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ELECTION 2019: Three seats on the ballot for Lower Swatara Board of Commissioners

Posted 5/15/19

Three seats are up for grabs on the Lower Swatara Township Board of Commissioners, and Republican incumbents Mike Davies, Todd Truntz and Jon Wilt are running for re-election, along with Republican …

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ELECTION 2019: Three seats on the ballot for Lower Swatara Board of Commissioners

Posted

Three seats are up for grabs on the Lower Swatara Township Board of Commissioners, and Republican incumbents Mike Davies, Todd Truntz and Jon Wilt are running for re-election, along with Republican Donald Wagner. Three will advance to the November general election.

Danielle Prokopchak is the only Democrat running, meaning she is almost guaranteed a spot on the November ballot.

All responded to these Press & Journal questions, and some provided biographical information as requested.

Pennsylvania’s primary is Tuesday, May 21. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. In Pennsylvania primaries, you can only vote for candidates in the same political party under which you are registered.

Mike Davies

I hold a bachelor of arts degree in broadcast journalism from Penn State, have a number of years of experience in the cable television and advertising industry; and have been employed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Communications Office for nearly 30 years. I also have about 16 years of experience in a variety of local government positions.

1. How would you ensure a balance of growth and development in Lower Swatara Township with a rural feel and open space?

Answer: I personally highly value the semi-rural nature of our community and have a strong interest in preserving the character of our neighborhoods as best we can. I’m glad to say that Lower Swatara Township has a comprehensive plan in place that was publicly reviewed and improved in the last couple of years by a committee of citizens. This comprehensive plan directly addresses many of the planning and zoning issues at the heart of the growth issue. As most citizens know, farming is no longer as economically viable as it once was. This means more landowners will be exploring non-agricultural uses when repurposing their properties. We have been striving to accommodate some limited growth by encouraging development projects to focus on areas that either already have some form of business or industrial zoning, or are in areas close to township borders and away from residential areas. We also have put an emphasis on keeping development in corridors with direct access to state roads and major highways, to attempt to direct commercial traffic away from residential streets. It is my desire to see our township maintain compliance with the existing zoning map whenever possible in order to limit any further adverse effects on residential neighborhoods.

2. What is the best way for the township and its residents to handle funding for a stormwater utility and MS4 needs?

Answer: Sadly, our federal government is forcing Pennsylvania communities in the Susquehanna drainage area to achieve higher quality standards for municipal stormwater runoff than other areas of the state. Regardless of the unfair nature of the court-ordered standards, we will eventually be legally forced to comply and to fund a series of improvements to meet these standards. I personally have favored delaying any form of assessment on property owners for impervious surfaces that create runoff, but we cannot hold out forever and fail to upgrade our storm water systems. Presently, we are funding drainage improvements through low interest state PENNVEST loans and grants, but it will not give us the level of water quality improvement we need at a cost we can afford. That is why we will be examining a limited impervious surface fee program in the future, similar to many of our surrounding municipalities. We are wrestling with developing the simplest, most fair and most affordable assessment for our property owners that will allow the township to be in compliance. We took the first step this year by hiring an MS4 coordinator to begin dealing with the enormous amount of annual documentation and reporting that must be completed.

3. What is the top thing you would like to see accomplished in Lower Swatara Township by the end of 2020?

Answer: I look forward to working with lawmakers, PennDOT and regional transportation planners to assure the roads in our township are brought up to date, with road widening projects, signal additions and other much needed improvements to deal with the increased traffic our township has experienced. I also look forward to the completion of the first comprehensive study of our township’s recreational facilities and needs. This study, which will be funded through a state grant, will give us the guidance we need to improve the township recreational infrastructure so that we may meet the needs of our citizens in the future. Finally, I am deeply interested in engaging in a serious dialogue with both state, federal and Harrisburg International Airport officials about flood prevention infrastructure and mitigation projects to help solve our township’s historic flooding issues.

Danielle Prokopchak

Danielle Prokopchak serves as the creative director for the Pennsylvania Senate Democrats. Prior to working for the Senate, she was the communications director for WITF/Top Flight Media. Born and raised close by in Lancaster, she and her family have lived in Lower Swatara Township for seven years. Danielle is a graduate of Millersville University. 

1. How would you ensure a balance of growth and development in Lower Swatara Township with a rural feel and open spaces?

Answer: Striking a balance of growth and development while maintaining our precious land and quality of life is difficult but important. One simple and effective solution is better transparency. It’s no secret that our area is desirable to developers, so it’s up to the board to determine how to handle those requests while answering to the residents of Lower Swatara — the people who elect the commissioners. I believe that the residents of LST — our family, our neighbors, our friends — come before corporate interest. I am also a big proponent of “We, the people” — the desires of the residents is important to take into consideration before, during and after meeting with development companies. A small group of people shouldn’t determine the future of an entire township behind closed doors. Keyword here is balance.

