Four City Council candidates vie for three seats

Richard L. Conklin

LOCK HAVEN — Four seats on Lock Haven City Council are up for election, and five names are on the ballot.

One of those seats is for two years, and incumbent Jonathan Bravard, a Democrat, is the only person on the ballot running for it.

However, the other three seats are for four-year terms, and there is a race between four people to fill them. On the ballot are: Richard L. Conklin, a Republican; former councilman Joel Long, a Democrat whose name was nominated on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the ballot in the spring primary; William H. Mincer, whose name was placed on the ballot by the local Democratic party after incumbent Ted Forbes decided to withdraw his name; and current council vice president Stephen L. Stevenson, a Democrat.

City council members are paid $3,600 per year.

Also at City Hall, there are no names on the ballot for the elected position of city treasurer, which also is for a four-year term. A write-in candidate with at least 10 votes (and more votes than any other person) could take that position.

Stephen L. Stevenson

The Express asked each of the four candidates for the contested City Council seats to answer three questions:

r What actions, if any, should city council take in regard to vacant and-or dangerous buildings?

r How should city council deal with the loss of tax base caused by the county’s purchase of a building at the Piper complex and the purchase of Lock Haven Hospital by UPMC?

r What will you do as a city council member to support the commercial district?

Below are the candidates’ answers and a little information about each one.

William H. Mincer

RICHARD L. CONKLIN

Rick Conklin has served 10 and a half years on Lock Haven City Council, making him the second most senior councilman. (Bravard has the highest seniority.) Conklin is council’s representative on the Clinton County Economic Partnership and president of the city’s Historic District Advisory Committee. He also serves on the Police Pension Board, the City Employees Retirement Board and the Summer Concert Series Committee.

A former member of the city planning commission, he completed the Pennsylvania Elected Officials Leadership Training program in 2012.

A 1972 graduate of Lock Haven High School and 1974 graduate of Williamsport Area Community College with a business degree, he retired from the patient access director’s position at Lock Haven Hospital after 45 years in health care. He is serving Mill Hall and Lamar United Methodist churches as a licensed local pastor.

A lifelong resident of the greater Lock Haven area, Conklin, 63, and his wife Jacqui have three daughters, four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Joel Long

Conklin has spent much of his adult life volunteering with events and organizations, from the Off BEN Avenue Follies and the Millbrook Playhouse Board of Directors to the Lock Haven Running Club and the Megatransect, Hyner Challenge, and The Frozen Snot trail runs. He is a former member and past president of the Keystone Central Foundation.

Questions

Q: What actions, if any, should city council take in regard to vacant and-or dangerous buildings?

Answer: The first answer would begin with another question. Do I believe that the taxpayers in the city would agree to use tax dollars to demolish dangerously unstable or non-maintained buildings if it would result in a tax increase? My gut feeling is that if I asked residents of the city that question, the answer would be no. So let us start by not talking about vacant buildings. The question presumes that any vacant building is a problem. That is an incorrect and dangerous presumption.

If a building is structurally unsound, then the city needs to go through the legal steps for demolition. The problem is, once that process has begun, and if the owner does not remove the building, then the city (i.e., the taxpayer) has to proceed. Keep in mind that placing a legal lien on the property may not yield any proceeds to the city since there would likely be other lien holders as well.

The much shorter answer is that if I knew the city had the funds, and that it would be supported by the private property owners, there are at least four buildings I would begin action on today. I also believe the vast majority of council and city staff would agree on that. You can see that the problem is much more complicated than saying, “Let’s just tear them down.”

Q: How should city council deal with the loss of tax base caused by the county’s purchase of a building at the Piper complex and the purchase of Lock Haven Hospital by UPMC?

Answer: The local municipality has little legal recourse in matters such as this. The city has to consider what legal steps are available, but those are minimal.

The hospital will tell you, and has told us for years, how much money through payroll it contributes to the community. That would be accurate if during my tenure there I had not watched the poll of employees spread predominantly to Lycoming and Centre counties, not to mention becoming incredibly itinerant.

