DANVILLE — Incumbent Montour County Commissioners Ken Holdren, Dan Hartman and Trevor Finn touted their moves to consolidate county buildings and services to save money.
In separate interviews, they also 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, 48, of Danville, a Democrat and business owner who is seeking his fifth term as commissioner, said DRIVE has helped the private sector retain or attract jobs. DRIVE also helped bring broadband to rural parts of the county.
The three incumbents and Democratic challenger Steve Bennick are running in the Nov. 5 election for the three commissioner seats. They spoke during separate videotaped interviews with The Daily Item.
Bennick, 60, of Liberty Township, 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 and also signed a contract that will cost an additional $100,000 to repair the heating and ventilation system in the building.
He said the commissioners had a ramp built to what was supposed to be the visitation area at the county jail but ran out of funds for the visitation area and are borrowing to pay for new radios for emergency responders.
"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."
Republicans Holdren and Hartman, who are seeking their second four-year terms, also said during their interviews they are working with municipalities on finding programs to fund blight cleanup.
Holdren, 61, of Valley Township, retired chief administrative officer and former controller and chief financial officer of Geisinger Clinic, noted that he is the county's representative on the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation. He said the corporation is working with the chamber of commerce in educating and training people for the workforce and educating students in school districts about cooperative education opportunities and training.
"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."
Holdren and Hartman, 65, of Mahoning Township, a licensed Realtor, said they are investigating state and federal programs that could help municipalities eliminate blight.
Finn said there is some funding for blight, "but it's really up to the municipalities to have property maintenance ordinances in place."
He said there also have been grants available to fix up homes before they become blighted.
Bennick said blight is primarily an issue for municipalities, but the county should encourage them to work with the state.
Holdren and Hartman touted the hotel tax they enacted to help support recreation in the county.
On that issue, Bennick said, "I'm not against recreation, but they just put a tax on hotels. That money is going to maintain the property of a corporation that is worth billions of dollars."
He was referring to Talen Energy, owner of the Montour Preserve land.
Bennick also suggested, to retain county employees, the county expand courthouse hours and have employees work 40 hours per week instead of the current 30.
He said some positions might have to be eliminated, but he said that instead of three people in a department working a total of 120 hours a week, two would work 80 hours.
The three commissioners said most county offices retain employees because of the county's excellent benefits, but the low pay makes it difficult to keep people in some positions, such as prison guards or Children and Youth caseworkers.
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 added.
"People are going to be safer," Finn said.
He said the consolidation of the county buildings and sale of its properties on Woodbine Lane would spur development there.
The four candidates are running for four-year terms that will begin in January. The pay will remain at the current $45,507 in 2020 with 3 percent raises in each of the following three years. Voters will vote for two candidates, and the three candidates with the most votes will be elected.
To see the candidate video interviews, go to dailyitem.com.