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Candidates weigh in on reassessment, economic development, levee issues

The nine Republican Lycoming County commissioners candidates recently gathered to share their opinions on a variety of taxpayers’ concerns, including economic development, the levee and a potential countywide reassessment.

The event, hosted by the Republican Committee, Lycoming College and News Talk 104.1 and 1600 WEJS, was meant to help voters learn more about the numerous candidates.

The candidates 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.

One topic revolved around how the candidates view a countywide reassessment, which the current board has states will come in the near-future, and whether a tax increase would be necessary.

“There is no reason that there will be a tax increase,” McKernan said.

The Early Intervention Program report indicates a healthy fund balance, which has increased by 20 percent since 2016, he said.

Additionally, the county deficit has decreased each year since he came into office — the county has retired about $5.2 million in debt, he said.

Riley said he is against a reassessment while the budget remains unbalanced.

Because businesses have been appealing their taxes successfully, homeowners have to make up for that loss in revenue, he said

“It’s almost as if the commissioners are trying to offset that with a reassessment,” he said. “I’m not in favor of that, I would never vote for that.”

While Brady did not specify whether he is for or against the reassessment, he did offer a counterpoint to Riley’s statement.

“A reassessment actually has to be revenue-neutral,” he said. “By law, we not only can’t use it to raise revenue, we actually may have to lower the overall mill rate if it would raise the total revenue.”

If homes double in value, the county would have to cut the millage rate in half to maintain the same revenue, he said.

Next, the candidates were asked how they plan to keep existing businesses in place as well as draw in new businesses.

Most of the candidates agreed completing the levee recertification project and improving infrastructure were key components to increasing economic development.

The county comprehensive plan, completed by the planning department earlier last year and adopted by the commissioners last June, spelled out the county’s growth areas and which improvements could be made where to increase economic activity, Mussare said.

By investing in the West Branch Regional Authority’s efforts to install water and sewer lines along the Route 15 corridor from South Williamsport to Montgomery, the county is investing in economic development.

“We’re starting to attract businesses, which is critical to stabilizing the tax base,” he said.

“I believe the Army Corps of Engineers needs to step up to the plate and help fund this,” Mussare added, referring to the levee. “We may have lacked on some of the maintenance, but their design is what was the flaw.”

Empty factories in Jersey Shore, a steel mill and other ready-to-go buildings need to be put to use again, Lauer argued.

“We keep hearing infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure,” he said. “Well that costs money. How do we get money? We raise property taxes. We have a lot of infrastructure here that’s sitting idle. We don’t have to build everything new.”

Nassberg suggested developing a business model for “back-office work,” or administrative and support services, as well as expanding the work-from-home industry.

“The new economy is a lot of work-at-home,” she said, “and I think that we could work with some of the larger companies through our colleges to have people come in here and stay.”

The final question of the evening asked the candidates how they would prioritize the levee project and whether a tax increase would be necessary to fund it.

Metzger agreed with Mussare that the Army Corps of Engineers should help fund the repairs.

“Yes, it can be paid without a tax increase, and it starts in Washington D.C. and with the Army Corps of Engineers,” he said.

It’s too early to say with certainty there won’t be a tax increase, especially as the federally-dictated prevailing wage increases over the years, driving costs up, Bower argued.

“They’re saying it’s going to cost approximately $16 million,” he said. “There’s been procrastination and no money has been put back to fix this.”

Campana implied the levee is not as close to danger as some might think, saying the city, county and other nearby municipalities will continue to partner to get the work done and find funding.

“Once again, it’s another darn federal mandate that comes to our community that the taxpayers have to take charge of,” he said. “We cannot afford to put the county in additional debt. We’re showing progress. The sky is not falling.”

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