And the county’s need for a building the size of the “Piper” building would imply that county government is growing at a significantly faster rate than the county itself, which would imply an implosion somewhere down the line.

I do believe there are things that groups such as the university (which for some reason you failed to mention in your list), the county and the hospital could do to show themselves as good community members. A new police vehicle every year or two, a piece of equipment for the public works department on a regular basis, and fire and other emergency response equipment, all of which serve their facilities, would go a long way to stabilize and satisfy the loss of tax revenue. Outside of those considerations on the part of those groups that are removing properties from the tax base, there is little option for the city other than raising taxes.

Q: What will you do as a city council member to support the commercial district?

Answer: I am open to suggestions on how we draw more people downtown. I have been involved several times in conversations on developing downtowns. We know there are cities that are trending that direction. The answer is not easy. Businesses cannot open and hope people will come downtown. And the days when a small downtown retail business would fully support a family appear to be gone.

We need nicely remodeled and affordable apartments within a few blocks of the central business district. I have had people ask me about moving downtown. But they consider the rents too high or the apartments poorly decorated or maintained.

The city does need to have a closer working relationship with Downtown Lock Haven Inc. Businesses need some incentive to be actively involved in the organization.

There is a big push nationwide for “walkable communities.” I believe our downtown is walkable for the 1st, 2nd, and most of the 3rd and 4th wards. As businesses gamble on the citizens of the area, we have to provide better signage.

Customers’ work schedules are much less regular than they were when, as a teen, I shopped downtown, and yet shop hours are shorter now than they were then. That makes no sense. There also has to be a cooperative public/private effort to make sure when events are held downtown that businesses attempt to stay open.

I believe that government at every level needs to remember that its primary responsibility is to protect and provide for the citizens so they can actually pursue happiness.

JOEL LONG

Joel Long is a lifelong resident of Clinton County. He has spent the majority of his 50 years residing in the City of Lock Haven. He shares custody of his three children, Christopher, 18, Kelly, 15, and Sarah, 8, and plays in the band SNUG.

Long first entered the political arena as a Lock Haven City Councilman in 1998, serving 10 years on council and eight years as Clinton County commissioner. During his years of public service, he has worked on such projects as the downtown streetscapes, which include brick sidewalks, lighting and store facade signage, effectively helping to revitalize the downtown.

He has served as first vice president of SEDA-COG, chairman of the Susque-View Board and VOCA (Voices of Crime Act) funding board. He actively participated on several other boards and committees such as Downtown Lock Haven Inc., the Ross Library Board of Trustees, STEP, Aging Advisory Board, Advocates for a Drug Free Tomorrow, Western Clinton County Recreation Authority, Revolving Loan Board, Clinton County Sewer Authority, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Tourism Infrastructure Committee and Summer Concert Series Committee.

Long has spearheaded many projects including bringing Immix cellular service to Western Clinton County and a regional study on expanding natural gas usage.

He has spent countless hours doing volunteer work including helping to successfully run a campaign to construct the Tiger Den playground, serving as an assistant coach for Central Mountain Youth Football and as a coach in the youth boys and girls basketball programs, and has served three terms as president of Lock Haven/Flemington Little League.

He is a member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and a Third Degree Knight of Columbus.

Questions

Q: What actions, if any, should city council take in regard to vacant and-or dangerous buildings?

Answer: The city needs to work with property owners to try and resolve the issues one way or another. We already face a shrinking tax base with the loss of the former Piper building and the hospital from the tax roles. I would prefer that the vacant and-or dangerous properties were rehabbed and made viable. However, if that is not going to happen, then steps need to be taken to protect the public. If the properties are condemned and demolished then we need to be aggressive in finding a developer to redevelop the property.

Q: How should city council deal with the loss of tax base caused by the county’s purchase of a building at the Piper complex and the purchase of Lock Haven Hospital by UPMC?

Answer: When I first took office in 1998, more than 50 percent of the city’s land area was non-taxable. By the time I left council in 2007, we had flipped that number by working with developers converting previously non-taxable properties to tax-paying properties. We also worked on expanding tax base with some first-time buyer programs adding housing to the city in undeveloped lots. We’ll need to remain vigilant in looking for those types of opportunities.

