SEBRING — Carmelo Garcia, Democrat of Sebring, wants to be the next county commissioner for District 1, the seat being vacated by Jim Brooks this year.

He is running against Kevin Roberts, Republican. Both answered questions posed by the Highlands News-Sun to address issues that have been in the forefront of local governance, to include budget priorities, improving the local climate for business as well as workers, dealing with an emergency like COVID-19 and ensuring that all residents’ needs and concerns are heard by the board.

What follows are Garcia’s answers to those questions, which he emailed to the Highlands News-Sun.

Streamline and hold taxes

When asked about the best way to balance the budget, given the options of raising taxes, installing assessments and cutting departments and/or services, Garcia said he would “streamline the redundancy in every department focusing on production-based performance.”

He also said he would not raise taxes, and performance-based departments would not see cuts nor interruptions in service.

“I would look for ‘red flags’ on spending on wants over needs,” Garcia explained.

Education and tourism

When asked how he would prefer to improve the business climate for local employers to enable them to hire more local workers, Garcia hit on education and tourism.

He would like to work with local business owners on building and enhancing an employee education program on different types of employment opportunities here, noting that the county’s high school students leave to find employment in other counties because of this.

He suggested that tourism would help improve the hiring climate, also.

“Working on tourism in this county would be a major step to helping the local business owners to be in a good position to hire more local residents,” Garcia said.

Homes and infrastructure

When asked about the methods he would think best to encourage new employers and employees to relocate to Highlands County, Garcia focused first on housing.

“I would work with builders to build new homes that these new residents can enjoy,” Garcia said.

Tax incentives, he said, would be one way to do this.

Infrastructure is his second point. As long as it is within budget, the county needs to make sure that the water/sewer lines and facilities, paved roads and other utilities are in place to encourage new development for business and housing.

Plan and act

When asked what leadership role the county commission should take in a local, statewide or worldwide disaster, especially with regard to encouraging behavioral changes by individuals and businesses, Garcia said providing information and training to the community is a key role for local government.

He said leaders in any position of public trust — political, law enforcement, emergency response and even clergy — need training and education on how to proceed in emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As county leaders, it is our duty to ensure residents, business owners and all religious organizations are informed and trained to react in case of such tragedies or outbreaks like the current one we are all dealing with,” Garcia said. “If we don’t plan, then we are planning to fail.”

Be accessible

When asked his thoughts on the best ways to ensure that commissioners always hear, recognize and represent all of their constituents, Garcia pointed to accessibility.

The most recently-elected commissioners have used town hall meetings, social media, and personal communication with varying degrees of connection or disconnection to constituents.

Garcia suggested his methods of communication could or would involve all of those to build stronger connections.

“As the next commissioner, ALL the residents, regardless of where they reside, will be my FIRST priority,” Garcia answered. “Whether it is town halls, Facebook, commissioners’ meetings, in person or any social media platform I WILL BE ACCESSIBLE when they need me to be there for them to address their concerns.”