2. What is the best way for the township and its residents to handle funding for a stormwater utility and MS4 needs?

Answer: I am not sure that there is one simple solution to this multi-faceted issue, but certainly collaborating with state legislators is a good start. Monitoring compliance while ensuring we’re doing our part as residents to keep our waterways clean is important but not at the cost of overburdening taxpayers. I would also propose an updated series of public hearings or education campaigns so that residents understand what MS4 actually means and how it impacts them. Like everyone else, I would like to explore other options than just fees and tax hikes.

3. What is the top thing you would like to see accomplished in Lower Swatara Township by the end of 2020?

Answer: The development of our township seems to be one of the most important issues for my neighbors and residents of LST, so it’s one of the most important issues for me. I would like for the board to develop a transparency plan or pledge so that residents have some peace of mind. I am also extremely interested in keeping lines of communication open with the Lower Swatara Police Department when it comes to their labor relations. Unions are the backbone of our community, and I want to make sure that those who serve to protect us know that they are equally protected in their labor endeavors. 

Todd Truntz

I have been a lawyer for more than 20 years.  I have a bachelor of arts degree from Lebanon Valley College and a juris doctorate from Widener University School of Law.

1. How would you ensure a balance of growth and development in Lower Swatara Township with a rural feel and open spaces?

Answer: Lower Swatara Township is a great place to live because of its rural setting and convenience to major highways. Our location is also attractive to businesses because of its accessibility. Online shopping is now a big part of our lives, which requires distribution systems like we’ve never seen. When you combine a strong economy and increased consumer demand with a rural community that’s adjacent to a major highway network, the interests of large landowners seeking to maximize their properties are often at odds with residents who do not want increased traffic and loss of open spaces. It’s not easy to balance these competing interests and do what’s right for the township.

We can’t legally outlaw industrial development. Constitutional due process permits developers to request changes in zoning. These requests must first go through the zoning hearing board and then the board of commissioners. All meetings must be publicly advertised, which residents have the right to attend and express their concerns. There are no “secret’’ or other closed-door meetings to exclude the public from this process. In fact, the board usually requires the developer to set up its own “town hall” meeting to present their plan to our residents, which gives folks yet another opportunity to voice concerns.

Each situation is different. Industrial developments in the far corners of the township that may already be zoned for a similar use and have highway access are different situations than those in areas surrounded by schools and residential developments. Sometimes we need to consider jobs that could benefit our residents. Development can also bring significant tax revenue, which can help take the tax burden off of us. Although we’ve heard about areas offering tax breaks and other incentives, we have not done that in the township during my tenure. I would not be in favor of that in the future.

Personally, I do not like to see industrial development and I wish the farms and open spaces could stay as they are. But as a commissioner, I have a duty to remain objective and respect the rights of all sides. If reelected, I will do my best to preserve the rural character of Lower Swatara Township while acting within the law. I will continue to evaluate each case objectively by balancing the interests of affected residents, landowners, and the positive and negative effects on the township in order to make the best decision.

2. What is the best way for the township and its residents to handle funding for a stormwater utility and MS4 needs?

Answer: “MS4” stands for “municipal separate storm sewer system.” The township’s MS4 is its stormwater sewer system, which is operated under a permit issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. In recent years, DEP has been charged with enforcing regulations imposed by the federal Clean Water Act, which was enacted to prevent pollutants from flowing into our waterways. Through these regulations, a lot of stringent stormwater management standards have been forced upon municipalities. It is very expensive for municipalities to meet these standards, and if we don’t, serious fines can be levied by DEP. These MS4 Clean Water Act standards are an unfunded mandate that, like all other Pennsylvania municipalities, the township must find a way to pay for.

I believe the fairest way to fund MS4 compliance is through a separate fee, like many of our neighboring communities have done. A fee can be looked at like our sanitary sewer system: stormwater flows from our properties into the storm sewers and we pay for the level of this “usage.” The advantages of a separate fee are twofold. First, we can tailor the amount of the fee based on how much stormwater flows from a particular property. Basically, the more undeveloped, water-absorbing ground on the property (“pervious surface”), the less water flows off that property into the stormwater system. So, the average residential property with a house, driveway and walkways would be at the lower end of the fee, while large commercial or industrial properties with big buildings and parking lots would be on the higher scale (more “impervious surface”). The second advantage is, unlike a tax, all property owners are subject to the fee, which does not exclude government and non-profit owners as exempt. In my opinion, all owners of property having impervious surface create stormwater system runoff, so we should all share in the cost.

