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Name: Debra French Jones
Education: Graduated from Williston High School, attended Auburn University, and became a registered health information technician (RHIT) through the American Association of Health Information Management (Chicago).
Family: Daughter of Royal and Mary Gene French of Williston, married to Dan Jones, mother of Cara, Matt, Kelly and Stephanie all of Williston, and proud grandmother of eight grandchildren, ages four to eighteen.
Work History: Employed by Nature Coast Regional Hospital for 28 years, Vice President of Public Relations for Nature Coast Rehabilitation for two years, Health Information Management Supervisor for Haven Hospice until 2009. Currently employed by Florida Farm Bureau as the Administrative Assistant to the Director of Field Services in the Gainesville state office.
Current Civic/Church/Club Affiliations:
Williston City Council,
Williston Municipal Airport Committee (Chairman),
Levy County Fair Association (President - Charter Board Member),
Williston Area Chamber of Commerce (Past President, Board Member of the Year),
Member of Williston First United Methodist Church (Administrative Board/Disaster Response Chairman),
Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council (Past President),
Levy County Tourism Development Board (Appointed),
Williston Relay for Life (Logistics Chair),
Levy County CERT (Charter Member),
Williston Police Auxiliary (Charter Member),
Nature Coast Regional Hospital Employee of the Year 2004,
Central Florida Peanut Festival Committee,
Independence Day Parade and Fireworks Committee,
Holiday Hope (Treasurer/Board Member).
Years Living in the City: I am proud to say that I was born and raised in Williston. I left only to attend Auburn University and returned home to work and raise our family.
1. Why are you seeking office?
I am seeking re-election because I believe that I am the best person to get the job done for the citizens of Williston. It is important to continue the work that we have started, in the last few months, making progress with multiple grant awards for essential services and continuing to move toward the funding of the solar power plant. I have been at the forefront of this project since it was first presented to us by the engineers who came to Williston to see our building site and start us out on the path toward sustainable energy. We have met with many of our legislators regarding funding and I would love to see the day when we can sell our solar power to lower your electric rates.
2. During this campaign cycle, a lot of discussion has centered on utility rates, specifically electric. Aside from the utility concerns, what is the biggest problem facing Williston today?
Other than utility rates, our biggest problem is aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced, with very little spare cash to get the job done. We have water lines that need to be looped to provide better flow and pressure for household use and fire suppression. We have sewer lift stations and electrical circuits that need to be rebuilt and roads that need to be repaved. We have been successful in obtaining grants, both state and federal, to help with some these issues in the near future. We need to give the citizens the best possible service for the money we have, without raising rates or property taxes to accomplish the goal.
3. Forecasting: The City of Williston (and the surrounding area) is scheduled for a property re-evaluation in 2012 by the county property appraiser. If values decrease, do you foresee a millage increase? Likewise, if values increase, do you foresee a millage decrease? What will happen if property values remain as is? (200 words allowed on this question)
If County property values should decrease, I do not foresee an increase in the millage for the City of Williston. In the last two budget years, the City has actually lowered the millage rate and I will strive to continue to decrease it each year. If the County property values should increase, that would give us the greatest opportunity to implement a larger decrease in the City millage rate. If property values remain as they are, the City should still be able to chip away at the millage rate in order to decrease the citizen’s tax bill. I can honestly tell you that this is the goal of the current Council. It would be absolutely wonderful to have residents come to the budget workshops to help us determine what is important and what isn’t. The best way for the Council to know what you want, is for you to come and tell us.
4. Name three immediate priorities for you if you are re-elected March 1st .
The #1 concern that I hear from every household, from all sections of town, is the high cost of utilities. Without a doubt my #1 priority would be to lower the utility bills… not only by reducing deposits, reconnect fees, and late fees, but by lowering the bill itself.
Our #2 priority should be to move forward as quickly as possible to build a solar power plant at the Williston Airport Industrial Park. Now that the required feasibility study is complete, the next step is to ask our legislators to support our efforts to secure both state and federal grants to build a solar array. This is the way to decrease the City’s outside electrical purchases and the quickest possible way to lower all of our utility bills.
Priority #3 for me would be to restore the City resident’s confidence in City Hall and their elected officials. This election cycle has been particularly hard on not only the citizens of Williston, but also the employees at City Hall. Both groups (the citizens and the employees) are wonderful, caring people who need to respect the ideas and abilities of the other. Everyone is here because they love Williston and want what’s best for all concerned. We have to find a way of expressing that to the customer at the front window.
5. How much of the City Manager’s job responsibility should be devoted to economic development? Explain.
Economic development is the answer to all of the City’s problems. If you look at the benefits that come from economic development, 25-30% of the City Manager’s job duties should be geared toward good, economic growth. For example, if a company with 50 employees comes to Williston and builds a plant anywhere within the City limits, the benefits are widespread and enormous. There are jobs with salaries and health benefits that flow into our local housing market, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and other businesses. The property taxes generated will add to the tax base and lower the burden for others and help support the essential services that we all want, such as police, fire, roads, parks and recreation. The schools grow and emergency services are strengthened. It is not only the City Manager’s job to recruit businesses, but everyone’s. This is one of the best reasons I know to support our local Williston Area Chamber of Commerce. They are not only the advocate for the businesses that we already have, but one of the best recruiting tools that we could ask for.
6. What makes up a great City Council meeting?
A great City Council meeting is one where the agenda is full of activity and discussion, not only from the Council members, but with citizen participation. Council agendas are set as of noon the Wednesday prior to the Council meeting on the following Tuesday. That leaves almost a week for all interested parties to see the agenda, research the topics and be ready for lively debate on the issues at hand. When I was the President of the Council last year, I always encouraged crowd participation, calling on citizens as they indicated they had comments to add to the discussion.
7. Why should Williston residents vote foryou?
I am a part of the Williston community and have been all my life. I learn what you, the citizens of Williston, need by participating in the activities that take place in our community. At church or in the park, I listen to the things that you tell me are important to you. I believe that I have the experience needed to understand budgeting and finance required to run the City, the knowledge of City services and the grant process, yet still have the heart to understand that the residents of Williston are not just an account on a page, but a family struggling to survive from one month to another. I am the one you can call when you need the answer to a question or help with a problem.