SEBASTIAN — Sebastian City Council candidates sparred for last time prior to the Nov. 2 general election at the Sebastian River Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum.
The issues mostly focused business-related topics, from the Community Redevelopment Area and Working Waterfront to economic development and the city’s budget. Challengers David DeVirgilio, Damien Gilliams, Joe Scozzari and Harvey Wheeler are running against incumbents Mayor Richard Gillmor and Vice Mayor Jim Hill. Voters will select two from six-candidate field.
Many of the challengers criticized the current City Council for not having done enough to spark new business and jobs within the city.
Wheeler, who was asked what he believes is the biggest challenge to businesses, told the audience of approximately 50, that the process needs to be streamlined. He added that the city’s codes need to be changed to be less restrictive.
“It becomes so ridiculous,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler also added that he believes the city needs more accountability from the city manager and departments need to be more efficient.
“I don’t think we’ve done that yet,” he said.
Gilliams told the audience that the city councils of past and present have not been following their own Community Redevelopment Area Master Plan. He said that the CRA funds could be used to match business grants or loans for all the businesses’ benefit – not just for the selected few.
Gilliams also said the city could save itself money by enlisting the help of volunteers to perform tasks within City Hall and suggested the city implement a Citizens Academy course for that purpose.
DeVirgilio took the incumbents to task, saying they, for the last two years, have been saying they know what to do to bring in new jobs – but they have nothing to show for it.
“The incumbents haven’t done it,” he said.
He also told the audience that there were nearly 160 business permits pulled last year, but only 37 were approved.
“It sounds to me that businesses are trying to come here,” DeVirgilio said.
Mayor Gillmor agreed with some of the criticism, explaining that the City Council must do more.
“We have not been proactive,” he said, referring to the entire county. “We have to spread the word” about Sebastian to those in northern, high-tax states.
Gillmor did say that he believes the city is doing well in attracting businesses to the Sebastian Municipal Airport, pointing to two recently approved leases there.
“We’re rapidly becoming the place to come to,” he said.
Though Gillmor appeared ready to accept some criticism, Vice Mayor Jim Hill took exception.
“We have not been sitting on our hands,” Hill said, adding that, as a councilman, he serves as an ambassador for the city.
“This city is on the right track,” he added.
Scozzari said that he opposes the city giving any financial incentives to small businesses – aside from the currently approved Facade, Landscape and Signage grants within the Community Redevelopment Area.
“We’re not Washington, D.C.,” he said – throwing good money after bad.
He added that businesses need to struggle and fight to survive to be strong.
“What are we, a welfare city?” Scozzari asked, adding that businesses – and people – have gotten lazy and too dependent on handouts.
The Sebastian Chamber forum was the last public and televised opportunity for the six candidates to address voters.
Early voting continues today and Saturday at the Historic Sebastian School, the Main Library and the Supervisor of Elections Office.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday for the General Election and close at 7 p.m.