Questions and answers with the candidates.
Name: Ruta Maria Jouniari
Occupation: Business owner
Family (spouse/children, ages): spouse, married 19 years
Education: B.S Finance, MSM Business
Elected government experience: none. Ran in special election HD 72 in 2017
Why are you running for county commission? I am running for office because it has been 50 years that we have one sided politics ruling the county. We need someone who will stand up to developers to promote smart, sustainable growth with proper planning for infrastructure , and I will fight to make sure we maintain the 20150 comp plan that will ensure safeguards for our environment and protections and preservation of lands and water. And to fight for workforce housing and making sure we all have a voice on what happens in our count, not just special interest.
What do you think are the top three challenges facing the county, and where do you stand on each?
- Overdevelopment with lack of infrastructure. Everywhere in the county from North Port to the airport are complaining about the growth. Everyone is upset that the traffic is increased, and no proper planning of evacuation routes and access are planned out and causing a risk to all lives. We need to work with the plan that we have on the books. 2050 comp plan which outlines slow, manageable development, with habitat corridors, preservation of wetlands, smart growth with village designs. We cannot overbuild, as we can never recover from the loss of the land and wetlands and environment. We want to make sure our children and children’s children have access to a clean environment, and safe water and to see greenery and wildlife and clean beaches. We need to have builders , build for next generation with solar ready homes and businesses.
- Environmental concerns. Again, the entire county population is very concerned that there is a lack of concern to protect our environment and that the focus is just to develop every inch of the county, without regard for the future generations. We are seeing protected lands get sold and developed, we see mangroves being removed and thus removing a natural barrier, we have flooding increases, algae and red tide blooms increasing. Florida is attractive to people due to the natural beauty. Once that is stripped and looks like a large mall and cookie cutter developments, it loses its charm. We need to incentive reducing emissions, and protecting air quality.
- Sarasota County has some of the highest rents in the state. And unfortunately it doesn’t have the jobs, and income levels to support it. We have a huge service industry population that has to choose between paying rent, insurance and food. I co- founded a free medical clinic here in Sarasota for un-insureds and in 2 years have seen hundreds of working people who just can’t afford the cost of living here . And it is a shame. We are losing workforce to competitive markets. Skilled labor force is hard to find. And many have to work and live far away in order to be able to pay rent . We need to incentivize people to stay here. We need to work with developers on allocating affordable workforce housing that will be competitive. So that working families can live and work in the county.
Are you satisfied with how the county commission and staff are navigating budget concerns now and are preparing for possible future budget shortfalls? I am not satisfied with the bookkeeping of the county. A few months ago, the commissioners were given reports showing a deficit in funds. They started selling off public land. Come to find out it was an error and there is surplus. That is scary. We need someone on commission wo is fiscally responsible and will manage our tax dollars for the good of everyone and not special interest groups. We currently are not collecting enough impact fees on new construction from the developers on new housing that cover the costs. That has to stop. Our tax dollars should not go to their profits.
What is your stance on paid parking on Siesta Key? Sarasota attracts thousands of tourists with our beaches. We do not have enough parking there to accommodate residents and visitors. After long weekends the beaches are trashed. I think in the long run in order to have additional parking added, we may have to consider charging. However, the fee should not go to residents. I lived in Massachusetts where if you have a resident sticker on your car the parking was free . Visitors/non residents had to pay.
Are you in favor of granting Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s request for $20 million to help finance construction of its $130 million aquarium project at Nathan Benderson Park? The county has to look at the tourist development tax dollars to see if feasible. Renting space from the county for the land is good. Mote has had a long standing relationship with the city and is world renowned for its research. A venture to assist them would ok , if indeed finacially ok. I think most residents would welcome this for their kids and overall to community.
Are you in favor of building a new jail to add capacity, or investing in jail-diversion programs? We need a long term solution and that would be diversion programs. Thus the need of space would be eliminated. Adding more jail space is not a solution to long term issues. It is a temporary fix. Having money for mental health issues would eliminate the lower level offenders from jail and put them into programs to correct their issues such as substance abuse treatment , for example would be better than just more cells.