Mt. Pleasant supervisor race pits incumbent Puskar against challenger Howard
In the race for one available seat on Mt. Pleasant Township's board of supervisors, Democratic incumbent Frank Puskar will face challenger Aaron Howard, a Republican, in the Nov. 5 general election, according to unofficial records of the Westmoreland County Election Bureau.
Puskar, 45, was appointed to the board in 2007, and he was elected later that year to a six-year term which expires in January. Since 2011, he has served as chairman on the board.
Howard, 36, is a 1996 Mt. Pleasant Area graduate who works as a real estate agent for Forest Lake Real Estate Co. based in Mt. Pleasant Borough.
He is also a self-employed equine dentist and a licensed auctioneer.
Both candidates said they believe in placing a top priority on eliminating blight throughout the township and keeping residents safe in their communities.
Prior to joining the board as a full-time supervisor, Puskar owned his own excavating and snow removal business for 15 years.
Puskar said he's been part of “a really great team of supervisors and township staff” who have worked together to ensure the township's positive development devoid of tax increases to its more than 11,000 residents.
“The township hasn't had a tax hike in more than 74 years, and I'm proud to be part of the continuation of that,” he said.
The township has also saved millions of dollars during Puskar's tenure by avoiding the outsourcing of work and controlling spending, he said.
“We perform construction in-house, and we perform blacktopping in-house; we're not paying companies to come in and do our work unless we have to,” Puskar said. “That's all part of my professional background.”
The township has also worked with state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, and state Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant Township, who both aided in the acquisition of grant funding to finance a $125,000 storm water management project on Trauger Hill at no cost to township residents, he said.
Puskar added that the township recently received approval for funding to raze the old Hecla School, a decades-old eyesore and safety hazard.
“We are trying to get rid of the blight that the school presents mainly to the Hecla area and township as a whole,” he said, adding that the roughly $90,000 project will occur at no cost to taxpayers.
The township is also actively seeking funding to install new storm drains in the Bunker Hill area, he said.
“That project is going to be in excess of $200,000; again at no cost to the taxpayers,” Puskar said.
Earlier this year, a decision by the board to change the township's health insurance provider from Highmark to UPMC officially took effect, Puskar said. The township subsequently saved $100,000 at no decrease in the quality of medical coverage for the township's 13 full-time employees, he said.
The money saved enabled the board to allocate $20,000 to each of the township's five volunteer fire department's — Calumet, Hecla, Kecksburg, Norvelt and Trauger — to aid in the purchase of necessary equipment.
The move also prevented the establishment of a proposed annual fire services fee of $30 per household.
“My job at the township is to try to help everyone in the township. Without the folks in the township, I don't have my job. The people voted me in to do what's best for them. And I just want to continue doing that. I'm here for them.”
A fifth-generation Kecksburg resident and horseman on his family farm, Howard is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Dale Howard, who ran for township supervisor in the 1960s, he said.
In the late 1990s, Howard ran for Westmoreland County treasurer at age 21, and that gave him valuable experience in what it takes to run a successful campaign, he said.
“That was a great educational experience for me,” Howard said. “Meeting people and finding out how politics worked on that level was very interesting.”
Another aspect of Howard's development involved recent schooling required to obtain a license to be a real estate agent, he said.
“I think I bring a different perspective in that regard,” Howard said.
Federal legislation such as the Community Reinvestment Act and the Brownfields Revitalization Act can be better utilized by supervisors to clean up additional township blight, including two large ash pits in Hecla and Mammoth, and to upgrade the township's 95 miles of roads, Howard said.
“Nobody's going to move to the area if they don't like what they see,” Howard said. “The money is out there to fix things, you just have to know where to look.
Howard — who said his campaign costs are paid out-of-pocket — added that he is driven to provide a better conduit for communication between residents and the board.
“I feel like I could make a difference,” he said.
If elected, Howard said his other goals include establishing a pay freeze for supervisors and other elected officials.
“I don't believe they should be accepting pay raises, not the way the economy is now,” he said.
Howard said he would also encourage establishing a website to feature township businesses, and he would seek ways to increase police presence in the township.
“I want to see if the township and (Mt. Pleasant) borough can join forces, bring cops out here, and find a way to split the costs,” he said. “I do feel the supervisors role is to fund your local police and fire departments.”
Howard's message to voters is to have faith in his drive to make the area a better place to live.
“I want to promote the area, I don't want to take away from the area,” he said.
“I'm doing this because I love this community, I have a unique background, and I really feel I have a lot to offer, I have a lot of goals, and I really think I can accomplish them.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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