This week we are running a series on the Boca Raton and Delray Beach races for city council, so make certain you subscribe to this column so you won't miss them. Last week we posed the same eight questions to all the candidates. On March 11, 2014, Boca Raton voters will be able to decided between Mohamed Abdalla, Michael Mullaugh, Craig F. Ehrnst and Eric Gooden for city council, seat B. Tomorrow we will cover Boca Raton's Seat D race, then move on to the Delray Beach races later in the week.
Unfortunately for Boca Raton voters, Mullaugh and Gooden chose not to respect voters by not responding to the eight questions. Fortunately voters will have an opportunity with two of the four candidates to see where they stand on issues not often part of the normal line of questioning, however it offers a glimpse as to how they think and what role government should play in business and citizen's lives.
1) Are you in favor of business licensing laws and ordinances?
Abdalla: Ordinances and laws are what keep standards in a country, so as a city council member, I’m obliged to follow and implement the law. However, the issue the city has recently been facing is most small businesses in Boca Raton are cutting back because licenses are not approved in a timely manner. Having said that, there is a need to alter or find loopholes in the law to expedite the process of license approval.
Ehrnst: Without laws, consumers are exposed to uncertain risks that could result in both financial and personal health losses. Effective governments find the “right” balance to encourage an effective and safe environment for both consumers and businesses.
2) Do you feel the Boca Raton Police Chief should focus and prioritize the department's efforts on crimes where there is an actual victim or continue the way things are?
Abdalla: According to usa.com,“the Boca Raton crime rate is lower than the Florida average crime rate and the national average crime rate.” Additionally, the Neighborhood Scout website claims Boca Raton has a total of 3,009 annual crimes. Clearly, the current operation of the Boca Raton Police Department is working for the city. Although, I'm sure there are areas in which the residents of Boca Raton could see some improvement.
Ehrnst: Of course I believe the Boca Raton Police Chief should focus on the department’s efforts to prevent crimes and take criminals off the streets. Your question implies that is not the case today and I reject that view. On February 8th I participated on a “ride along” with a Boca Raton Police Officer for 7 hours to better understand the public safety needs of our community from the people who live it every day. So, what did I learn? First, our Boca Raton Police force is “top notch” and they are worth it. The officers I met were professional, smart, and forward thinking. They evaluate situations, collaborate, and think through criminal or risk situation scenarios.
(Writer's note: there are many "crimes" Boca Raton citizens are arrested for where there is no victim involved.)
3) Would you like to see more gun control in Florida? Do you feel we have the right mix of laws concerning firearms or do we need to repeal some laws to be more in compliance of the Second Amendment?
Abdalla: As citizens, we have the right to bear arms. But I think the type of gun available should be regulated; no one should have an automatic weapon in their possession. Over the past couple of years, the country has faced numerous instances where people have lost lives because of gunfire. Most gun owners in these scenarios have come up with many reasons as to how the situation ending so drastically. But the bottom line is recklessness and abuse of the second amendment. With that said, we all have the right to personal security and to exercise the second amendment. However, there should be some regulations as to how people obtain guns and who can have one. Background investigations will ensure that the individual is capable of keeping and maintaining such weapons in their household.
Ehrnst: The Second Amendment and related gun control laws are determined by federal and state government. In Boca Raton, we need to support our public safety officials who are dealing with a wide variety of people with social issues, which becomes more complicated when guns are involved. Everyone has the right to bear arms, but these liberties need to be balanced with appropriate background checks and monitoring to prevent events such as what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.
4) Do you feel a small business in Boca should be able to operate the way they see fit or should city, county, state and the federal government come in to dictate how they should run a business.
Abdalla: It’s important to recognize how small business provide services for Boca Raton. If we interfere negatively with the way they operate, they will leave the city. For the small businesses to grow, they need government support in eradicating the stiff competition in the market and promoting customer awareness of their infant businesses. In most cases, small business lack enough capital and the government should provide incentives that will guarantee the production and productivity of these businesses at a lower price. At the same time, the market supply and demand forces should be the ones to determine the pricing of commodities but the government should be involved in maintaining regulations that will allow the expansion of these small businesses.
