By Sharon Aron Baron
At the Tamarac mayoral debate, Kings Point residents already had a clear favorite: incumbent Mayor Michelle Gomez. Her challenger Vice Mayor Mike Gelin, would have his work cut out for him.
Would he be able to win the seniors’ approval?
The 2022 mayoral election isn’t the first time Gomez and Gelin have competed for a seat on the dais. In 2010, Gomez was appointed interim commissioner when Patte Atkins-Grad was suspended from office, awaiting her trial on corruption charges.
After being found not guilty, residents worked throughout 2013 to have Atkins-Grad legally recalled from office. She resigned before facing a recall election, and her departure left District 2 open again. Out of eight applicants, both Gomez and Gelin were finalists, with Gomez getting the most votes from the commission.
One year later, in his first bid for mayor, Gelin lost against then-Commissioner Harry Dressler. In 2018, Dressler decided not to run for mayor again, so Gomez ran for the seat against Elvin Villalobos and Gerald Heller. She won with less than two percentage points over Villalobos.
Gelin, who was elected commissioner of District 2 in 2018, could have easily kept his seat on the dais, but in 2022 decided, just like Gomez did in 2018, to give it up for a run for mayor.
The August 30 debate allowed Kings Point residents to learn more about Gelin and Gomez, as well as their stand on taxes, spending, and economic development.
Moderators and audience members asked questions amid a backdrop of cellphones ringing. They were reminded several times to turn them off; however, their pleas for silence were futile.
Both candidates were asked about spending a proposed $300,000 for a disparity study, increased hours for liaisons, and traveling volleyball — items the resident claimed were not in the budget.
Gelin answered, “You have just made three false statements.
He explained that the commission grants the city manager to spend $65,000 or less before coming to them Anything that goes above $65,000 has to be discussed, has to be voted on, and has to be approved. So nothing happens without three votes.
He added that commissioners propose ideas and policies, and some have a cost.
“The city did approve a disparity study, and the former crooked city manager failed to put it in the budget, so we asked the commission to amend the budget, and the city commission voted no—end of discussion. And there was absolutely no tie to my wife. If you have facts, bring the facts. Someone here said I was wrong about the city manager’s compensation, and I gave her the document with the facts. If you’re going to speak, speak on the facts.”
Gomez touched upon the disparity study as well. “…So yes, while we wanted one, it came out [as to] how much it was going to cost a year later.”
She added that when the commission realized $300,000 would be added to the budget, they didn’t want to spend it because the city procurement director had already been doing the work to ensure they complied.
“My wife wasn’t involved in the process, so I can’t add anything,” she joked.
Kings Point Republican Club President Joe D’uva questioned Gelin’s character for not placing his hand over his heart during the pledge and the Star-Spangled banner at a recent event at Veteran’s Park.
According to the revised Flag Code, the right hand over the heart is standard procedure for all Americans when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.
Gelin told the resident that it was “indeed a lie. Every time the national anthem is [played], my hand is across my heart.”
One resident asked the candidates for their opinion on “pro-choice.”
Audience members moaned in unison.
The moderator said to the candidates, “You really don’t have to answer this.”
“Why can’t he answer it?” asked an audience member.
The moderator said he could if he wanted to. “This is not a presidential race. It really doesn’t relate to the city.”
The resident took the time to come here, and that was her question, said Gelin.
“I think the Supreme Court of the past made a decision that most of America was happy with. I’m not sure most of America is happy with the new decision, but the election is in the fall, and women will come out and make their voice heard.”
Gomez responded that residents could approach her after the debate and ask.
When both were asked how they would bring economic development to Tamarac, Gelin answered, “Tamarac has a lot of seniors…..When you look at the median income for residents in the city of Tamarac, it’s approximately $48,000. When you compare that to the medium income for residents in Coral Springs, which has a more balanced demographic, and Plantation and Sunrise, business owners look at that and say, ‘Well, I want to be in Coral Springs, or I want to be in Sunrise.'”
“So, as mayor, we have to do a better job of attracting businesses that will target our demographic. And we still have a large portion of our demographics as seniors.”
He gave examples of economic development with the expansion of the medical mile on University Drive near HCA Florida Woodmont Hospital.
