Forum focuses on candidates for commissioner
All six candidates for the three open seats on the South Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners participated in a public forum Oct. 24 at Parkway Manor Elementary School.
Each candidate - Matthew Mobilio, Joe Setton, Keisha Champagnie, Diane Kelly, Michael Wolk and Tom Utsch - gave an opening and closing statement, and answered a series of questions submitted by the audience.
Mobilio emphasized being more proactive in stemming the growth of large-scale development and promoting transparency in local government.
He suggested increasing application fees for large residential plans to deter building in areas with heavy traffic, as well as the fees developers must pay to appeal zoning decisions.
“My No. 1 priority would be to figure out how to bring in more small businesses.”
He also spoke about his Green initiatives, including eliminating single-use plastic and setting township environmental standards, pursuing state funds for volunteer firefighters, and expanding Parkland Community Library.
Citing his experience as a real estate broker, Sutton focused on attracting development in a manner which was acceptable and beneficial to the community.
He promised to make development processes transparent and keep residents informed of the potential costs and impact.
“In my experience, public utilities like water and sewage dictates development,” Setton explained. “The business that I would like to see is a business which serves the township and is good for the community.
“Medical, shopping places, restaurants, all kinds of offices, those are the kinds of businesses I would like to see.”
Additionally, he expressed support for expanding Parkland Community Library, stating that it is an important resource for the community.
Champagnie said one of her goals as commissioner would be to properly inform people about local government affairs and include resident viewpoints and feedback in the decision-making process.
Champagnie suggested using technology and different forms of communication to inform people, and to solicit feedback on important projects.
“In accepting money, we need to think about what we are giving up and what we want to give up,” Champagnie said. “Do we want to say we won’t take the fees or allow development, but then we don’t have the income?
Champagnie also emphasized the importance of Green initiatives. She proposed improved education about littering and recycling and distributing information to residents about eco-friendly construction to provide a blueprint for sustainable living in South Whitehall.
Kelly cited rising taxes as a significant problem facing South Whitehall residents.
She suggested raising fees for developers, such as a traffic impact fee for projects which severely affect local traffic patterns, which will ensure that companies take on a large share of road construction and maintenance costs instead of township residents.
She also encouraged increased collaboration between the township and PennDOT to understand the projected traffic impact of new developments.
Kelly said she was thankful residents had approved a $1.2 million fire tax to support emergency services.
She also supports tax credits for volunteer firefighters.
Wolk was asked about growing development in South Whitehall and changes to zoning regulations.
His reply focused on reducing development to a more moderate level.
“This township is experiencing unprecedented expansive growth,” Wolk said. “Current developments have detrimental effects on traffic, infrastructure costs, and public safety.”
He suggested removing overlay districts from ordinances which enable dense development projects, removing warehouse zoning, returning some commercial zoning back to lower density residential areas, and initiating a farmland preservation program.
When asked about Green initiatives he supported, Wolk laid out his plans for ensuring the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources thoroughly review any land development.
Reworking South Whitehall Township’s fiscal management, particularly in cutting discretionary spending to avoid tax increases, was one Utsch’s main priorities at the candidate forum.
“We just need to spend less and be more judicious with our spending, and the budget will be balanced,” Utsch said.
Utsch proposed scaling back most large development efforts which would lead to higher taxes on residents to pay for additional infrastructure.
Regarding fire tax and rectifying difficulties in recruiting volunteer firefighters, Utsch stated his support for taking any necessary measures to ensure residents’ safety, including a higher fire tax.