Ehrnst: The role of government is first to protect the public safety. If a business is not complying with existing laws or regulations the “playing field” is not “level” or the business is “cutting corners” at the expense of public safety. Laws provide a framework for operation that may be more restrictive in Boca Raton, which is why our family lives in Boca Raton.
5) Are you in favor of making Internet WiFi available to the entire city if paid either by the private sector or by the city? If paid by the city, would you favor raising any taxes to pay for the service?
Abdalla: First, we must consider if the city really needs Wi-Fi or if residents require assistance in paying their Internet bills. Ensuring that Internet access is available to the entire city is very costly and residents are already grieving about raising taxes. Boca Raton would have to raise its taxes in order to provide citywide Wi-Fi but then our residents would be paying higher taxes compared to other cities in the county. However, it’s understandable to suggest public Internet connection given the fact that we have three universities comprising of over 30,000 students and it will give them the ability to work freely when they are off campus. I just think it is a very expensive luxury that a city like Boca Raton does not require for the time being.
Ehrnst: Residents’ access to WiFi is a desirable concept, especially when it comes to facilitating education and commerce. If the private sector wants to make this available for the entire city, I would support it depending on conditions attached. As for the city paying for it and raising taxes accordingly, this is a technology question that will require further study and determination of costs. Depending on the results of such a study, it may then require a referendum to see if residents support it.
6) Do you favor corporate welfare? This is the method of giving tax breaks to companies that stay or relocate here in exchange for creating a certain number of jobs for the city.
Abdalla: Tax cuts, tax deductions, and tax reductions are a few monetary incentives that can encourage businesses to investment and thus further grow multiple industries. I think the best solution in bringing back a vibrant society is to offer an incentive that would allow tax deductions to a company that is looking forward to invest in Boca Raton or relocate here. We all know private business are looking for locations where they can maximize their profits at a lower price and tax deductions will be the best way for them to achieve this goal. Once more businesses invest in Boca Raton; we can decrease the thirty percent empty occupation.
Ehrnst: First, I would not refer to it as “corporate welfare.” Giving tax breaks to companies to stay or relocate to Boca Raton is a way to offer incentives that benefit both the company and the community. City Council needs to review the specifics of each case, but if done properly, it can create high-paying jobs, boost our real estate market, and bring new customers to local businesses. Plus, the employees pay taxes that benefit Boca and its residents, thereby creating a “multiplier” effect.
7) How, if at all, do you feel taxes could be reduced for residents and businesses in Boca over the next 3 years?
Abdalla: If taxes were to be reduced, we would need to find other ways to generate revenue. I realize it is a complex situation to reduce taxes and come up with a solution to the consequences of reducing taxes while maintaining high revenue for local government. Although, one possible solution is reduce taxes, offer tax incentives to companies that will attract outside business investment, and in return, create more jobs leading to more taxable employees/residents.
Ehrnst: Historically, revenues have exceeded City expenses. That said, I would not reduce taxes until the City has addressed some human resource needs and build a reserve fund for future city projects so that taxes will not need to be increased.
8) Are you in favor of red light camera use in Boca?
Abdalla: Red light cameras are an inconvenience, but they do provide safety to the residents of Boca Raton. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) states in 2011, over 80 people died in crashes resulting from running red lights, making FL the third deadliest state in the nation for red light running crashes. Subsequently, we should not place anymore red light cameras in Boca Raton, but improve the technology of red light cameras we currently have to prevent accidental ticketing.
Ehrnst: I object to the $157 “back door” tax on Boca’s residents but Nets the City less than $57 after paying the State and the camera vendor. For that reason alone, I do not support red light cameras. The City Council should put residents first when voting on taxation issues, not “nickel and dime” fee income.