Believe me, as a resident and as a commissioner, I’m not happy about a fee for MS4 regulations. We’ve tried to delay the fee as long as possible. But unfortunately, the regulations have been imposed by the federal government and there’s not much we can do but create an equitable funding method so the township can comply with these new stormwater standards.

3. What is the top thing you would like to see accomplished in Lower Swatara Township by the end of 2020?

Answer: I would like to see work started on our new Shireman Park by the end of 2020. A few years ago, the board was approached by the Lower Swatara Athletic Association with a concern about a shortage of baseball and softball fields. This year there are approximately 250 players and nearly 100 adult volunteers who participate in this great program that benefits township kids. With this need in mind, we were approached by a resident who had interest in selling a parcel of land located on the corner of Longview Drive and Ebenezer Road. The landowner was willing to offer the property at a below-market price in exchange for its use as a park for residents to enjoy. We did some research and could not find land in the township with better topography or at a lower asking price. The board at the time felt the price was right and that we should invest in the future recreational needs of the township, which may include additional ball fields, perhaps a dog park, nature trails and unimproved natural areas.

The township paid for this land using grant funds and from accumulated monies in our Parks and Recreation Fund. This fund is comprised of fees paid by land developers for creation of parks and open spaces. No tax dollars were used for this purchase. The property was formerly enrolled in the county “Clean & Green” program so prior tax revenue was minimal. While we are planning for development, the property is being leased to a local farmer, whose rent provides revenue and farming operations take care of maintenance.

We plan to develop our new park through grant funding and future funds paid into our Parks and Recreation Fund. Several years ago, the township faced a crisis with the soccer association when the kids had nowhere to play. The result is Greenfield Park that cost the township over a million dollars and required a bond to be issued. While that park was certainly money well spent, our plan with Shireman is to anticipate future needs and fund as much of the development as we can without using tax dollars or requiring bond financing. This requires planning and can be a slow process, because grant monies take time to materialize. Sometimes we are awarded grants and sometimes not. We recently applied for a grant for $1,040,000 for planning and development of the Shireman Park. Hopefully that grant comes through, and we can move forward with development in 2020. In the end, I believe we will have a nice park that will accommodate needed baseball and softball facilities, as well as recreational space for all residents, at minimal cost to us as taxpayers.

Donald Wagner

1. How would you ensure a balance of growth and development in Lower Swatara Township with a rural feel and open space?

Answer: By maintaining a stricter budget, controlling unnecessary spending.

2. What is the best way for the township and its residents to handle funding for a stormwater utility and MS4 needs?

Answer: Each household will be required to pay a set fee.

3. What is the top thing you would like to see accomplished in Lower Swatara Township by the end of 2020?

Answer: Honesty, integrity and above all common sense, keeping the residents first.

Jon Wilt

U.S. Postal Service, 31 years, retired, retail and customer service specialist; city of Harrisburg, Community Development, housing inspector; Parks and Recreation, equipment operator;  Merchant Marines, engine department, sailed to Europe, Africa and the Far East including Saigon and Da Nang Vietnam during wartime; on various ships (freighters, tankers) delivering oil or other payloads. Graduated from Milton Hershey School; graduated and attended continuing education at Lundeberg School of Seamanship, Maryland.

1. How would you ensure a balance of growth and development in Lower Swatara Township with a rural feel and open spaces?

Answer: I will ensure responsible growth and development by examining each possible project and discussing details with the township staff, paid professionals, as well as with community input — working through to the best possible option to maintain a proper balance. A major concern has been our athletic facilities that may not be sufficient for our future needs. The Shireman property was purchased at a good price. We were able to use an available grant obtained from county gaming. We will be seeking future available grants to continue our vision of developing recreational facilities for this site. 

2. What is the best way for the township and its residents to handle funding for a storm water utility and MS4 needs? 

Answer: We are working toward a rate structure that will levy a fee rather than a tax. This then would be shared by all residents and land owners. It is more equitable and fair to the township at large because a tax-exempt property would not be included to pay. As of May 1, we have hired a MS4 coordinator to work with our codes department and our public works department to help with the environmental issues.  

3. What is the top thing you would like to see accomplished in Lower Swatara Township by the end of 2020?

Answer: As we are facing aging infrastructure, we will be coordinating a permanent upgrade with the temporary fix to the sinkhole at Spring Garden Drive and Lumber Street that was just completed May 7. The upgrade will include the sanitary sewer lines, water lines and culverts both there and leading to Greenwood Street. Our salt storage shed is in need of replacement. We will also be replacing the Highland Street bridge. Various other projects exist and will be worked on and completed in 2020 and beyond.