Q: What will you do as a city council member to support the commercial district?

Answer: In my 18 years of elected office I’ve been active with Downtown Lock Haven Inc., as well as working with the Small Business Development Center. I look to work with those entities and others to support our downtown area. We’re fortunate to have our former mayor in a key position with the Department of Community and Economic Development. We need to work with the resources available to us and bring everyone together to build on what we have.

WILLIAM

H. MINCER

A former member of the U.S. Army Reserves, William Mincer is the director of Sport Camps at Penn State University. He was previously employed as athletic director at Jersey Shore Area High School.

He also previously served as the director of recreation and aquatics for the YWCA and the City of Williamsport and on the Williamsport Recreation Commission on behalf of the Williamsport YWCA.

Mincer, 45, graduated from Lock Haven High School. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Lock Haven University and his Master of Science degree in Sports Administration from California University of Pennsylvania.

Mincer and his wife, Chasity (McCann), have two children, daughter Stacia, a 2016 Central Mountain High School graduate and sophomore at Penn State University, and son Peyton, a junior at Central Mountain.

They attend the Blanchard Church of Christ and have lived in the city’s Fourth Ward, on South Highland Street, since 1997.

Questions

Q: What actions, if any, should city council take in regard to vacant and-or dangerous buildings?

Answer: Dangerous buildings should either be demolished or, if feasible, they should be refurbished or repurposed so that they can be added back to the tax base and/or provide benefit to the community. We have a beautiful town and continue to allow some of the buildings in our town to detract from that beauty. This affects not only the downtown, but also our tax base. We want to have an attractive town that both entrepreneurs and families want to be a part of. It’s difficult to attract businesses and expect people to relocate here when buildings are becoming eye-sores and falling into disrepair, causing potential hazards to the community, including infestations, fire hazards and the possibility that they can attract crime.

We need to address the real concern of absentee landlords and property owners. In an editorial published in The Express in January 2016, it was reported that some 65 rental properties in Lock Haven’s Fourth Ward alone had not been inspected as required by ordinance by Dec. 31, 2015. We need to take the concerns of renters in our community seriously and look into claims regarding rental properties and landlords.

These things are covered by city ordinances that protect the larger community. We need to follow through with enforcement, strengthen enforcement powers, perhaps re-evaluate ordinances that relate to building codes to see if they can be more pragmatic and effective and encourage the upkeep of properties. We need to streamline the process for remediating blighted properties, and could develop committees of community members to discuss what should be done with properties the city may be forced to take over.

Q: How should city council deal with the loss of tax base caused by the county’s purchase of a building at the Piper complex and the purchase of Lock Haven Hospital by UPMC?

Answer: In some ways this relates to the first question. The loss of these old buildings from the tax rolls could be offset long-term by efforts to encourage continued development in our downtown. To attract new businesses and families, we need to have a city that is free from dilapidated properties, so code enhancement and enforcement would be a crucial step. An attractive community is one that entices new business and new homeownership.

The community could consider setting up a non-profit land bank to purchase, potentially re-develop and fill vacant homes and businesses in an effort to add them back to the tax rolls. If such an option were explored, it would be important to work closely with the county and to, if possible, have input from economic development organizations such as the Clinton County Economic Partnership and Downtown Lock Haven Inc. Of course, the land bank would need consistent and dedicated funding to ensure an effective program.

As of Aug. 23 of this year, there were 13 homes listed for tax sale, many of which were in the Fourth and Fifth wards, where there is a community school and residential neighborhoods. Those homes and others like them could be a great opportunity for a land bank to come in, purchase them, make any needed repairs and sell them – getting them back onto the tax rolls.

