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Commission candidates state positions at SR 200 Coalition meeting

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By David Davis

Four of five candidates running for the Marion County Board of Commissioners in the second and fourth districts attended the State Road 200 Coalition Monday, June 11, 

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Helen Dueño, a Democrat, filed her application for Commission District 2 in July 2017 but she has not raised any money, nor has she appeared anywhere to the knowledge of SR 200 Coalition President Pat Gabriel. However, Dueño is unopposed in the Democratic Primary on Aug. 28.

Participating candidates were incumbent and current BOCC chairwoman Kathy Bryant and challenger Michael Crimi in the 2nd District.

In the 3rd Commission District were incumbent Carl Zalak III and retired Marion County Deputy Captain Eddie Leedy. All of the participants were Republicans.

The salary for commissioners is $79,463. Both Bryant and Zalak have raised more than $80,000 as of

May 31, according to the latest financial campaign reports on the Marion County Supervisor of Elections website. Bryant reported $88,875 raised against $10,265 in disbursements and expenditures while Zalak raised $84,850 with $15,789 in expenditures.

Crimi reported $82,500 with $50,000 in the form of a personal loan to his campaign. He listed $17,380 in expenses. Leedy has raised $16,210 and expended $3,201.

Each candidate spoke seven minutes in the following order.

Michael Crimi

Crimi is a physician assistant who owns Express Care Belleview. He is a graduate of Marion County schools, Central Florida College. He graduated from the Florida State Fire College and then to the University of Florida where he graduated with he earned a master’s degree in Medicine and Physician Assistant Program. After completing his formal education, Crimi served in the U.S. Army. He is married and they have three children and three grandchildren.

“I have been a public and community servant my entire adult life. When I was 18 years old, I arrived at the South Marion Volunteer Fire Department in Belleview and served as a firefighter/paramedic,” he said.

He said he could save money by implementing an employee health clinic that would save millions of dollars in premiums and benefits. Also, he wants to review all county departments, mainly the road, building and animal services departments.

“I believe in shelter reform,” Crimi said. “Shelter reform for Marion County is long overdue. The euthanasia rate was maintained above 50 percent since 2010.”

He said surrounding counties have significantly reduced their kill rates by teaming with local rescue shelters and prohibit the retail sale of dogs and cats. He intends for all of Marion County shelters to be no-kill.

“Last but not least, I am an advocate for term limits. Eight years is enough,” he said.

 Kathy Bryant

Bryant said that since the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership’s inception, work in economic development has led to the creation of more than 5,600 new jobs and generated over half a billion dollars in capital investments. The partnership will continue to draw Fortune 500 companies and organizations offering economic stability. Companies that have already moved to Marion County include FedEx, AutoZone and Chewy.com.

“Marion County is looking beyond commerce to secure its future,” she said. “More than $44 million has been collected by the penny sales tax since March 2017. The money collected from this tax, only funds public safety, transportation infrastructure and equipment; not salaries or recurring costs.”

Bryant said the county purchased 69 sheriff’s office patrol vehicles, a sheriff’s office helicopter and more than 2,000 radios, which have been distributed to law enforcement, fire rescue and animal control officials.

“These purchases are necessary to protect and serve Marion County’s growing population, which currently sits right around 350,000 residents. By the year 2040, that number is estimated to exceed 525,000,” she said. “With hundreds of thousands of additional residents, our infrastructure will be vulnerable if we don’t continue to strengthen it.

“Roads allow for safe and reliable travel, which means tourists can come and go with ease. An estimated 2 million people visited Marion County last year alone. Many people visit us because of our equine industry, and others visit for Marion’s natural beauty. Marion County visitors are key to our community because they represent over $1 billion in annual economic impact.

“We intend to increase tourism by connecting our paved trails and by properly maintaining our springs. Marion County is ideally situated in an area that allows us to expand our long-paved trail system because we can connect with existing systems. One of these trail systems is the Cross Florida Greenway. Two additions to our Greenway trail system, the Santos phase and the Land Bridge phase, have made Marion County part of the state’s Sun Trail System, a series of paved, nonmotorized trails throughout the state. Both of these trails were completed after the Florida Department of Transportation allocated nearly $7 million to their development.

