Union County Commissioner John Mathias announced he’s seeking election to a third term in office.
Mathias is the second current commissioner and fourth Republican overall to formally announce their intent to seek the party’s nomination in May’s primary election.
“My fellow commissioners and I have worked together, dividing duties but collaborating and communicating on ultimate decision-making. We have managed to minimize the tax burden while maximizing value and efficiency for our citizens and our employees,” Mathias, 72, said in an official statement.
“My particular assignment was responsibility for the financial reporting, information technology systems, human resources management and promotion of regional cooperation on such initiatives as the 911 Center. Those systems and programs have been successfully launched and I look forward to improving and advancing those successes,” he said.
The 2019 election will be Mathias’s first contested commissioner race. He was elected in 2011 and reelected in 2015. The primary and general elections were uncontested in both election cycles. He said at this point, he's not planning to have a campaign committee.
Mathias is a lifelong Union County resident. He and his wife, Sue, reside in East Buffalo Township but have also lived in New Berlin, Mifflinburg and Kelly Township. He is a graduate of Lewisburg High School and Bucknell University. The couple has two daughters and two grandchildren.
The field so far
Republicans Preston Boop and John Mathias and Democrat John Showers currently serve as county commissioners. All three are up for re-election. Boop will seek re-election. Showers won’t, he's retiring.
Three Republicans previously announced they’ll seek office: current Commissioner Chairman Preston Boop, William “Billy” Allred, vice chair of the county Republican Party, and businessman Jeff Reber.
Luis Medina is the only Democrat to enter the race thus far.
Carolyn Conner, chairperson of Union County Republicans, previously said the party won’t endorse candidates.
“I personally am a big fan of contested races. I do think it makes better candidates,” Conner said previously. “We do see the party as an avenue of creating good candidates who will then be good public servants.”
On the issues
Mathias stressed the working relationship with the current commissioners in his formal announcement. He cited their support for the county’s nationally recognized treatment courts, the county resource center as well as programming and service opportunities for non-violent offenders to reduce incarceration and recidivism.
Commissioners created a trail authority in 2018, which is in the process of taking over ownership of the rail trail from the recreation authority. They raised the county’s hotel room tax to 5 percent from 3 percent to help fund authority operations. The tax is largely paid by out-of-town visitors to the area.
“Recreational trails are a proven tourist attraction. Visitors using the trail will eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and stay in our hotels.”
Moving forward, Mathias said regional economic development solutions are a must. He pointed to the county’s enrollment with FOCUS, an economic development organization that represents six other counties: Centre, Columbia, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland and Snyder.
“We should be and are pooling our economic development efforts to maintain our current employers, help them expand, and also seek new businesses who will employ our citizens with life-sustaining wages no matter in which county they choose to locate,” Mathias said.
The most pressing issue facing Union County is its shallow labor pool, Mathias said. CareerLink programs and technical schools can help, he said, adding the Resource Center assists people in attaining a general education diploma or job training.
“Local companies wanting to expand their workforces are having difficulty finding qualified people to fill positions,” Mathias said. “We need to focus on worker training and development to ensure our people can fill good-paying jobs.”
Solutions are needed for the lack of broadband wifi because it’s a deterrent to economic growth, Mathias said. Union and Snyder counties are in discussion about expanding broadband access to businesses and individuals. Instead of fiber optic cable, Mathias said they’ll look to use microwave dishes attached to 911 towers and elsewhere, perhaps farm silos, to “establish a pattern of hubs."
“Where this has been done successfully before, grant or private money has been used to help offset the initial costs,” Mathias said.
Great Stream Commons, an undeveloped 670-acre industrial park in Gregg Township, will cost the county millions if it’s not sold or developed and generates tax revenue. The county refinanced two years ago and at the time owed more than $10 million by 2030 on bonds issued in 1998.
Mathias said “without a doubt” it’s been a frustration. Short of finding a company to buy the land, Mathias said the county may have to choose to sell off the land to a developer.