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Candidates debate law enforcement, prison, opioids

Republican candidates for Lycoming County commissioner debated a variety of topics Tuesday evening, including their opinions on regionalizing law enforcement and emergency services, the prison and how the county can fight the opioid epidemic.

All nine of the party’s candidates attended the event, hosted by the Republican Committee, Lycoming College and News Talk.

They are John Bower, a Loyalsock Township supervisor, Jersey Shore resident Todd Lauer, Gabriel J. Campana, Williamsport mayor, Scott Metzger, retired county deputy adult probation officer, Kathryn “Tabby” Schultz Nassberg, owner of Penn Park Properties, Steve Brady, Covation Center executive director and Gamble Township supervisor, Chad Riley, a constable with Cogan House Township, and incumbents Tony Mussare and Jack McKernan.

Moderator Todd Bartley, general manager of News Talk radio show, asked the candidates how they will help municipalities to ensure public safety in light of the potential fee considered for communities that rely on the state police. He asked if the candidates support regionalization.

Most spoke in support of regionalization for cost- and resource-sharing purposes, while Lauer stood in solo opposition because “it takes the power away from the local establishments.”

“We need to get more youth involved in this, make it so they want to do it,” he said.

Those in favor cited savings, expanding reach and avoiding the proposed fee for using the state police.

“I’m a big supporter of regionalization,” Campana said. “Lycoming County is the size of Rhode Island, so we must work together to save costs.”

The city works with Old Lycoming’s fire department and is in negotiations with another, he added.

Mussare used the county planning department as an example of current regionalization within the county, saying it provides services such as environmental planning for municipalities to help with regulatory issues such as MS4.

“If we didn’t take that initiative, then every municipality would have to hire some type of planner,” he said. “Here’s an example where regionalization pays off and saves the municipality money.”

Another question revolved around the prison and the candidates’ feelings on privatizing those services.

Most of the candidates vehemently disagreed with privatization, while Lauer and Bower said they would like more information, with Lauer adding he’s interested in the potential savings of no longer funding a prison staff.

“This is one of those few instances where I think privatization is probably not a good idea,” Brady said. “That said, I’m a strong proponent of coming up with ways to keep people out of prison, to help them reenter the workforce and help them become more productive members of our society.”

Riley suggested that investing in the county’s probation department might save money in the long run.

“I think it’s very important to rely heavily on the probation department because, the more people we can keep out of jail and out of the Pre-Release program, the more money we’re ultimately going to save,” he said. “If we can hire one probation officer and save three or four corrections officers, nurses and other staff at the prison, I think it’ll pay for itself tenfold down the road.”

Nassberg also was against privatizing but, rather than voicing support for programs or departments that help inmates be successful members of society, she suggested channeling funds to youth programs.

“I don’t believe in privatizing the prison … A private company needs to have a product,” she said. “With respect to prisons and overcrowding, we should direct a lot of our resources toward trying to educate people in our area not to start a life of crime.”

The candidates also were asked what they’ll do to “eradicate this insidious plague on our community,” referring to the opioid epidemic.

Each candidate agreed the community must continue to educate its youth.

Bower cited a friend from Delaware, who is a member of the state’s government, as saying that resources and laws also might be an issue.

“He said all the laws in every state and municipality vary,” Bower said. “Education of the young people is not really the problem. He said work with the police, make sure there’s enough drop-back boxes and try to educate the people with commercials.”

The boxes Bower referred to are heavily secured boxes at some pharmacies and other locations where people can dispose of unused or expired medications, a safer alternative to throwing them in the trash or leaving them in medicine cabinets.

McKernan agreed that getting unused pharmaceuticals out of medicine cabinets is an important factor and added praise for the Narcotics Enforcement Unit.

He highlighted that the county has entered into a suit against the pharmaceutical industry in the hopes of receiving damages to repay some of the hefty costs of the epidemic.

“We will be getting our day in court,” he said.

In the meantime, the county should focus on its relationship with the courts, Metzger said, adding various treatment court programs exist to help addicts.

“We need to support our police,” he said, “and we need to help our courts get the programming in place so that we can help the ones who want the help and put the dealers in prison where they belong.

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