While much attention is already being paid to the next presidential election, 12 months from now, Tuesday’s general election will have a much greater impact locally.
Tuesday’s ballot will feature commissioners races no matter what county you live in and school board races regardless of the school district in which you reside. Additionally, competitive races for Sunbury’s City and Lewisburg Borough councils and one supervisor in East Buffalo Township highlight ballots in certain areas.
Voters in all four Valley counties will select new commissioners. In three of those counties — Northumberland, Snyder and Union — there is guaranteed to be new leadership with five incumbents not seeking re-election. At least two new commissioners will be seated in Snyder and Union counties.
In Union County, both Lewisburg Borough and East Buffalo Townships will have contested races. The two municipalities remain at odds over funding for the joint Buffalo Valley Police Department and new members will have a say in that resolution. While four seats are open on Lewisburg council, only one features a contested race where Elijah Farrell and Rudy Mummey clash in the Fourth Ward. In EBT, Jim Murphy and Jim Knight battle to see who will replace new state Rep. David Rowe.
All Valley voters should expect to see school board races on the ballot. Most Valley school districts will have new school directors on their boards after the election, due to some directors retiring, and some involved in contended races, including Lewisburg and Midd-West.
The importance of voting for school board members also cannot be minimized, said Mark DiRocco, president of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, and the former Lewisburg School District superintendent.
“School board members can impact an entire generation of students,” DiRocco said, “based on the policy and financial decisions they make. It is a critical role. They make decisions about policies affecting their district, and about how operations run in the district, such as long-term planning and projections for everything from enrollment and personnel.”
Unfortunately, voters will also see dozens of uncontested races. In some instances, the primary settled the seat; in many other instances, there aren’t enough candidates to fill all the positions, which could draw down voter turnout.
Look at turnout
Municipal elections are historically the lowest turnout in the four-year cycle, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, Professor of Public Affairs, Franklin and Marshall College.
“What will turn people out for these elections are issues at their local level,” Madonna explained. “A hot mayoral contest, when commissioners, township supervisors, and borough managers have issues. That could increase the vote. That is what drives turnout.”
In 2015, the last municipal election produced a voter turnout in four Valley counties of slightly over 31 percent, a number Pat Nace, Snyder County Board of Elections director, this week, called “pathetic.”
Union and Snyder County election directors expect about 35-40 percent turnout on Tuesday. Alisha Elliot, Northumberland County elections director “guesstimated” a turnout even lower, of about 30 percent.
Over the past 10 days, The Daily Item has previewed the high-profile contested races. All of those stories — and videos of 16 of 17 commissioner candidates — are available at dailyitem.com.
Polls will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday. Those in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to cast a vote. Polling places must stay open to accommodate voters in line by 8 p.m., whether they’re inside or outside the polling place.
In Montour County, incumbent Montour County Commissioners Ken Holdren, Dan Hartman and Trevor Finn touted their moves to consolidate county buildings and services to save money. The three incumbents and Democratic challenger Steve Bennick are running for the three commissioner seats. Voters will vote for two candidates.
Holdren, Hartman and Finn all noted the formation of DRIVE, or Driving Real Innovation for a Vibrant Economy, the economic development agency for Montour and Columbia counties formed by the counties’ commissioners. Finn said DRIVE has helped the private sector retain or attract jobs. DRIVE also helped bring broadband to rural parts of the county. “Economic development has been a focus of us in our four years,” said Holdren. “DRIVE has made significant progress in bringing natural gas to the northern part of the county, developing facilities at the Metso property, where we’ve had two of the facilities already leased.”
Bennick, a former police officer and now a Montour County deputy sheriff, believes the commissioners spent too much — $750,000 — on the former Danville Elementary School building to consolidate offices there. “I do not believe the commissioners have the money available for emergency radios,” said Bennick. “They’re doing it with loans. We bought a $750,000 school building and haven’t made any modifications.”
Finn said the county has not communicated some of its actions well. He cited the readdressing due to the merger of the Montour County 911 center with Columbia County’s center. But through the readdressing and merger, emergency responders also will be receiving new radios, he said.
