Tuesday's Republican primary election could mark big changes for Martin County

STUART, Fla.— If Tuesday's Republican primary election shifts control of the Martin County Commission to the slow-growth bloc, big changes are likely in the way the county government operates.

The first change would be the selection of veteran Commissioner Sarah Heard as chairwoman for the first time after 10 years in office and several stints as vice chairwoman, several candidates and commissioners said.

"She'd certainly have my vote," said Anne Scott, a Jupiter Island town commissioner challenging County Commissioner Patrick Hayes in District 3. "I think it's long overdue. I can't think of anyone running or sitting that would do a better job."

Because Heard and her ally on the commission, Ed Fielding, are not up for re-election until 2014, a victory by just one of their three political teammates running in the primary would hand the slow-growth faction control of the five-member board.

It would be the first time the county's slow-growth movement held a majority of the seats on the commission since 2000.

A commission led by Heard and Fielding can be expected to clamp down on growth and spending, several commissioners, candidates and political activists said.

"You'll see a lot of development things that are back there in the pipeline that will stop because there is no point in pushing them," said Dave Dew, chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee.

A new slow-growth commission majority would be unlikely to approve proposals to change the land-use of agricultural property and development proposals outside the urban service district, several candidates and commissioners said.

"There is absolutely no justification for changing agricultural land to urban uses," Heard said. "We don't need to change agricultural (land) to industrial, or to residential or to commercial. We've got plenty of that land within the urban boundary."

Major development projects in the urban service district also would face a stricter interpretation of the county's growth plan and development regulations, Fielding and several other commissioners and candidates said.

"I don't see a door being slammed down, but I think that things won't be glossed over as we have tended to do in the past," Fielding said.

A slow-growth commission majority also is likely to rethink the allocation of county spending on the Business Development Board of Martin County and the seven community development areas, Hayes and several commissioners and candidates said.

"Those are two areas that they've talked about defunding, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them go ahead and do that," Hayes said. "I think they (the slow growth commission bloc) would be much more difficult to work with because they've been very difficult with anything that goes through now."

Heard said a new commission majority would probably reconsider the allocation of more than $600,000 per year to the business board.

"They have no accountability whatsoever," Heard said. "I don't know what on earth they're spending it on. But you can't point to businesses that have moved here because of their direct intervention."

Ed Weinberg, the chairman of the business board, declined to speculate on what would happen to the county's economic development efforts if the commission majority shifts to the slow-growth political faction.

The business group will work with whoever is elected to the commission, Weinberg said.

In addition, a new majority bloc on the commission could try to beef up environmental regulations such as wetland buffers and shoreline protection rules, which had been eased in the past 12 years, Heard and other candidates and commissioners said.

"We need to re-evaluate those," Heard said. "We went the wrong direction on both of those changes."

A new commission majority also can be expected to start appointing allies to the BDB, the countywide Community Redevelopment Agency and the neighborhood advisory committees in Old Palm City, Hobe Sound, Jensen Beach, Port Salerno, Rio, Golden and Indiantown, Fielding and other commissioners and candidates said.

Commission candidates

Republican candidates for Martin County Commission

District 1

Doug Smith*

Henry Copeland

Tom Fullman

District 3

Patrick Hayes*

Anne Scott

District 5

John Haddox

Brandon Tucker

* incumbent

Commission facts

2012 Commission salary: $57,650

2012 budget: $329.3 million

2012 property tax rate: $8.73 per $1,000 of assessed value

Employees: 851

Parks: 74

Libraries: Seven

Size: 556 square miles

Residents: 149,431

Registered voters: 98,946

Registered Republicans: 51,041

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