TARPON SPRINGS, FL – He has only been in office four months, but Chris Alahouzos, the first Greek-born mayor of Tarpon Springs, the Florida city that boasts the largest Greek-American population per capita in the United States, has hit the ground running.
“For the first time in a very long time, we are going to balance the budget without having to use our surplus,” he happily told The National Herald in a recent interview in his office at City Hall.
Bringing a business background to Tarpon politics, Alahouzos was committed to stewarding the city’s finances responsibly.
He is also committed to an issue “that is near and dear to my heart, the elderly,” Alahouzos told TNH. He plans to make good on his campaign promise to create a Senior Center that will serve multiple purposes for Tarpon’s older citizens. “It will be a place for them to gather, and obtain information about whatever they might need, such as facts about Social Security and Medicare.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
Famous for its historic Sponge Docks, Tarpon Springs is a tourist attraction throughout the year, with visitors from all over the United States, mostly non-Greeks and from the Heartland of America, who enjoy strolling along sponge boat-laden Dodecanese Boulevard, frequenting the Greek restaurants and tavernas, and buying sponges and Greek cultural souvenirs from the numerous gift shops. But behind the scenes, there is much work to be done, Alahouzos explains.
The Anclote River, on which those sponge boats sit, needs to be dredged. It has to happen every 20 years, and it is fast approaching that point, but the optimum depth needs to be restored now, so that the sponge boats, tourist boasts, and fishing boats, along with the boatbuilders who build them for use in many other ports, can function properly.
Tarpon’s weather in July is typically tropical: steamy hot days with scattered showers. But that is the case throughout most of the country. In the wintertime, though, where it is brutally cold in so many parts of the country, people flock to the balmy Florida climes to escape the freeze. Not least of which, the homeless, who live on the streets.
“The people of Tarpon Springs are very generous,” Alahouzos says, regarding how they treat the homeless. They reach out to meet their needs and find them adequate food and shelter. Not least of which police officer Jose Yourgulas, a Mexican of Greek descent, Alahouzos says.
The mayor also intends to focus on other infrastructural needs, such as sewer lines, road repairs, and installation of energy-saving solar panels.
He is also determined to reduce millage (property taxes) in order to attract more businesses to Tarpon Springs.
In helping the city he now governs, that has been his home for over half a century, Alahouzos also has an eye on a win-win situation, which simultaneously helps Greece.
BUSINESS WITH GREECE
Alahouzos is President of the Tarpon Springs Sister Cities Committee, which includes the capitals of the Greek islands of Chalki, Symi, and his native Kalymnos. “The purpose is to encourage educational and cultural exchange, and promote economic development,” he told TNH. We’ve been doing a good job with the first two, but now we need to focus on economic development,” he says.
To that end, Alahouzos is visiting Greece later this month and hopes to visit all three of those sister cities in an effort to create a business relationship whereby Greek goods would be imported into Tarpon. “There is no doubt as to the quality” of the products, he says, “the problem is quantity. Importers do not want to import goods on a small-scale level.” That’s what he hopes to fix on this trip, and grow the economies not only of Tarpon but in the process, that of the Dodecanese islands.
As we continue the interview over lunch at a Greek restaurant, of course, on Dodecanese Boulevard, Alahouzos shakes a bunch of hands of friends and well-wishers. “I know I’m the Mayor,” he says, “but I still feel like I’m just Chris.”