At least two new Snyder County commissioners will join the three-board panel in 2020. Running for the three, four-year terms along with incumbent Republican Joe Kantz are Republican Chuck Steininger and Democrats Mary Bannon and Adam Ewig.
The recent closure of Wood-Mode Inc., the Kreamer custom cabinet manufacturer, in May that left 983 people out of work followed by the September opening of Wood-Mode LLC under new ownership that employs 250, has the candidates focused on job creation.
“A stable tax base and certainty in the market” is key to new jobs, said Kantz.
Working with existing business leaders to determine their needs and providing training to attract new employers is how Steininger said he would approach job creation.
A “stronger marketing effort” highlighting the county’s assets that include ideal transportation, including Penn Valley Airport, good schools and neighborhoods are how Bannon said she’d work to attract new business.
In his role as a municipal leader, Ewig said, he’s reached out to professionals to “scout out new business” and would continue to tap those services, as well as SEDA-Council of Governments and Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce to help spur new business.
Preston Boop, a Republican, is the lone incumbent listed on this year’s general election ballot. His name appears along with challengers Jeff Reber, also a Republican, and Democrats Trey Casimir and Stacy Richards.
Of the four in the race, three will find themselves elected to the county’s chief public office, creating a scenario that the board could see a complete turnover.
Richards cited transparency as an immediate priority. The current board took steps this year to improve the county website, including adding meeting agendas, but Richards said more can be done.
Improving broadband internet access wouldn’t only assist businesses and students, Reber said, but could improve health care by bolstering infrastructure needed for telemedicine. Reber is a partner and executive with Apex Homes of PA and owns Susquehanna Valley Home Services.
Boop, a county farmer of multiple commodities, said bringing in a new board could raise the possibility — one he said he wouldn’t expect — that the 2020 budget, which should be adopted by the current board in December, could be reopened and altered.
Casimir said his initial priority would simply be to introduce himself to all county employees and learn about their jobs.
“Before coming in and throwing my weight around, I want to understand how they’re working,” said Casimir, a Lewisburg licensed acupuncturist and former borough council member.
Two Republicans, two Democrats, and an independent are running for three four-year spots, including Republicans Joe Klebon and Sam Schiccatano, Democrats Tom Aber and Kymberly Best, and independent John Burd.
Schiccatano and Best are incumbents. Asked what they believe are the most important issues facing the county, Schiccatano said having a full-time commissioner. Someone who “can work together on major projects, including fixing the county courthouse.”
Aber said the county needs to make sure the 911 communication system is working efficiently.
The most important issue, Burd said, is economic development and attracting business to the county.
The budget is the key issue facing Northumberland County, Best said. Best believes that county government has not been living within its means. “The county must close and sell disused and underused properties to cut operating costs.”
Klebon said, “I want to make sure the county is run in the best way possible,” and that taxpayers are getting what they’re expected to get. The county should be run efficiently and productively.”
School board directors
School board races will be on every ballot in the region. There will be competitive races in Midd-West, Mifflinburg, Milton, Lewisburg, Shikellamy and Shamokin.
In Danville, Dawn Koons-Gill will appear on the ballot, but she said she will not accept the position after resigning from the board earlier this year. Like Danville, Selinsgrove, Warrior Run and Line Mountain feature races with the same number of candidates for available seats on the board.
It is a role that is becoming more and more difficult to fill, finding people who want to do it, DiRocco said. It’s an important job, DiRocco said. “Once people get on a board they quite often don’t realize all the components to running the district, all these variables,” he said. “There is a lot more to the job than hiring coaches and teachers. The responsibilities can be daunting, at times.”
Borough, city councils
In East Buffalo Township, Democrat Jim Knight opposes Republican Jim Murphy. Murphy was appointed to the board in June to complete the remaining six months of David Rowe’s term after Rowe won a special election to replace Fred Keller in the State House.
Jim Eister is the lone incumbent running in Sunbury with two seats open and three candidates on the ballot. Republican Josh Brosious and Democrat Victoria Rosancrans are vying for the spots along with Eister.
There are four seats on the ballot for Lewisburg Borough Council, but only the Fourth Ward has a competitive race. There Elijah Farrell and Rudy Mummey clash to fill out the board.