“Another project, which required no general fund investment from the county, was completion of phase one of the Fort King National Historical Landmark. The walls of the fort are up, and this project is moving into phase two. Ultimately, the Fort King site will be a tourism driver, much like other famous forts around the country. The first phase was completed thanks to a partnership between Marion County, the City of Ocala and Fort King Heritage Association. The county funded more than $175,000 through utilization of our bed tax – which means visitors paid for it.”

Eddie Leedy

Leedy is a Marion County native. He graduated from North Marion High School and at the age of 18, then sheriff Don Moreland “took a chance on a young man and hired me.”

During his career with the department, he worked in every division except K-9 and aviation. By the time he retired, Leedy had achieved the rank of captain in charge of the patrol watch commander, mounted unit commander, SWAT commander and he still volunteers with the sheriff’s department.

Most of his career was in drug and other investigation divisions.

“It’s very important that we have the ability and honor to come in groups such as this, and we refer to you as the informed voter, people that do care about this county, love this county, and are willing to come out and listen to candidates and make a decision on who you want representing you in the office of county commissioner.”

Leedy said Marion County is the horse capital of the world. The horse industry accounts for $2.6 billion of the local economy.

“Louisville came in second to that. We pride ourselves on that,” he said. “We saw a little bit of arrogance displayed by FDOT and state officials (because) they obviously have knowledge of this after wanting to come in and gut our horse community and split our county with a toll road.”

He said the county has not “dodged the bullet. As a commissioner, I want to be proactive instead of reactive. The first the commission knew about the route (toll road) was the beginning of May.”

Leedy said Levy and Alachua counties had already signed no-build resolutions by May. Animal shelter reform is another issue on the front burner, he said.

Carl Zalak III

Zalak owns Busy Bee Waste Services with his mother. The company is primarily a provider of construction dumpsters and some manure dumpsters on horse farms.

He was elected in 2010, along with Bryant, when the county unemployment rate was 14.3 percent.

“When we heard public comment, we’d hear about the destruction of families and businesses and the very livelihood of people who had been in this community for a very longtime,” Zalak said. “Quite frankly, being a small-business owner, I know what it takes to pay people when you yourself can’t take a paycheck, to do those things and to sacrifice at levels only a small-business owner can really understand.”

He spoke about the cost of insurance, workman’s compensation and “lawyers who litigate just to litigate are no help. That’s what our country on some levels has become. It has become such a litigious market that business owners can’t start. Don’t you want your children and grandchildren to have an opportunity at a dream that this country was founded on? Well, that’s what we started working on.”

Zalak said he and Bryant formed the first incubator in Marion County where anyone with a dream and an idea could get professional help from retired CEOs. Sixty-five people have left the incubator and are now operating companies in the community.

“Not only did we recruit FedEx, AutoZone, Chewy.com, RealTruck and 50 other businesses that have expanded and grown to add over 5,500 jobs in the last few years,” he said. “Do you feel it? When you drive on State Road 200 you can’t ignore the difference that the groundwork and the foundation we’ve laid has made.

“We’ve done that. We’ve been good stewards. We’re continuing to drive that economic message, because I’ll tell you what, there is nothing better than to give someone the opportunity to have a job, earn a living and create an opportunity, and that’s exactly what Marion County should be like,” Zalak said.

Zalak said he is living that dream with his wife of 17 years who home schools their four children.

He said, “Our county is on the precipice of that tilting point where we can continue on a path of growth, deregulation and success, give entrepreneurs more freedom or we can go back to an oppressive, government-run ideology that won’t let businesses succeed.”

View campaign finance forms on the internet at https://www.voterfocus.com/CampaignFinance/candidate_pr.php?c=marion&c=m... and click on the candidate’s name.