From regionalizing city fire service to repainting faded crosswalks for pedestrians, four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for City Council in the May 21 primary sounded off on topics near and dear to them Monday at the annual Williamsport Lycoming County Council of Republican Women luncheon.
The event at the Genetti Hotel featured discussion by incumbent councilmen N. Clifford "Skip" Smith, 67, of 835 First Ave., and Randall J. Allison, 61, of 1308 Elmira St., who were first on the lectern, followed by Joel E. Henderson, 32, of 1010 Elmira St. and Scott Miller, 52, of 822 Tucker St.
Smith, who chairs the public safety and public works committees, discussed the recent purchase of a records-management system meant to streamline police response and records-keeping. He also touched on the introduction after more than three years of planning, of seven surveillance cameras, which he said would be in place in June, spread between Roy A. Flanigan Park on Little League Boulevard and Memorial parks.
Smith also said a proposed landlord-tenant ordinance, which would require the registration of landlords and tenants at the city codes department, would not invade privacy. He also said that numerous streets are targeted for reconstruction this summer and fall - evoking a positive response from the audience.
Allison said four years ago when he decided to run for city office the city was on the cusp of growth, and was in the infancy of the impacts felt by the introduction of the Marcellus Shale industries.
"I wanted to be a part of that," he said. "I wanted to work with others who wanted to see that happen." Allison cited plans for the removal of the vacant Brodart warehouse to create multiple housing options, remove an unused blighted industrial property and revitalize the neighborhood.
Allison said challenges the city faces are collective bargaining with unionized employees, particularly the police and fire departments, which are the costliest in the budget, and pension reform.
Two-year snapshots based on stock market and bond investment are not ways to accurately measure the city's pension portfolio, according to Allison.
"We got hit last year and had to take $1.7 million from the general fund and put it into the budget," he said.
He said it was beyond the time to consider regionalized fire service as most volunteer departments and companies have difficulty adequately manning equipment and the city can't continue to bear the burden of funding uncontrolled pensions and health care expense.
Henderson, who is pastor of Trinity Gospel Church on Brandon Avenue, said he would operate with morality and use the Bible as his guide.
He borrowed from Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
After a question on his view of separation of church and state was offered, Henderson clarified what he claimed was an often misunderstood interpretation. "Morality can't be legislated," he said, but he added that doesn't mean the church can't have a role in government through people of faith, whom he said ought to be involved.
Miller, who frequently attends council sessions and ran before, specifically pointed out problems the city faces, including missing street signs and repainting crosswalks that are faded.
Miller also brought up how many necessary expenses are incurred when storm water drains are not properly installed and over time layer upon layer of asphalt is applied to the street.
He claimed all of his public advocacy has helped him to gain insight and experience and promised to be a team player.
"I will be your eyes, legs and ears for the city," he said. "The government works for you, you don't work for the government."
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana offered updates. The city plans to incur about $1.9 million in debt to invest in about $40 million worth of projects, he said. He said the relocation of the YMCA to Park Avenue, where a new facility will be built, will make the block across from City Hall available for taxable purposes, a project he is calling Destination 2014. The project includes private investment to create a civic arena and residential and commercial properties, a town square "green" and additional parking options.
He said it is his goal to invest $1 million in street reconstruction this fall.
"Many of those streets have not received attention in over 30 years," he said.