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Bowman, Strohm recommended for council seat

 

A Middletown Borough Council committee has recommended that Mike Bowman and Tom Strohm be considered to fill the First Ward vacancy on council created by the resignation of Tom Handley last month.

 

Following interviews that were held in public on Monday, Jan. 12, the three-member administration and personnel committee voted 2-1 to send the names of both Bowman and Strohm to the full council for its consideration on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

 

The committee voted 2-1 against a third applicant, Dawn Knull. However, the committee’s action is only a recommendation, and Knull’s name can be brought up for a vote on Jan. 20 as well, said Councilor Anne Einhorn, a committee member who supported Knull.

 

Councilors Sue Sullivan and Vicki Malone supported recommending Bowman, while Einhorn objected. Einhorn and Sullivan supported recommending Strohm, while Malone objected.

 

The borough received an application from a fourth resident who was disqualified because they did not submit a resume, a requirement under a borough ordinance.

The person’s identity was not released.

 

Whomever the full council chooses to appoint will serve for at least all of 2015. Voters will decide in municipal elections this year who will hold the seat for the duration of Handley’s four-year term, which runs through 2017.

 

During public comment before the committee’s votes, former Middletown electric department supervisor Greg Wilsbach asked that the committee not consider any applicants who had run for council in an election before and lost. That would have eliminated Bowman and Strohm, who have both run unsuccessfully for council. Knull has never run for council.

 

Wilsbach, a resident of the Second Ward, is considering running for council this year, setting up a possible confrontation between Wilsbach and Council President Chris McNamara, who also lives in the Second Ward and is up for re-election in 2015. In all, five council seats – two in the First Ward, one in the Second Ward and two in the Third Ward – are up for grabs.

 

The committee brought up each applicant separately to answer a list of six questions. The other two applicants were removed from the room while the other applicants answered the questions.

 

The questions:

• Why are you running for council?

• Do you know what the Early Intervention Plan is and why Middletown is in it?

• Do you know about council’s decision to lease the water and sewer systems to United Water and why that was done?

• Where do you stand on the borough’s structural deficit?

• What is your main goal and vision for Middletown?

• Would you be willing to raise taxes if you have to?

 

Bowman, the first to be interviewed based on a random drawing of names conducted earlier by borough staff, said the current council deserves praise for undertaking projects leading to the improvement of the downtown.

 

He said that the borough had to go into the EIP program due to the action of past councils that “did not understand what a structural deficit is or how to spend money.”

 

Bowman said that the need to lease the water and sewer systems was a necessary consequence of past councils being “overly generous” to retirees. 

 

Regarding the structural deficit, Bowman again blamed the action of past councils, saying that the present council – “the one that started about four years ago” – is the only one to have seriously dealt with the issue.

 

He said his main goal is to finish the downtown, and that future increases in the tax and electric rates are “inevitable,” although large one-time increases – such as this year’s hefty hike in sewer and water rates – should be avoided.

 

Strohm said he wants to be on council because he grew up in Middletown and wants to “be active in the town.”

 

He said that the EIP is a result of the borough’s financial difficulties. Of the water and sewer lease, Strohm believes it was “a good thing” because it will help the town financially, but added that the 50-year time period for the lease was too long.

 

Regarding the structural deficit, Strohm said he will seek to make “wise decisions” based upon input from residents. The borough’s mishandling of the snow-plowing agreement with PennDOT is an example of borough leaders not fully considering the views of residents, he said.

 

Strohm said he would be willing to raise taxes if necessary, “but you better let the citizens of Middletown know why.”

 

Knull, like Bowman a familiar face at council meetings, said she was running “to try and bring the community and council back together.” She said that the EIP is necessary for the borough to get out of its financial hole.

 

Knull was the only one of the three to say that she had opposed the water and sewer lease. Scoffing at the borough’s public statements that the town is now “debt free” thanks to the lease, Knull countered, “You are never going to be debt free” as long as the borough has employees and bills to pay.

 

Knull said that had she as a councilor been presented with the choice of leasing borough assets or raising taxes, she would have made the case for raising taxes.

 

“I would hold a meeting and tell them this is what we need to do, and I would go with what they say because I am here for them,’’ she said. “I am not here for a personal issue. I have personal issues at my house, and this is not my house.”

 

All three applicants were in agreement that the council needs to do more – much more – to forge a closer relationship with the growing Penn State Harrisburg campus.

 

Bowman said council must finish the downtown improvement project to make Middletown more attractive to students, and housing in the town must be made safer for students.

 

Strohm, who is employed by Penn State Harrisburg, said the lack of interaction between the town and the campus is “a lost opportunity.” The expensive cars that many students are seen driving around campus is evidence that the students have money to spend, but they don’t spend it in Middletown because “there is nothing to spend their money on” here, he said.

 

Knull offered similar comments, but said the borough also needs to get its own house in order to build “a stronger relationship” with the campus.

 

 “You need to have a community, and right now we don’t have that,” Knull said.