Land banks can be set up to meet community needs, and can offer different programs. The Greater Syracuse Land Bank, for example, has two programs worth looking at:

r Tenant to homeowner program, in which the Land Bank purchases a rental property and leases it to the tenant if safe. When the Land Bank plans to sell the property, the tenant has the first opportunity to purchase the home.

r First-time homeowners program, in which homeowners (possibly the people described above) are required to take a HUD-approved homeowner’s course. The Land Bank can do an Affordable Home Ownership Program and offers sales price discounts and/or closing cost assistance to applicants who have a household income equal to or below 80 percent of the median income. The total amount of these sales price discounts, closing cost assistance or a combination of the two will be equal to 10 percent of the listing price.

Looking at opportunities to construct new buildings for both residential and commercial use is another way to potentially add to the tax base and is also vital. It is important to work with potential industry and see if we can meet their needs in Lock Haven.

We also need to raise awareness of existing revolving loan programs within the city and county, available for improvements and expansion of current businesses as well as the startup of new businesses in the city.

Q: What will you do as a city council member to support the commercial district?

Answer: If elected to City Council, I intend to listen to the needs of our business community and to find ways to leverage the great things we have going on here in an effort to encourage continued growth into the future. One thing I see for sure – to stimulate our commercial district, we need to find ways to get people back downtown, be they locals or tourists.

We need to take advantage of our background and promote the natural assets of our area to continue to drive traffic to our rural community and uplift our entrepreneurs. We can do this by promoting nature and heritage tourism and building on the identity for our town. The City of Lock Haven is unique: we are a small city surrounded by wilderness, showcasing both modern-day conveniences and premier outdoor recreation experiences. We have many assets that are under-utilized and, although promoted, could still be considered hidden gems. We need to utilize the river more and promote ourselves, from the free music and movies offered all summer long downtown, to the numerous wilderness trails and areas we have within 15 minutes of town.

Let’s become a destination for young people, families, businesses and events wanting to utilize our natural and historic resources. Let’s publicize what we have to offer and encourage new initiatives, such as the new Rails to Trails access in Castanea someday connecting to Lock Haven, constructing a dock on the city side of the river to stimulate downtown businesses, and continuing to inventory and improve our trails and parks. What if we brought the farmers market back to town and held it on the weekend? What if we utilized the talents of our local artisans to create public murals spotlighting our history, like the ones of our town founder, Jerry Church, and county veterans? What if we had bike paths to make it easier for people to experience our community?

We can build and expand our community and our downtown with out-of-the-box thinking and by utilizing the tremendous assets we already have here, including our natural resources and the tremendously talented people in our community.

STEPHEN L. STEVENSON

Steve Stevenson has served on Lock Haven City Council since 2007 and has been elected council vice president for six consecutive years.

Before 2007, he retired from PennDOT after working for 35 years in various positions, the last five years as assistant county manager. During the same time period, he was also working for the city as a part-time fire truck driver for 17 years and for the county as a deputy coroner for nine years. Currently he works for McTish, Kunkle and Associates, a consulting/engineering firm, as a construction inspector on roads, bridges, gas/water lines and streetscape projects, etc., certified by the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies for Highway Construction.

He is a 1970 graduate of Lock Haven High school and attended Williamsport Area Community College.

On City Council, he is a liaison to and serves on the planning commission, the zoning board, the Revolving Loan Fund Board, the Summer Concert Series Committee, Flood Protection Authority, Levee Advisory Board and the Lock Haven University-Community Advisory Committee.

He also serves on the Downtown Lock Haven Inc. Board of Directors and represents the city on the Clinton County Economic Partnership Operating Board and its Transportation Committee.

He has been the city’s coordinator of emergency management since 1980, completing the required training through FEMA, PEMA and National Homeland Security courses. He was the first coordinator in Clinton County to graduate to the highest professional certification level. He serves as a member of the local emergency planning committee/local terrorism task force and communications advisory board and was on the former Clinton County gas task force.

He has also been active with the Pennsylvania Municipal League, a statewide organization of elected municipal officials, and has completed the required training in all four curriculum areas. He serves the league on the board of directors and is one of six outreach ambassadors.

Representing Clinton County on the Susquehanna Economic Development Agency-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG), he sits on the 11-county regional board of directors, the board’s local loan review committee, local development corporation, comprehensive economic development strategy committee, SEDA Foundation, and is the EEO officer.

