Budget issues top borough candidates' concerns
Kittanning Borough Council candidates seeking nomination in the May primary are looking to move past recent bickering to focus on the budget — which continues to have implications for street repairs and expenditures in the police department.
Two 1st Ward council members — Republican Michael Rosenberger and Democrat Betsy Wilt — who stepped in to fill seats vacated in 2012, are seeking nominations to finish out those 2-year terms. They are also seeking nominations for 4-year terms in the 1st Ward.
David J. Croyle, minister of Family-Life Church and president of Family-Life Media-Com, which owns Family-Life TV, WTYM-AM 1380 Radio and the Kittanning Paper, is challenging Rosenberger for the nomination for the 2-year and 4-year terms.
Wendy Buzard, director of the county election bureau, said that even though candidates can win both terms, they can only accept one in which to serve.
Rosenberger said he was hesitant at first to step into the position vacated by former Councilwoman Cindy Housley in January of last year.
But since he wanted to do something to benefit the community, he thought he'd give it a try. And as a business owner, Rosenberger figured he could bring that experience to his position as councilman.
“I'm not a politician. I learned as I went along by keeping my eyes open and my mouth shut,” said Rosenberger.
He said as time went on, he began to enjoy working in local government, even though sometimes it means being put on the spot.
When it comes to voting on issues, he said, it's not possible to keep everyone happy.
“I vote my own conscience,” said Rosenberger. “I'm on nobody's band wagon.”
As head of the codes committee, he has been learning more about ways to clean up the town.
And he thinks the borough is on the right track by staying within the current budget and needs to continue to manage finances in a responsible way.
Wilt, who joined council in September after former Councilwoman Lisa McCanna resigned, said she too was initially reluctant.
She decided to run for the nomination because, she said, it was important to give back to the community.
“I have no agenda,” she said. “I'm willing to serve and listen to the people in the 1st Ward and plan to bring their issues to council.”
Wilt said that even before she joined council in the fall, she stayed up to date on council matters by watching the televised meetings. “I know (council) always operated on a strict budget,” she said.
Wilt thinks the borough needs a manager, but because it's a paid position, she realizes it's unlikely to happen any time soon.
She said the town needs to attract more homeowners to increase the tax base and is a strong proponent of enforcing the borough codes.
“I've always loved Kittanning, and I think it has a lot of promise,” she said.
Wilt worked as a claims representative for 40 years with the Social Security Administration. She has lived on Vine Street for 63 years.
David J Croyle:
Croyle said there should be a master plan concerning the budget, and he is critical about the way council has been conducting meetings in recent months.
“I believe the current council has had a failing grade on professionalism,” he said.
He said he is running for the nomination because he knows the issues council has faced for the past 12 years through his broadcast coverage of meetings.
When asked if he thought there might be a conflict of interest in holding a position on council while producing media coverage of borough issues, Croyle said his employment in media puts him in a unique position to communicate issues and solutions to the public.
“Communicating is my strength,” said Croyle. “Media is not something to fear for someone who has nothing to hide. I do not believe the current council has been effective in utilizing media to the fullest. People are attending council meetings vicariously through television and radio, so council needs to communicate on a broader basis than just the individuals in the council chambers.”
If elected, he hopes to work with council toward improving the condition of borough streets which, he said, deters potential customers from doing business in town.
“We also have the police contract to be negotiated, as well as pension payments,” he said.
As far as qualifications go, Croyle said he has state certification on nonprofit auditing and procuring of grants and has gotten more than $1 million in grant money during the past 10 years to fund youth in the workplace programs.
“I also will not have the ramp-up time that other candidates need, but have an immediate grasp of the issues without doing a lot of research to understand the information,” said Croyle.
Two candidates are going head to head for the Republican nomination — one is the incumbent and current President Chris R. Schiano and the other is former council Vice President Randy Cloak, who is a write-in candidate for both the Republican and Democratic nominations.
Schiano is also seeking write-in support from Democrats.
The candidates have been critical of each other in the weeks leading up to the election.
Schiano has accused Cloak of quitting midterm (1998-2000) while he was vice president of council.
“He had his shot. I won't quit,” said Schiano.
Cloak, on the other hand, noted that he resigned from his term to accept a position with state Sen. Don White, R-Indiana.
He argued that things have continued to deteriorate under Schiano's leadership.
“It was quite unfortunate to witness the chaos and complete lack of order at the April 1 meeting,” said Cloak. “The disorganized manner by which the majority of council acted in an attempt to hire a new chief of police, with no forethought or understanding of the law, simply highlights the lack of deliberation on matters of lasting importance to the residents of Kittanning Borough.”
Staying within the budget is one of the biggest issues facing the borough today, said Schiano.
“We must stay on course,” he said, noting that a year ago the borough was close to being bankrupt.
During past council meetings, some citizens have criticized the way council has handled the budget, but Schiano argued the borough is moving in the right direction financially.
“In 2012, we had to go begging for a loan,” he said.
Since then, the borough increased revenue and put cost-cutting measures in place, said Schiano.
Selling the borough-owned fire truck which had been used by Hose Company 1, was one of the cost-cutting measures cited by Schiano.
“The borough saved $417,000 from selling that truck,” he said.
This year, the borough received approval from four banks for taking out a tax- anticipation loan.
“Five months into the year, and we haven't had to touch it yet,” said Schiano.
However, Schiano said, other borough costs continue to increase in areas of labor, benefits and pension costs. Those increases are more or less beyond the control of council, pending negotiations, and present ongoing challenges for staying within budget.
Schiano noted that staying within budget extends to the issue of adding a K9 to the police department.
