Dr. Usha Jain, Bobby Olszewski and Betsy VanderLey took turns answering West Orange Chamber of Commerce questions about local affairs.
| 11:51 a.m. May 19, 2016
West Orange Times & Observer
WINTER GARDEN Candidates Dr. Usha Jain, Bobby Olszewski and Betsy VanderLey fielded questions May 11 at Tanner Hall in the West Orange Chamber of Commerce Debate Luncheon. Here are answers from each District 1 Orange County commissioner candidate.
What are three hallmarks of your campaign?
Olszewski: Transparency, an expedited business development system and getting Horizon West Sportsplex up.
Jain: Fairness to the community and citizens with equal treatment, safety and education.
VanderLey: Get schools on the ground faster, meet infrastructure needs with roads and traffic.
Do you support revisions to the Orange County Charter regarding the tourist development tax and the citizen petition initiative process?
Jain: Yes. Having petitions from citizens is always a good thing to do.
VanderLey: Yes. This was a taxing district formed years ago to help projects drive more tourism to our area ... Because they have been so successful ... people are looking at those TBT dollars … so I think it's important that we give a structure and a way forward for people who apply for TBT dollars … and determine whether it fits the intended purpose.
Olszewski: Absolutely. I think anytime you put something before the citizen initiative, that's a good thing to voters. The tourism development tax is one of the most important decisions that we make in our community. Tourism and hospitality is our No. 1 industry, as we set another record in Orange County in visitors. I think we need to make sure we're investing in sound, pro-business development practices. With the application process, we'll be able to vet that with members of the community, and the voters will have a better say.
How do you envision growth in Horizon West, and what is the county's role in providing infrastructure to accommodate that specific growth?
VanderLey: One thing a commissioner does is help draw more businesses to their district. We're blessed that we have the economic engine in Florida and District 1. We've got Disney and SeaWorld and Universal right here … but we also need to be mindful of diversifying the economy. When you go out to east Orange County, you find Medical City, and you can also find the world leader of the simulation industry. We have the opportunity in West Orange County to drive some economic development here, as well. We have two working studios in the district. There's no reason we can't encourage some clean, high-tech jobs out here with CGI, supporting a new industry or something along those lines.
Olszewski: I think the most important thing is to look at someone's record. When we look at what we've done in the city of Winter Garden, I think we have evidence of where we've come from with smart, balanced, planned growth. I'm very excited about Horizon West – there's a lot of exciting opportunities for us there – but at the same time, in my visits to thousands of doors, I hear about urban sprawl, the roads not intended for the developments already there. I think we need to have more strategic and smart growth when we're looking at Horizon West. … You have the Garden Theatre, you have Florida Hospital Winter Garden that just opened its doors, we already have a small media industry with CGI here. We have our strong agricultural roots. I think we can have more agrobusiness and agrotechnology companies coming in Horizon West, but it has to be smart, planned growth.
Jain: Growth is very important. We all know that. But it cannot be done at the expense of the citizens. Are we taking care of the citizens, or are we taking care of the companies? I know big companies will not like me, because I'm not going to get a contribution from them and do their work for them. I am doing all of this without contributions. I'm doing it only with petitions. … I will sacrifice my time for you. I'm not sacrificing my money, and I'm not sacrificing your money. … Present commissioners, are they interested in getting contributions of dollars? Where are they getting them? Why? Because big companies want their work from them.
Five years from now, what do you anticipate as key areas of concern for sustainability, prosperity and growth?
Jain: The most important thing I consider is safety. Safety is going down: Police calls take half-an-hour; ambulance calls, half-an-hour. America is about safety. I don't want to go to India, because if I get chest pain, I would not be able to get an ambulance. I may die. That's one reason I stay in America. If the safety is not there and police officers are not doing their job, then it is not good. They should not be stressed, either, because they are the ones who make things safe for us. The same thing goes with education. It needs to be the best.
VanderLey: Some of the metrics people look at to consider relocating their business here are education, public safety and traffic. Those are things we have to get our arms around … Make sure our educational system is not adversely impacted and that we're keeping impact fees in the district ... We have to make sure we're fully funding our sheriff's department and fire department. … They're both telling me Orange County is getting somewhere, on average, of $18,000 less in their salary than the neighboring communities are paying. That's not right. We must have comparable salaries to keep our public safety officials in Orange County. If we do that, we'll attract high-quality businesses.
Olszewski: We have enjoyed some growth, particularly in District 1. You could arguably say we're looking at the highest growth of any area in the entire country. We need to be sure we are sustainable with growth plans. That's smart, balanced growth, particularly with traffic. That's the No. 1 thing I hear. ... Public safety is critical. We've seen property crimes increase here in West Orange County, but in other parts of the county, we have not. … On the horizon, it looks like we have some hiccups in the economy. I can pledge I will not be raising taxes.
How can we improve safety and reduce crime for citizens and tourists?
Jain: Safety is a big issue. It needs to be addressed, big time. A lot of officers need to be checked out, because … they treat you like a criminal. Those officers need to be reprimanded. They're not afraid of losing their job, so they can do whatever they want to do. … Safety can only come if we have officers that are working for the community. If the officers are working for the money and the job and don't really care … that's not going to work. The rules have to be fixed … or having 10,000 more officers is not going to fix it, I guarantee you. … Honest people get crushed because there are too many dishonest.
VanderLey: The sheriff has a lot more to do with that than our county commissioners. However, we need to fully support them, paying officers a fair wage so they're not dissatisfied in their jobs. … You have to be able to feed your family, and if you can't do that in Orange County, then you have to look someplace else. We also need to look at Horizon West and the number of houses in that area, because I'm being told they're not adequately staffing that area with officers because of the high growth down there. There's a problem with catching up. We need to work with the sheriff to make sure those things get done.
Olszewski: I've worked hand-in-hand with Chief George Brennan in the city of Winter Garden, but also with Chief Ogden and Sheriff Jerry Demings. Working with those officers, I can say we're fortunate that violent crime is down; also, unfortunately, in other parts of Orange County, their violent crime is up. … When you have people asking to annex into Winter Garden and Windermere, that's about safety and response time. There's no question, in Horizon West and West Orange County unincorporated areas, we need a better police presence to deter and report to crimes. When you look at TDT dollar, state law prohibits using them to invest in law enforcement.