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PORT ST. LUCIE— The District 3 City Council seat has been vacant for nearly five months, but in one week voters will fill the position in a runoff election.
Candidates Anthony Bonna and Travis Walker come from different occupational backgrounds but share similar views on how to tackle key issues such as keeping up with rapid growth, job creation and debt management.
Bonna, a former county commissioner and an educational consultant, said some of his top priorities if elected would be reducing taxes and addressing traffic and growth problems.
For Walker, a lawyer who has sat on numerous civic boards, working with developers to create more affordable housing and enforcing the city's contract with Waste Pro to find a solution to poor trash collection are actions he said he would prioritize if elected.
As of Wednesday, Bonna had raised $91,301 in monetary and in-kind campaign contributions. Mayor Shannon Martin and the Mast for Congress political action committee are among his donors, according to campaign finance reports.
Walker had raised $52,504 as of Wednesday. St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara and the Friends of Delores Hogan Johnson political action committee are among his donors.
Here's where the candidates stand on local issues:
Port St. Lucie, the seventh-most populous city in the state, is experiencing a boom in population and development, evidenced by companies such as FedEx, Amazon and Cheney Brothers deciding to come here.
Additionally, the city saw nearly a 23% population increase — jumping from nearly 165,000 residents to more than 204,000 — between the 2010 and 2020 censuses. It marked the largest population increase among all Treasure Coast cities, data shows.
With growth comes the need to keep up with services such as trash collection, utilities and roadway repairs.
If elected, Bonna said, he would prioritize spending fees collected from new development on transportation improvements such as widening or repaving roads and building more sidewalks.
Walker, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2002 District 3 primary, sees the city's growth as "a huge issue."
"The biggest thing is making sure that we hold developers' feet to the fire and make sure we develop infrastructure properly so we don't have traffic issues and water and sewer issues," Walker said.
Helping more residents convert from septic to sewer systems to protect local waterways such as the Indian River Lagoon also is a priority for both candidates — especially since the city switched 329 homes last fiscal year, about 70 less than its target goal of 400, according to its strategic dashboard.
Port St. Lucie often is referred to as a bedroom community or commuter town.
But the city has been trying to attract companies here, sometimes by awarding temporary tax breaks, to create jobs that pay more than the county's average wage of $40,640, or $19.54 per hour.
Despite such efforts, only 23% of residents are satisfied with employment opportunities, according to the city's strategic dashboard. That's a 9% decrease from last year.
Bonna cited the jobs referendum — which also appears on the Dec. 7 ballot, and asks voters if the city can award temporary tax breaks to certain companies for 10 years — as a "critical tool" to retain workers locally.
"It's important to have (the tax-abatement program) in our arsenal to attract the best companies and high-wage jobs to our community," said Bonna, an education consultant. "I would also work closely with the business community, the Economic Development Council and the Chamber of Commerce to increase job opportunities."
Walker also supports the jobs referendum, but believes it's important to partner with local small businesses and promote jobs for those companies just as the city has done for much as bigger ones such as FedEx.
" I think a lot of times there's a big focus on bringing the big businesses in, but really the the biggest employer overall, collectively, is the small-business community," Walker said. "(The tax-abatement program) is an important tool. That being said, it shouldn't just be used as a carrot-and-stick all the time."
Port St. Lucie has more than $700 million in debt, according to its strategic dashboard.
Previous failed economic-development projects contributed to that total. Notable projects included the Digital Domain Media Group animation studio — which received more than $51.8 million in incentives from the city in 2009 — and the city's backing of a $64 million loan for the former Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute.
However, long-term debt has decreased 30% over the past 11 years, according to the strategic dashboard.
To lower that debt even further, Bonna would review the city's $610 million budget to look for savings.
Walker said he would take a similar approach by working closely with the city's Finance Department to identify potential budget cuts.
Six candidates originally ran for the seat, which has been vacant since July, when Shannon Martin resigned to run for mayor in a Sept. 21 special election.
But none received more than 50% of the vote, as required to win outright, triggering the runoff. Bonna and Walker were the top vote getters, capturing 45% and 22%, respectively, of the vote.
Martin was elected mayor in the September special election.
The winner of the Dec. 7 nonpartisan runoff will serve the remainder of Martin's unexpired term until November 2022.
All registered voters are eligible to vote for District 3, which covers the southwest quadrant of the city.
Early voting continues 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sturday at three locations:
Port St. Lucie Community Center: 2195 S.E. Airoso Blvd.
Port St. Lucie Civic Center: 9221 SE Civic Center Place
Paula A. Lewis Library: 2950 SW Rosser Blvd.
Olivia McKelvey is TCPalm's watchdog reporter for St. Lucie County. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 772-521-4380 and on Twitter @olivia_mckelvey.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Bonna, Walker in Dec. 7 runoff election for Port St. Lucie City Council