In an effort to be fiscally responsible, Schiano said, it's important to investigate the total costs associated with adding a police dog. There has to be an agreement and support within the police department, he said.
He noted, however, that private donations have been coming in to help pay for all associated K9 costs.
“Everyone is asking about the money donations,” said Schiano. “Not one penny is from taxpayer money.”
Cloak, who is a registered independent, said he has spoken with many borough residents who share his frustration with the leadership on council.
“If elected, I will serve the residents and not any single issue, which unfortunately is why so many people run for local office,” he said.
Cloak said he is a proponent of small government and thinks council needs to focus on maintaining basic services in town without raising taxes and increasing costs.
He alleges that council has been spending money in an irresponsible way and has “not been putting money where it needs to be put.”
Although Cloak is not opposed to the borough obtaining a drug dog, he said he is worried about the long-term costs associated with it.
“Council has said they look to the budget as a guide,” said Cloak. “They need to stick to it.”
He cited recent decisions by council to hire a new chief, to authorize a floater position in the police department and to hire two street employees as ways in which council has veered from the original budget.
He would rather see money spent on basic needs within the borough before branching out into other projects.
The town needs streets that are safe and in good condition, he said. Municipal parks, like the John Whelan Park, have broken equipment and exposed pipes and wires that need to be repaired and made safe.
Cloak said he understands what the role of being a council member means because of his experience at both the municipal and state levels of government.
While serving as a field representative for White, Cloak said he worked closely with federal, state, county and local elected officials to benefit residents of the 41st Senatorial District. In 2008, Cloak resigned from his position with White's office to pursue a career in education. He teaches U.S. history at West Shamokin High School in Cowanshannock.
Angelo D. Turco:
Turco is running unopposed and is seeking the nomination for his second term on the Republican ticket.
He thinks the borough is on the right track.
“We've been able to borrow money and haven't had to use it,” he said. “We're doing the best we can with a limited budget.”
Getting streets paved and alleys fixed remains a top priority, said Turco.
Turco said it's easier to talk about fixing streets, but it's a whole lot different trying to get the money to pay for the project.
He thinks it's important to focus on projects like this while keeping taxes low.
Three candidates are seeking nominations for two 4th Ward seats on council.
Incumbent Andy Peters is running for his second term on the Republican ticket and is being challenged by former borough employee George Schreckengost, who is also running for the position of Kittanning mayor.
Schreckengost's wife, Lisa Schreckengost, is the only candidate running on the Democratic ticket.
Peters said he'd like the borough to keep moving forward by saving money, however, “I'm not sure if we are actually saving money.”
Council seemed to be on track until the decision was made to hire a police chief rather than add more floater positions to the force, he said.
Peters said council was too hasty in hiring Chief Bruce Mathews, not only because of wage issues but because of past disciplinary action against Mathews, which council recently rescinded.
“We should have gotten all of the facts straight concerning his wage, and we went into it without having all the details worked out,” said Peters.
He thinks adding a K9 to the police department is not going to be financially feasible.
Peters said he would like to see Kittanning work more closely with neighboring boroughs such as subcontracting with West Kittanning for police protection.
He said he would like council to continue to focus on repairing streets, going after those who violate garbage ordinances and ridding the area of drugs.
Peters is a machinist, a volunteer firefighter with Hose Company 4 and a T-Ball coach for his son's Little League team.
Schreckengost worked for the borough for 30 years, including eight years as street foreman.
He said his experience as a state and local government union steward gave him a chance to work with borough contracts and enables him to see a broader perspective.
In terms of pressing issues facing the borough, Schreckengost said street repair tops the list.
“This town needs a lot of change and needs a lot of work put into it,” he said. “We need to get streets fixed and need to get money coming into town.”
“Right now, I think the borough is headed downhill,” said Lisa Schreckengost.
She said council needs to focus on street paving and alleges there have been instances of waste in the borough's maintenance department.
If elected, she plans to push council to take inventory of the borough garage and investigate what she believes has been improper use of borough equipment by employees.
Schreckengost, who has lived in the borough since 1995, said her former position with a Head Start policy council has given her experience with parliamentary procedures.
Ford City, 2nd Ward
Two Democrats and one Republican are seeking nominations for borough council in the primary.
Democrat incumbent candidate Lou Vergari, who is council president, is being challenged by Joshua Abernathy.
Scott A. Gaiser is running for the Republican nomination.
Vergari, who was on council in the 1990s, is running for his second term.
He said the proposed water facility plant project is a major issue facing the borough. And although alternatives have been discussed, such as going with Manor Township or Pennsylvania-American Water Co. for the borough's water supply, Vergari said garbage and water fees remain the borough's best source of revenue.
He said he would like to see council work together to set up a contingency fund in order to have money for repairs of water pumps and maintenance equipment.
The borough has been neglected for a lot of years, said Vergari, noting that the borough insurance specifies that everything must be brought up to regulation.
Vergari is a lifelong resident of Ford City and a retired high school science teacher.
Gaiser is fire chief with Ford City fire department and is an employee of Allegheny Ludlum.
He decided to run partly because not many people were stepping forward for the nomination.
Gaiser said he knows what it takes for industry to survive and thinks the town should develop the brownfield and former PPG location.
“We need to come up with more use for the property,” said Gaiser.
Attracting families to the area will also help bring revenue in, he said.
“I'm a family man. What this town needs is families who will be here for a while,” he said.
Abernathy, who is running against Vergari for the Democratic nomination, refused to comment on his reasons for running and said he did not wish to speak with the media.
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.