Voters guide: Centre County commissioners

All candidates were asked to respond to the following question:

What are your three top priorities for this position?

Centre County commissioners

Term: Four years

Salary: $71,728/year


Steven Glenn Dershem

Campaign website:

Date of birth: 1961

Education: Graduate, Bellefonte High School, 1979; Penn State, labor studies, 1983.

Occupation: Centre County commissioner

Qualifications: Extensive board experience including Centre County Conservation District, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Criminal Justice Advisory Board, among others. Small-business owner; adjunct instructor, Penn State; and, numerous community volunteer positions.

Answer to question: My priorities for the next Board of Commissioners would focus on keeping Centre County in a strong financial condition and expanding efforts to bring new job opportunities into our region. Continued efforts to work with department administrators to deliver services and manage programs with increased efficiency are always a major focus. Simply put, being smart with money allows more people access to county services. Maintaining a strong financial backbone also allows county government to better withstand economic downturns. Working with Penn State and economic development professionals, I believe that we are strongly positioned to bring new opportunity to Centre County.

Chris Exarchos

Campaign website:

Date of birth: Sept. 5, 1944

Education: 1976, Penn State, Ph.D.

Occupation: Centre County commissioner

Qualification: College Township Council 1994-2002; Centre Region Council of Governments 1994-2002; Centre County Board of Commissioners (chairman) 2004-2007; Centre County Board of Commissioners. 2012-present. SEDA-COG board of directors 2012-present (current chairman).

Answer to question: Economic development would be my top priority. While governments do not create businesses, governments can put the “welcome mat” out by implementing reasonable regulations and fair taxes. I would look forward to a partnership among Penn State, CBICC and Centre County government. A second priority would be to modernize our county facilities. For example, our historic courthouse is not sprinkled for fire protection. Most of our buildings have older and very inefficient heating and cooling systems that waste energy and tax dollars. Thirdly, continue to balance budgets without raising your taxes! In fact, I have never raised your taxes!


Mark Higgins

Campaign website:

Date of birth: July 2, 1963

Education: 1984, Michigan State, B.A., graduated in three years

Occupation: Managed services specialist, Link Computer

Qualifications: Thirty years of successful business turnarounds. Numerous volunteer activities including: vice president, State College Cycling; Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County (CBICC); Leadership Centre County; 2014 campaign to pass State High referendum; and community theater.

Answer to question: Economic development is a critical government investment benefiting everyone, yet Centre County invests only $25,000 annually. Similar sized counties invest, on average, $1,177,000. Thoughtful leadership — Elected officials should consider consequences before they act. The county commissioners exceeded their authority in judicial matters and created more than $86,000 in unnecessary costs. Increased transparency and inclusion — I met over 6,000 citizens and many feel disconnected from county government and that decisions are made behind closed doors. I hope to change these feelings when elected.

Michael Pipe

Campaign website:

Date of birth: Sept. 9, 1985

Education: 2009, Penn State, B.A. political science; 2014, Leadership Centre County

Occupation: Centre County commissioner

Qualifications: Centre County commissioner, three years; C-NET board of directors, three years; Centre County Municipal Planning Organization, three years; Centre County Fire Chiefs Association liaison, three years; County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania Elections Reform Committee, three years.

Answer to Question: I’m running for re-election to continue increasing the safety of our community, reforming the criminal justice system, and supporting the creation of jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. First, I successfully pushed for the upgrade of the 911 radio system to help keep our first responders, and us, safe. Second, I was part of a team that formed the Centre County Re-Entry Coalition to promote the successful return of incarcerated citizens to the community. Lastly, I’m excited to serve on the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board and will focus on developing strategies to create more opportunities for people to find employment.


Todd D. Kirsten

Campaign website:

Date of birth: Oct. 28, 1971

Education: 2000, Penn State, A.A.

Occupation: Township supervisor

Qualifications: Township supervisor, four years; Park and Recreation Board, five years; Centre Region Council of Governments Finance Committee, three years; Centre Region Council of Governments Transportation and Land Use Committee, four years.

Answer to question: As county commissioner I will: Resist fanning the flames of the Right to Know dispute, let the court render its decision and help rebuild the relationship with the District Attorney’s Office. Continually look for ways to reduce or contain costs so that county services can remain strong and sustainable with the least amount of tax burden on citizens. Support, and assist in, the recruitment, retention and training of our dedicated fire company and EMS volunteers — through frequent and constructive communication, relevant programs, and improved operation of the county’s Public Safety Training Center.