Local

Incumbents, newcomers, familiar faces seek votes in Centre County races. Here’s what to know

When residents head to the polls for the Nov. 5 local election, they’ll choose from familiar names — incumbents and a former commissioner — for the chief governing body of Centre County.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Michael Pipe and Vice Chairman Mark Higgins, both Democrats, are seeking their third and second terms, respectively. The commissioners, who are again running as a team, emphasized their accomplishments over the last term, highlighting the investment in and support of local business incubators, Centre County libraries, support of first responders and the installation of new voting machines.

The pair of incumbents ran unchallenged on the Democrat ticket in the May primary.

Pipe, who was first elected county commissioner in 2011, said his top priorities would be to continue support of first responders and 911 infrastructure, work to reform the criminal justice system and to invest in workforce development.

“The board of commissioners has invested in our first responders, making sure they have the told to keep themselves, and us, safe,” Pipe said.

Having supported the allocation of $1.2 million in funding for the Public Safety Training Center expansion, Pipe said he is “committed to its future sustainability.”

“I’ve collaborated with community members on our re-entry coalition, promoting the successful return of incarcerated citizens to our community and will continue to support effective programs that divert eligible individuals from repeated incarceration,” Pipe said.

Higgins serves on 32 authorities, boards and commissions at the local, regional, state and national level and has over 30 years experience as a business turnaround expert. If re-elected, Higgins said he would work to improve the quality of life in Centre County, using “innovative problem solving skills” he developed as a business turnaround expert to do so.

“I will use further savings to reduce incarceration, improve county services and increase funding for children, seniors, mental health, public libraries and other areas,” Higgins said.

From an economic standpoint, Higgins said job creation and having a diverse economy are important priorities. If re-elected, he wants to increase county support, funding, public-private partnerships and support the agricultural industry and its farmers.

“I will continue working to help farmers in crisis,” he said.

After six candidates ran on the Republican ticket in the primary election, Centre County Commisioner Steve Dershem and former county commissioner Chris Exarchos beat out Joseph Soloski, Vicki Wedler, Tanner Day and Pat Romano Jr. to advance to the November ballot.

Dershem, who has served 16 years as a county commissioner, is seeking a fifth term. A Bellefonte resident, Dershem is a lifelong resident of Centre County.

If re-elected, Dershem said he will continue to support local first responders, continue the battle against the opioid epidemic and spend county funds responsibly.

“Many of the challenges facing the next board of commissioners will be financially related,” Dershem said. “Maintaining the mandated and necessary services that Centre County performs, while keeping tax rates stable will occupy most of the efforts of the next board.”

In order to combat opioid use in the county, Dershem said collaboration between law enforcement, medical treatment, recovery and continued education programs must be “promoted and strengthened” through community partnerships and innovative programs.

Exarchos served two non-consecutive terms as a commissioner — the first from 2004-2008. He lives in Lemont and also previously served on the College Township Council.

As a commissioner, Exarchos said he played a role in the expansion at the University Park Airport, highway and safety improvements in Lemont, constructing the new 911 emergency center and the courthouse expansion project.

If elected commissioner, Exarchos said his top three priorities would be mental health, rural broadband and fiscal management. He thinks the county should invest in additional resources for mental health services and not be in the electric utility business.

“They can buy ‘green’ energy over the grid,” Exarchos said. “Instead, the $1.6 million allocated for solar panels could have been used to provide additional lifesaving mental health services.”

Believing that the county should work with state and federal officials to expand rural broadband, Exarchos also thinks the $5 vehicle registration tax should be repealed, saying that the “flat tax is not fair for all vehicle owners.”

Commissioner seats aren’t the only ones up for grabs countywide on Nov. 5. Voters will also choose candidates for the following offices.

Controller

Democrat Jason Moser, one of two Centre County jury commissioners, is running for county controller. In a statement, Moser said he is running to “usher in greater accountability and efficiency in reporting to the residents of Centre County by creating transparency.”

Moser will challenge Republican Hank Fifield, who currently serves as deputy controller. Fifield said he wants to “strive to build on all of our prior successes, be a fiscal watchdog and uphold the high standards” while serving county residents.

Coroner

Democrat Scott Sayers is seeking re-election for his sixth term as county coroner. Having served since 1998, Sayers has been a licensed funeral director since 1990 and lives in Milesburg. He is running unopposed.

Prothonotary

The Centre County Prothonotary’s Office is responsible for keeping records for the Court of Common Pleas. Civil and criminal transactions are filed, docketed and maintained by the prothonotary, who is elected to a four year term. Current Prothonotary Debra Immel is retiring after serving in the position for 44 years, and two candidates are vying for the role.

Democrat candidate Jeremy Breon currently serves as first deputy prothonotary and has eight years of experience working in the Prothonotary’s Office. If elected, Breon said he would work to “maintain an office open to the public with friendly, knowledgeable staff” and make serving Centre County residents a top priority.

Republican candidate Patrick Miller is a Penn State Law School graduate and said he understands how the court system operates, saying that his “optimistic approach and organization vision” make him a good fit for the role. If elected, Miller said he will work to improve communication between residents, look for areas of improvement and listen to resident feedback.

Recorder of deeds

Democrat Georgi Bennett is seeking election for the recorder of deeds. A graduate of Bald Eagle Area High School, Bennett said that she would work to explore and find ways to help veterans record forms to help them access existing benefits like affordable housing.

Republican Joseph Davidson was elected recorder of deeds in 1999 and is seeking a sixth term. With over 35 years of experience in business management, Davidson said making technological advancements in the office will be a top priority.

Register of wills

Running unopposed, Christine Millinder is a graduate of Bald Eagle Area School District and is running for register of wills. If elected, she said she will continue to “provide quality, efficient and courteous service.”

“I will make sure my staff is cross-trained in all areas of the office, providing the highest level of confidentiality with personal and confidential information,” she said.

Sheriff

Republican incumbent Bryan Sampsel is seeking his second term as Centre County sheriff. If re-elected, Sampsel said his first priority is to continue to “provide our high level of service to the citizens of Centre County, continue with current programs and look into new community initiatives.”

Hobson McKown is running as a write-in candidate. A resident of Ferguson Township, McKown said he is running for sheriff because it “is merely a natural extension of my civic activism. Governance is no spectator sport.” As sheriff, he would like to abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture.

Treasurer

If elected Centre County Treasurer, Democrat Colleen Kennedy said her primary focus is the “modernization of Centre County’s financial processes” to ensure the county is cutting costs and offering more to residents, citing transparency, services and convenience.

She’ll face Republican Blaine Thomas, who said his top initiatives will be to oversee the county’s cash management, develop strong working relationships with county offices and serve residents “with an emphasis on excellent customer service.”

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.
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