings an issue to her, she would do her very best to help resolve the issue.

Ambrose said there are no simple answers for a community of 8,000 people. He said he would continue to participate with the Florida League of Cities to see what other cities are doing to resolve the same issues. He pointed out that cities are restricted in some areas, but that he believes the Commissioners address and help resolve complex problems with good decisions.

Attending citizens were able to mingle with the candidates after the forum to ask questions.

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