GREEN COVE SPRINGS | Clay County voters will choose between seven Republican candidates running for two seats on the County Commission in Tuesday’s primary.


Their priorities include preventing future budget shortfalls such as the projected $2 million deficit now facing the commission and bolstering economic development to bring higher-paying jobs into the county, the candidates told the Times-Union.

The candidates are District 2: Wayne Bolla and Patricia Kolosky; and District 4: Abbie Andrews, Ronnie Coleman, Steven Johnson, Gavin Rollins and Clu Wright. They are vying for a four-year term.

In District 4, the top vote-getter will face write-in candidate Stanley Pfenning in the Nov. 4 general election.

Under state law, Pfenning’s write-in candidacy closed that primary race, meaning only registered Republican are allowed to vote in it.

It’s a universal primary in District 2 so it’s winner take all, said county Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless.

The current County Commission has adopted a tentative $279 million county budget for 2014-15. It also has set the county’s tentative maximum millage rate at 8.4583 per $1,000 of taxable property, which is an increase of 0.6 mills from the current rate. That rate means the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption will pay about $60 more a year in county taxes.

All the candidates said a tax increase should be a last resort. They differ somewhat in how to raise revenue to pay for county services.


Bolla said everybody should pay a little bit, noting a sales tax and gas tax are among potential revenue sources. Any tax increase should be earmarked for a specific use if possible instead of going into a general bucket, he said.

“Wherever possible, the folks that are using the service should be the primary people paying for it,” Bolla said. “If we’re going to raise a gasoline tax, I’d like to see that dedicated just to be put into roads.”

Bolla said his top priority would be getting a secure funding source for county police and fire services. He said “now, we’re spending 100 percent of everything we get from real estate taxes on police and fire, and that has to be number-one job of the county.”

Kolosky said two things should be done to raise revenue and avoid budget shortfalls.

“The first thing is we need to convince voters to pass a half-cent sales tax,” Kolosky said.

“The county does need the money. The second thing they need to do is go through that budget item by item and see where they can save money.”

Saying she’s not a politician, Kolosky said she’s running because she sees a need for a change in direction the county has taken. There is a need to diversify where its income is coming from and where the jobs are in the county, she said.


Andrews doubts increasing the millage rate is the best way to raise revenue because it places the burden on one group of taxpayers — property owners. She thinks a local half-cent sales tax “would be more fair because everyone would be contributing,” including visitors and people passing through the county.

The first step, however, is cutting costs. One possible money-saving measure might be converting some county vehicles to natural gas, which is less expensive than regular fuel. Aided by a grant, St. Johns County is doing that now, which potentially could cut its transportation costs by a third. That idea is worth exploring in the near future, Andrews said.

Coleman said he’ll be a full-time commissioner providing everyday help to District 4 constituents. Coleman opposes raising property taxes. There are other ways to raise revenue, he said.

“I think we ought to look at some of our fees. Charge for county services to the public, a few dollars here and there. … I believe some of the other departments could cut their corners more and cover the deficit, but the Sheriff’s Office and fire department need more money,” Coleman said.

Johnson said he’s running for the commission to stop District 4 from being treated as the redheaded stepchild of the county. The district’s roads, drainage and community park infrastructure need immediate attention. Johnson has fought to stop the delivery and use in Clay County of EZBase, a recycled coal ash product created by JEA and used as road-building material that he and others say is harmful to people and the environment.

“Our little area out here, it just seems like we’re always the ones that are last,” Johnson said.

“We need somebody to speak up for our district out here. Stand up and stay strong and fight the fight until the problem is solved.”

Johnson said a half-cent sales tax across the board would benefit the county more than raising property taxes.

Rollins said in the long term he favors a broader-based tax structure. He would support putting a referendum about a half-cent sales tax on the ballot for voters to decide.

“In the short term, we have to look for ways to innovate and save money,” Rollins said. A broader-based revenue stream potentially could allow the county to remove the $7,500 impact fee and some other taxes, he said.

Rollins opposes the expansion of gambling and adult-entertainment businesses in the county. Another priority would be protecting the Keystone Heights area lakes, which is a water-quality as well as an economic issue, he said.

Describing himself as a strong conservative, Wright said a tax increase isn’t necessary now. Increased revenue from higher property values in the county, along with existing money in the budget will cover the county until new revenue starts coming in, he said.

“I think later on down the road the county is going to have to figure out what kind of services we really need,” said Wright, who wants to get rid of the school impact fee and county garbage tax as well as cut in half the utility tax. All of those would require better budgeting to meet the needs of residents.

To help attract new businesses, Wright wants to raise the building height restrictions in the county. That in turn would spur construction jobs in the county, he said.


Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075