Political newcomer Fran Darms is challenging incumbent Orange City Council Member Martin E. Harper for the city’s District 5 seat.
Orange City voters who live in the district will choose between the two in the Tuesday, Nov. 8, election.
One of Harper’s priorities is continuing community involvement.
In 2021, Harper initiated the Park Ranger Program, which allows Orange City residents to volunteer as rangers in Orange City parks. Their duties include assisting park staff by reporting wildlife concerns, picking up trash, and giving visitors information about park services.
“One of the things that is a priority with me is to try and get people to participate in the city, and then do positive things. Do the things we think we can do. That’s an important thing that I believe in,” Harper told The Beacon.
Meanwhile, Darms is prioritizing combating overdevelopment.
If there is going to be development, Darms said, she wants to see corporations that provide careers for people, instead of “little fast-food places.”
“If we’re gonna develop, let’s develop … where people will gain from it,” Darms told The Beacon.
Harper, too, is concerned about how Orange City grows.
“Of course, people, they move up here and need to have homes … I’d be very concerned about developers, because I’m wondering how many of their pockets are being lined just to be able to get land,” Harper said, adding, “I want healthy growth, not this crazy let’s-just-build-because-we-can.”
Both candidates acknowledged the issue of rising taxes.
Harper explained that, with inflation and the community’s growth — along with impact fees not being high enough to pay all the new costs of development — slightly higher taxes were needed to maintain city services.
“Yeah, we want to keep taxes low. Yes, we’d love to do, you know, a lot of things. … Financially, the city itself is in good shape, because we’ve paid attention to these things and try to be conservative with the money,” Harper said. “We are in an inflationary period. Now, everybody’s in the same boat with that. So, you know, I’m sorry, but you have to raise taxes a little bit to keep up with growth, because impact fees don’t do it.”
While Orange City wasn’t able to prevent a tax increase by going all the way back to the rollback rate, the City Council has lowered the city’s tax rate in recent years.
Darms is concerned about an increase in taxes.
“ I want to know if we’re going to do any kind of changes in taxes. Why, and is it necessary? And do we not have enough surplus to cover whatever it is we’re looking for?” she asked. “In this day and age, things being what they are, people are going to struggle if taxes go up. … It’s just being concerned about the people. I’m not running for me; I’m running for my fellow neighbors and friends.”
Harper is also worried about the future of water.
“I think, in the future, one of the main things that’s going to be difficult is water,” he said. “Our most precious resource besides air is water. I think it is going to be a problem for all the cities. … Distribution of water, infrastructure for water, maintaining clean water. … The city is currently working on those things.”
Darms shares a similar concern.
“Do you realize that 50 percent of the natural springs in this state are gone? And we have to be very concerned about where are we going to get the water for people to survive. … I’m concerned about the water situation,” Darms said.
Darms cited Oscar Corral’s documentary, The Fellowship of the Springs, as her source for the 50-percent figure.
Harper wants to find a solution for more affordable housing in District 5.
“We are essentially what you might consider the low-cost housing, OK? These are like double-wide manufactured homes or single-wide manufactured homes, and they’re on property owned by corporations, and some of these corporations want to increase their rents,” Harper said. “There are two planned housing projects in the future [for] my district, and I have to be careful and watch those closely. … But we’d love to have some way of getting affordable housing when these places are built.”
He talked about requiring developers to build affordable housing.
“It’d be nice to be able to say, look, you’re gonna build new housing … we want you to put 10 percent affordable housing. That’s possibly one way to do it, but it needs to be formalized and talked about and see what we can do,” Harper said.
As for Orange City as a whole, Harper couldn’t pin down one particular issue that would be his main focus.
“I just can’t really answer that question because there’s so much involved in a city that one thing doesn’t really stand out above everything else. … I think, right now, global warming, which is something the city can’t really do much about , ” Harper said.
Darms also said District 5 in Orange City doesn’t have any one specific issue.
“I don’t see us in particular having any more issues than any of the other districts in the city,” Darms said. “I will keep an eye open.”
Harper said he’s happy his opponent is running for District 5.
“I’m actually glad that somebody is interested enough to run against me. And I think that’s an asset for the whole city. I’d like to see everybody have that interest in the city, that they would like to participate in government or volunteer to help the city in some way,” Harper said.
Darms said she’s running because she feels it’s her civic duty.
“I’m not doing this for me; I’m doing it for my residents, for the constituents. And I get the impression from what I’ve been told — again, I’m not an inquisitor — but incidents that have come back to me, it’s kind of like: ‘Oh, look at me. I’m on the council. Woohoo.’ OK, great. What are you doing?” Darms said. “Let me put it this way, I don’t need to do this. I’m doing it as a feeling of civic duty. … I think the difference between me and him is I would be reaching out to the constituents. I want to know what they’re concerned about.”
Harper is proud of his record on the City Council.
“I don’t mean to brag or anything, but you know, I feel like I’m in a good position to be elected again, and I hope so,” he told The Beacon.
As of her last financial report on Sept. 23, Darms had $1,148 in her campaign account, including $1,098 she lent her own campaign. She had $1,018.19 in expenditures.
Harper’s financial report of Sept. 23 showed $432.24 in contributions to the campaign, and $457.07 in expenditures.