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Leechburg mayoral candidates vow to pursue grants

| Thursday, Oct. 20, 2005

Neither candidate for mayor believes the borough is working hard enough to get grants to support the police and other public departments.

Republican Karen Fondrk Diebold is running against Democrat Chuck Pascal for the seat. Both said that, if elected, getting grants would be one of their top priorities.

Pascal said borough officials aren't pro-active enough in getting state or federal money to bolster development and borough government programs.

He said he would pursue money through one or more outlets such as the state's Main Street and Elm Street programs.

"Towns that have taken advantage of that money have been able to revitalize their downtown areas, help the business community and make the residential community more attractive," he said. "Leechburg hasn't applied for any of those grants."

Pascal added: "You have the option of paying out local tax dollars for programs or going without them. Neither is a logical answer if you can get grant money to do it."

Diebold said her business background enables her to manage money well and expects that ability would benefit the borough: "Finance is an area I'm very good at," she said.

Diebold -- whose son is a borough police officer -- said she helped the police department save more than $22,000 in health-insurance costs when it negotiated its last contract.

"When the difference was that much, I started thinking, 'Where else could the borough be saving money?' "

Diebold believes the police department could benefit from state or federal grants. She said she'd search for those grants if elected.

That could pose a problem for Councilman Keith Knepshield, who is running to maintain his seat. Knepshield also is the borough's police chief.

Questions have been raised about the possibility that Knepshield is violating the Hatch Act by holding both posts. Diebold said he would be if the police department was getting federal money, which it currently is not.

"The (district attorney) investigated and determined that there is no violation because we aren't getting federal grants," she said. "At this point, we aren't breaking the law."

Diebold said, however, that she would have no reservations about applying for federal grants, and said she would deal with a possible Hatch Act violation if it came to that.

Pascal wants to draw even sharper boundaries. He said no elected official should be a borough employee in any capacity.

"I would support a local policy that precluded any Leechburg employee, in any department, from holding any elected position," he said. "It just sends the wrong message. And it precludes us from getting any federal grants."

Parking

Pascal said the borough should create permit parking in municipal parking lots for residents living in the downtown area.

He also said borough officials never made good on a promise to create a committee to investigate parking problems in the borough.

"It was a good idea in concept," he said. "Council just shouldn't say it's going to do something and not do it."

Diebold said she's not certain much can be done to solve the shortage of parking in the borough.

"There is no easy answer," she said. "We have to keep the meters. If there were no meters it would really cause a problem for the business owners.

"Parking in all small towns is an issue. You almost have to deal with it day by day."

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