If you're hoping to meet the three leading candidates for Orange County mayor before casting your ballot, here is your chance. The three men — Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and businessman Rob Panepinto — will be at the Orange County Mayoral Forum, set for Thursday, March 29, in Lake Buena Vista.
The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association is hosting the forum. Annually, CFHLA partners with local city and county governments to help support community engagement.
The Primary Election for Orange County mayor is Aug. 28, and the General Election is Nov. 6.
Though the winner will represent all of Orange County, each has indicated a commitment to West Orange County and its residents.
If elected mayor, Clarke plans to schedule one-on-one meetings with each of the municipal mayors, fully support homeless programs through innovation and with no governmental interference and expand access to county services through the creation of service centers.
The biggest challenges in West Orange County, he said, are growth into rural enclaves and rural settlements, water issues and protection of the Butler Chain of Lakes.
“West Orange is a beautiful area, so growth pressures will continue,” Clarke said. “Cities will look to expand their boundaries, and rural vs. urban issues will occur. Crime will be a central focus as the (area) grows.”
He said he would offer the partnership necessary for successful joint-planning areas so the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Orange County Fire Rescue and Emergency Management are properly funded with solid mutual-aid agreements.
In Horizon West, where tremendous growth is taking place, Clarke said he would look to neighborhood services professionals to work with Horizon West “to emulate to the extent possible the tremendous success of Hunter’s Creek. Hunter’s Creek has very strong HOAs and boards to self-govern.”
Demings vows to strengthen services for senior citizens, expand access to healthcare for the uninsured and underinsured, expand the number of county parks and/or amenities at existing parks, enhance partnerships with the municipalities to improve the renaissance of arts, create partnerships for business incubators and work through the chambers of commerce to increase the number of small businesses and attract jobs with higher wages.
In West Orange County, Demings said, the biggest challenges are public safety and maintaining relatively low crime rates; transportation and traffic congestion; increasing the stock of housing that is affordable; and attracting high-wage jobs to the area.
“I anticipate the municipalities in West Orange County to continue growing at a rate acceptable to their legislative bodies and citizens,” he said.
He would like to establish Community Redevelopment Agencies and other initiatives that bring high quality of life.
In Horizon West, where growth is prominent, Demings hopes to continue working with elected officials who represent the area in being responsive to needs of the residents. He would also strive to have broad representation by West Orange residents on the county’s various advisory boards.
Panepinto said his overall blueprint for the county also addresses issues in West Orange County: creating more higher-wage jobs, reducing housing costs, improving traffic and infrastructure and ensuring all citizens live in safe, quality neighborhoods.
“(Growth), if managed smartly, could create enormous economic opportunity while also enhancing the quality of life and protecting rural settlement areas,” he said of West Orange. “I would like to see a greater focus on creating jobs locally by driving corporate and business to locate to the area, which will also reduce traffic flow into and out of Orlando.”
Close partnership between the county and West Orange municipalities is crucial, he said. He wants to have collaborative conversations that will drive economic growth while, at the same time, maintain quality of life for existing residents.
Regarding Horizon West, he said: “I see a real opportunity where the county can help guide the overall plan and growth … to attract high-wage jobs, economic development and a variety of quality residential options. Significant portions of the Hamlin Town Center area are zoned for corporate and office space.”