STRODES MILLS - Mifflin County Coroner and Commissioner hopefuls spoke of their qualifications and desire to serve Mifflin County Tuesday evening during the Measure the Candidates event held at Fort Granville Grange in Strodes Mills.
Each candidate had an opportunity to address the crowd for three minutes and present the reasons they felt they should be considered when the public casts ballots in the May 17 primary election.
Republican candidate for commissioner Monte Kemmler spoke of his extensive experience as a Newton Hamilton borough councilman. He said although Newton Hamilton is a small borough he needed to adhere to the same stipulations and regulations set forth by any other government entities.
"I have a concern for where our county is going, particularly the budget," Kemmler said. "Our budget has gone from approximately $18 million to $22 million. We should be operating on a much, much smaller budget."
He said it is imperative the commissioners reduce spending, attributes that can be unattractive to prospective businesses. Kemmler said he won't promise he won't raise taxes but will try his best to refrain from doing so. Kemmler claimed there had been a $4 million spending increase since the current group of commissioners took office in 2008.
Republican incumbent Otis Riden said he plans to hold the line on taxes, reminding the
public there has not been a tax increase since 2006.
"We need to protect what we have here in Mifflin County as far as infrastructure," Riden stated. "We have a wonderful hospital, great airport, I always throw in the country club and the school district. This is what attracts businesses."
He said it is essential to promote job growth, adding "we have one of the greatest workforces in Pennsylvania." He said the present board is "very frugal" in making decisions on expenses and the budget has balanced every year since he has taken office.
Democratic hopeful Kevin Kodish spoke of his roots to Mifflin County and his "high interest in the health and welfare of the citizens of Mifflin County."
"We find ourselves at a critical crossroads now," Kodish said. "We need to focus on the revitalization of our county. There is much more to be done. We need to protect a high quality of life. By moving one step at a time in a positive direction, we can yield big dividends later."
Incumbent Chairman Mark Sunderland said he has vested interest in the community. He said in four years Mifflin County's debt has been raised $1.5 million without a tax increase. He said there have been four balanced budgets and unemployment has dropped from the "high 11's" to 8.5 percent. He refuted Kemmler's earlier claim the budget had grown $4 million.
"I'm going to ask tough questions, be conservative and control spending," Sunderland said.
Republican candidate Dave Runk talked of his extensive experience working at Lewistown Area High School as a coach and teacher and then as a principal and superintendent at Kishacoquillas High School for many years. He said he loves this county and loves kids. Runk said kids are followed by parents and parents are followed by other parents. He said he is known as a disciplinarian and he wants to give back to the county.
He said he hopes to make each county department accountable, saying "I want to make sure people who own the budgets know how to manage the budgets." He said he would like to be "conservative on revenues and not have people overestimating revenues."
Democratic candidate Dennis Noble said he is qualified because of his longevity and background in local and state government. He boasts 31 years of experience as a borough council member in Juniata Terrace and is currently the president of the council. He said he serves on he Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs Board of Directors and is the Chairman of the Mifflin County Democratic Party.
If elected, Noble said he would seek more with interaction with Centre County, form an advisory board of retired Mifflin County citizens and hold the line on taxes.
Republican hopeful James Fosselman said he is a Penn State graduate who has a number of years of experience working with local government, advising budget preparation and working with five boards of commissioners.
"I do know what I need to do at the county level. Expenses are going to go up, but there are some costs that can be controlled," Fosselman said. "The budget should underestimate revenues and overestimate expenditures."
He also suggested a plan of action is necessary for the annex building. He said it needs to be utilized or sold.
The commissioners were posed a number of questions by the public. These questions and the corresponding answers are listed below:
Q: Does the county still have any roads or bridges they are responsible for?
Sunderland: "Yes, we do have two roads - the Airport Road and Yeagertown Road where the new bridge is. The Airport Road is maintained by Brown Township. We give them a fee to maintain. The other road is maintained by Derry Township. We have about 12 bridges in the county. Years and years ago, we got them. We divvy liquid fuels between the municipalities to care for the bridges."
Q: Have the current commissioners looked at the cost of marketing the annex building?
Riden: "We have looked at different things. When we bought it we converted it to minimum security prison, which became overpopulated. That annex building is not completely vacant per say. We've moved the maintenance department in there. At some point I could see using that building to save the county more money."
Q: How much of the building is occupied?
Riden: "Probably half"
Sunderland: "5,500 feet is not being utilized including the kitchen area and the community area."
Riden: "We tried to lease it to the police department, but we did not get that contract. I think the annex can be used in a couple of different ways. Logistically, it is a perfect fit for the county. Money wise, it has put a burden on the county, but we are working to eliminate that as fast as we can."
Sunderland: "The annex building was purchased in 2006 or 2007. I was not in favor of purchasing it and I rest my case. It was purchased at $700,000. It was closed down because we were employing four people to guard 10. I don't know how much market there is for a correctional facility. It's probably gonna be a tough sell. We did look into the police department. United Way also approached us, but they weren't interested. Once the contracts are up, we will look at it.
Q: If you get elected as commissioners, how do you feel about the building if crime increases?
sunderland: "It's a double-edged sword and if crime goes up then we would have to send prisoners out of county, which would cost more money."
Fosselman: "I feel if the borough taxpayers were more informed, they would have been more interested in having their police department there. It would take some remodeling, but a lot can be done. It's a nice facility. I think it should have been pursued more. If someone came in to make an offer, sure we'd sell it. It's something that should be looked at and pursued more."
Q: What steps are you going to take to convince other board members of your beliefs and stances on certain issues?
Kodish: "Each person brings something different to the table and you have to work together as a team. I always wanted to be a commissioner. It's incumbent upon each person to do their homework on the issues and talk to the citizens about making decisions. Listen to each other. Bring your heart and soul onto the table and have the knowledge and gracefully accept the results if the opinion doesn't fall in your favor. If everybody does their homework, we can achieve good things."
Also speaking was Republican incumbent Mifflin County Coroner, Dan Lynch, and his Republican challenger, D. Scott Swanger. Lynch spoke of his extensive experience as coroner. He said he began his career in 1988 as an apprentice deputy coroner, but was officially elected county coroner in 1996. He said he is certified by five major universities.
"I enjoy the job. It's not always fun. It's very tough, there's a lot of sadness," Lynch said. "There's a lot of tragedy that you witness in this job, but I care about the people of Mifflin County and serve in a caring and compassionate manner even when it comes time to make very difficult decisions. I've operated the office consistently within budget and maintained staff that is very highly trained and skilled."
His competitor, Swanger said he moved to Mifflin County after spending 15 years in New Holland. He said he is currently a nurse at Golden Living Center. He said it is a job that affords him opportunities to learn every day.
"I don't see the coroner's position as a job, but as a community service with benefits," Swanger added.
There is no Democratic candidate for county coroner.