“We’re attracting more medical-related facilities. We are also trying to attract people who are in their peak earning years with the development of Tamarac Village, Eden West apartments, and Bailey Square to the east…with more of a high income where the starting rent is between $1,700 for a one-bedroom apartment and over $3,000 for a three bedroom. So the problem with that is we move people out who are looking for affordable housing.”
He said that the solution is “you focus on companies that are going to cater to the needs of people in your [seniors] age demographic and people that are in that $40k, plus peak earning years.”
As far as attracting companies, Gelin said they have had a difficult time because Tamarac is sandwiched between Coral Springs and Plantation.
“We have a full-time economic development manager from the city of Chicago. She did a great job of bringing companies to the city of Chicago, but she was having a bit of a time due to the way our city is structured geographically and demographically. Until we change that shift, it’s going to be difficult to attract businesses to Tamarac,” he said.
“I disagree,” responded Gomez. “I think [we are] extraordinarily well-placed. We have the Sawgrass; we have the Turnpike; we have I-95. People are coming to us because of our geographical location, so I’m proud of where our city is.”
“It’s not about your age,” she told the audience. “We actually have more [of an] opportunity to get out and about. And I happen to know you’re out and about because I have the pleasure of being out and about with you.”
She added that some investors are disenchanted with the city because of how the commission behaves.
“So I look forward to ten weeks from now when we’ll behave, and people will want to come to our city.”
An audience member said property taxes are adversely affecting seniors on fixed incomes. “As mayor, what will you do to keep property taxes at an affordable level?”
Gelin explained that Tamarac started as a bedroom community, and the builder did not want commercial development.
“So over the last few years, we’ve been trying to bring some of that back. The city of Tamarac has one of the highest tax rates in Broward County and the reason why is that we don’t have enough businesses. So the burden of taxes falls on us as homeowners. I’m pushing to reduce property tax levels. I did this two years ago.”
He added, “Last year, because of the pandemic, the commission had a little more compassion. I asked to drop the tax rate a little bit lower than it was, but the commission didn’t agree. This fall, the goal — my goal at least — is to reduce the property taxes. Values have gone up significantly, and based on the studies; staff has shown that if we keep the tax rate the same, we will double the income we got last year. We need to lower it while still generating the amount of income we got last year.”
“If you’re a business owner and you are selling a product, you want to be in a community where people have disposable income, and our demographic doesn’t fit that as of yet; we’re getting there, but we’re not there yet,” he said.
Gomez responded, “As a commission, we are working to keep property taxes affordable. Tamarac was the seventh lowest medium and single-family homes, and we’re the fourth lowest in Broward County for condominiums. So to compare us with cities that are larger or have a larger property value base doesn’t put the picture together — or apples to apples.”
She added that keeping the rate at 7.200 mills would keep the city at its current level of service.
“If we reduce it, every .10 mil results in a loss in the city budget of $506,500. While at the same time, owners of the average medium property would only save $1.17 a month. For a home that’s $500,000, it would be $50 for the entire year,” said Gomez.
“So the question is, do we reduce all these services and save the $1.14 a month or $50 [a year]? While I would love to say to you…at the same time, you’re going to be upset when we can’t fix the potholes, or [have] the ability to keep our police force running, or our Tamarac Fire Rescue, or employees to serve you. While I would love to get it under 7.200 mills, I don’t know if we can continue to meet your needs.”
In Gelin’s final remarks, he covered his accomplishments in his last three years as a city commissioner.
“Regarding taxes and revenues, one of the first things I did was implement a local business preference program where we can grow our local Tamarac businesses.” He said Tamarac spent $35-$40 million a year helping other counties and cities and wanted Tamarac residents to receive those contracts.
He mentioned his Ban the Box initiative and getting the city to condense the budget from 300 to four pages in an easy-to-read format on the TamAGram.
In closing, Gomez said, “I’ve been here around 12 years I have great relationships with people, whether it’s people in the room, people in other communities, people on the commission, in other counties, state legislature, and federal government.”
Gomez said she spoke with U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, “who put in $350,000 that the city needs into the budget. I continue [utilizing] the service and resources….so that your needs are actually met.”
She concluded, “There are a lot of things that have buzzwords in them and sound good, but actually do the work that makes the work, the process, and policy come to fruition.”
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- Sharon Aron Baron is the Editor of Talk Media and Tamarac Talk, Coral Springs Talk, and Parkland Talk. Tamarac Talk was created in 2011 to provide News for the residents of Tamarac and is the #1 News Source for Residents.
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