Borough, township candidates tackle issues at forum

jvanderk@centredaily.comOctober 17, 2013 

— Few municipal candidates voiced outright disagreement Wednesday, out of the 18 who gathered to share their views during the League of Women Voters of Centre County election forum.

The event was the second of two forums this week, featuring candidates for State College district judge, Borough Council and mayor, Bellefonte Borough Council, College Township Council, and Ferguson, Harris and Patton Township supervisors.

Both forums will be available online from C-NETwww.cnet1.org — which taped and broadcast them live. Election Day is Nov. 5.

In the race for State College mayor, incumbent Elizabeth Goreham and Ron Madrid differed on the borough’s major issues.

Goreham said they are maintaining strong neighborhoods by encouraging home ownership and resident diversification, and addressing the fact that taxes only cover about 60 percent of the borough’s operating budget.

“We are reliant on state and federal programs, so we need to address that,” she said.

Madrid pointed out that several borough documents state that, by 2015, the borough will have a budget shortfall of more than $2 million. He said he has the demonstrated capability to manage multimillion-dollar programs.

“Financial stability of the borough is our greatest challenge,” he said.

In the Harris Township race between Franklin Harden and Christopher Lee, the two differed on what the township government could do to help the U.S. Route 322 improvement project at Potters Mills move ahead.

“I think where Harris Township has to come in on this project is we have to encourage our legislators to make this thing come forward,” Harden said. “I think it’s time we keep pushing to get it done.”

Lee said the township has a greater role to play, in its participation in the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which schedules priority transportation projects.

“So Harris Township has a role, has a vote and we need to use that,” Lee said. “If the (MPO) Coordinating Committee says, ‘I don’t like that plan,’ Harrisburg goes back to the drawing board.”

Other candidates expressed some agreement on issues. In the race for district judge in State College, Susan Bardo and Steven Lachman discussed alcohol-related cases as the most prevalent in that district.

Bardo suggested expanding Penn State’s educational program for freshmen.

“I’d certainly love to be a part of that conversation,” she said. “Alcohol issues are huge in this community.”

Lachman cited a current program for young offenders that gives them community service as a way to show they are residents like everyone else.

“I would look to improve alcohol counseling for those first-time offenders,” he said. “I think we also need to work with Penn State in terms of alcohol education.”

On the issue of students, State College council candidates were asked if ordinances controlling student behaviors alienate that part of the population. Most said they didn’t think so.

“I find students only care that they’re being treated fairly,” said incumbent Tom Daubert . “If they do something stupid, like get drunk and get out in the middle of Beaver Avenue and get arrested for that, they don’t blame the town for that. They blame themselves for being stupid.”

Richard Garis said he doesn’t think many students know many of the ordinances.

“I really don’t hear them complain about the ordinances unless they get cited,” he said.

Theresa Lafer pointed out that the ordinances affect everyone, not just students.

“I will get the same number of points if I have a band, which I have had in the past, past a certain time,” she said, adding that the council could tweak the laws.

And everyone must be treated the same, said Evan Myers.

“Sometimes they’re not treated as well as they should be,” he said. “Sometimes they’re not treated as residents.”

Bellefonte Borough Council candidate Sheila Stever said there’s a disconnect in that borough between the government and residents.

“Bellefonte is a diamond in the rough,” she said. “They’ve had their challenges in the past and those challenges will continue into the future. With a little vision ... I think there’s a good opportunity to make Bellefonte a destination and not just a quaint little town in central Pennsylvania.”

The vision for Ferguson Township includes development of the relatively new terraced streetscape zoning district on West College Avenue, according to candidates Bill Keough and Steve Miller.

“I think the terraced streetscape project is very important because, as the buildings develop, the streetscape is going to have to come into being and it’s going to have to merge with the borough,” Miller said.

Keough added that projects in and near Pine Grove Mills also will be important, including the intersection of state routes 26 and 45 on the way to Harris Township.

“That intersection has proven to be a difficult intersection, with a fair amount of accidents,” he said.

In Patton Township, increasing capacity on the Waddle Road bridge over Interstate 99 has been an infrastructure priority.

“That needs definite improvement as traffic backs up onto I-99 and creates a significant traffic hazard,” said incumbent Josh Troxell.

Incumbent Elliot Abrams pointed to the township’s $3 million contribution to the project, and invited the public to offer any ideas they have.

“If people are interested in other road projects, please come see us,” he said. “That’s what we’re there for.”

Abrams and candidate George Downsbrough agreed on the importance of mass transit service, and Downsbrough said the township should advocate for more bike lanes.

“That fits into the open space discussion,” he said. “You can connect those open spaces with bike lanes.”

On area development, College Township candidates Eric Bernier and Carla Stilson offered thoughts on the rezoning discussion at the site of the now-closed Hilltop trailer park.

While opposed to initial, higher-density proposals, the incumbent Bernier said he supports a mix of residential and buffers to adjacent properties.

“I wanted to give the residents a chance to negotiate with the owners,” he said. “When that became unrealistic, then, yes, we have to consider some type of rezoning.”

Stilson said she agrees with a current proposal of residential, commercial and open spaces.

“I think that, now, we’re finally on the right path concerning that property,” she said.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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