Mayoral candidates discuss their visions for Holiday Island
By Scott Loftis and Samantha Jones
If voters in Holiday Island approve incorporating as a city in the Nov. 3 general election, they’ll also elect a mayor, recorder and five-member city council.
Two candidates are seeking to become the first mayor of Holiday Island — Russell “Rusty” Baxter III and Dan Kees. Both candidates recently discussed their qualifications and what they believe are the most important issues in Holiday Island.
“I’m direct,” said Baxter, 59. “I’m straight to the point. Some people like to beat around the bush so they’re offended by my direct approach.”
Baxter said he’s concerned about Holiday Island’s finances and increases in the assessment of benefits being billed to property owners by the existing suburban improvement district.
“Last year when I saw the AOBs kept going up, I started looking at Holiday Island’s financials,” Baxter said. “Looking at the financials for the last four years they’re spending $1 million a year on those two golf courses over the last four years. Each year they only made either $500,000 or $700,000, so they’re losing $300,000 to $500,000 each year on those golf courses.”
Baxter is also concerned about how the suburban improvement district and a city government will work together and what that will mean for taxpayers.
“I’m trying to keep up with what responsibilities the city is going to have and the SID is going to have because they’re not doing away with the SID,” Baxter said. “There will be two sets of taxes. you’re going to pay AOBs to the SID and taxes to the city. You’ve got two governments, and it’s going to cost twice as much.”
Another issue that Baxter mentioned is the fact that some individuals may hold positions with both the HISID Board of Commissioners and the city government.
“A lot of people are concerned about that,” he said. “It sounded like the same people are going to be in charge of the city council that are on the board of commissioners. … There will be conflicts of interest because the board of commissioners is for property owners where the city will also deal with renters. If the residents of Holiday Island elect all the people that are not on the board of commissioners, there won’t be any conflict of interest and everybody will be able to participate in every decision.”
Kees, 71, said he and his wife have owned property in Holiday Island since 2007 and have been full-time residents since 2013.
“I’ve put my heart and soul into this community ever since we moved here,” he said. “My wife and I volunteer for everything from roadside cleanup to putting up the Christmas decorations at the front entrance at Christmastime to building hiking trails to, you name it. If it looks like it needs attention, we jump in there and help. We’re invested in the community. We’ve made this our hometown and we want to see it succeed, so we roll up and sleeves and we do something about it.”
Kees has served on the HISID Board of Commissioners for more than four years and said he has a strong knowledge of the issues in Holiday Island. He has been a vocal supporter of incorporation.
“I’ve been pretty involved in running the district for the past five years, so I’m intimately familiar with the strong suits and the weaknesses, the pros and the cons and everything else,” he said. “Understanding some of the situations that the district is facing is why I got involved with the rest of the committee to bring incorporating Holiday Island before the voters in the November election.”
His experience on the board of commissioners and his professional background make him a qualified candidate for mayor, Kees said.
“I’m intimately familiar with all the operations here,” he said. “And I have 40 years of engineering and manufacturing background running at least medium-sized manufacturing plants both in the United States and in France, so I know how to budget and I know how to run an operation, although I am still learning about the state laws and things like that. I’m going through a crash course now on things like district courts and how a city operates.”