By Damian Gessel

The Daily Item

MIDDLEBURG — Two Republicans and two Democrats are vying for three Snyder County commissioner seats in a race shaping up to be a nail-biter.

Republicans Joe Kantz, of Union Township, and Malcolm Derk, of Freeburg, landed their party's nomination last May, upsetting incumbents Steve Bilger and Rick Bailey.

Now the pair are hoping their momentum will swing them into office after Tuesday's general election.

Mr. Derk, a 2005 graduate of Susquehanna University who has served on Freeburg's Borough Council for six years, said he and Mr. Kantz are committed to lowering Snyder County's debt.

"(Lowering the debt) is something we talked about quite a bit during the primary, and it's something we're very committed to," Mr. Derk said last week.

Democratic incumbent Commissioner Richard "Bud" Bickhart — a Freeburg resident and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps — considers himself cut from a similar fiscally conservative cloth.

"Last year our surplus was $431,000. That's the biggest surplus the county's every had. And we anticipate ending this year with another surplus, so we won't have to raise taxes," Mr. Bickhart said. "That's always one of my main concerns."

Mr. Bickhart acknowledged Snyder County is weighted heavily with Republicans, making a Democratic majority unlikely, but not impossible.

"If you look at the dynamics of the county, there's a 70-30 Republican advantage," the commissioner said. "It's hard to get two Democrats in."

The most likely scenario, Mr. Bickhart admitted, is that Mr. Derk and Mr. Kantz will grab commissioner seats, leaving he and Democratic challenger Greg Shambach to compete for a third and final spot.

Mr. Shambach, of Middleburg, previously served as a Snyder County commissioner from 1989-2004. In a press release, he touts his experience and fiscal conservativeness.

"The citizens want a more conservative approach to spending and better communications with the county," Mr. Shambach said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shambach and Mr. Bickhart have been trading barbs in the days leading up to the election.

Mr. Shambach has accused Mr. Bickhart of wastefulness in borrowing $650,000 to renovate the CareerLink building, while Mr. Bickhart has questioned Mr. Shambach's work ethic.

• E-mail comments to dgessel@dailyitem.com.

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