He has been married to his wife, Patti, for 29 years. They are the parents of a son, Michael, who works as a professional fireman in Washington, D.C., and a daughter, Sandra, a financial analyst at First Quality in McElhattan.

Stevenson’s community service and memberships also include: life member of the Lock Haven Citizen’s Hose Company (past president 10 years, volunteer for 45 years), vice president for 20 years for the Central District Volunteer Fireman’s Association representing Clinton County, life member of Lock Haven Moose Lodge FC #100 (past Governor, Pilgrim Degree), Moose Susquehanna Legion #89 (past president), Lock Haven Moose Riders (charter member), Holy Spirit Parish, Knights of Columbus (Fourth Degree, color guard) currently Grand Knight, Team Red White and Blue, Retired Public Employees of PA Subchapter 8603 (director), Lock Haven Kiwanis, Friends of the Ross Library, Heisey Museum and the Piper Aviation Museum.

Questions

Q: What actions, if any, should city council take in regard to vacant and-or dangerous buildings?

Answer: There is a difference between a vacant building and a dangerous building. A vacant building is not always dangerous. It is usually the vacant dangerous building that we most notice and we need to act on expediently.

We must follow the procedure that has been established and is in place now. The system balances the safety of the public, while trying to help the owner by working with him or her, either until nothing is done and there is no progress to rectify the situation, or the danger has been mitigated.

It all starts when the code office finds out about a dangerous building. After a review, the code office will make a determination as to the building’s status. If needed, the staff will write a letter to the owner of the building. Depending on the situation and-or danger, they will give the owner a notice on what needs done and how to proceed. As an example, they may ask for a certification of the safety of a building from a structural engineer. After a time period, if not corrected, the owner will get a notice of violation as per the adopted City Code, found under the property and maintenance code.

It is up to the code office to take legal action with the magistrate or proceed with a condemnation notice. This is the last resort because the office tries to work with the owner to make repairs or remove the danger.

If it goes to the condemnation level it comes before council, after a legal review, for a decision on how and when to proceed. If the council decides to condemn and have the building removed, the dollars come directly out of the general fund tax dollars. The city may place a lien against the building for payback in the future when the site is sold.

Q: How should city council deal with the loss of tax base caused by the county’s purchase of a building at the Piper complex and the purchase of Lock Haven Hospital by UPMC?

Answer: It will be hard to replace the tax money we received from them right away, but it will level off in a few years, back to where we are now. We will continue to get new businesses and work on growing the tax base. The city took a hit when Hammermill and Piper left too, but we have survived. We will continue looking for cost-savings, work as efficiently as possible and match our funds to leverage grants.

Only 48 percent of the property in the city is taxable. There is nothing wrong in asking for donations or grants in lieu of taxes from non-profits. There are a couple in the city that contribute now. They realize that even though they are not obligated, they donate because they know there is a cost for the fire department, police protection, street and park departments, code enforcement, and with all the other expenses it takes to run their city and quality-of-life projects.

Q: What will you do as a city council member to support the commercial district?

Answer: In the last 10 years I have spent on city council, I have always supported our commercial district, and one of the ways is to have voted yearly to contribute to Downtown Lock Haven Inc. to offset some of its operational costs from budgeted money, which helps it with sustainability.

As a group, Downtown Lock Haven Inc. is a vital asset to the commercial district. I sit on the board of directors for Downtown Lock Haven Inc. I also serve on its promotions committee, which plans activities, parades, etc. We also have provided facade grants to building owners to fix up the outside of their businesses, which makes the downtown look attractive. I was on the agency’s original Hometown Hero committee in 2008 while doing a project for Leadership Clinton County. I still continue to help remove, clean, install and promote banner sales and programs. I think the banners contribute to the downtown feel while honoring our hometown heroes.

As a councilman I have also supported free parking during special events and the holidays.

I sit on the City’s revolving loan committee to help business owners with low-interest loans for equipment, startup costs or renovations, etc. I have supported the planned 13 blocks of completed streetscapes, with two to go this next year, in the commercial district. Replacing curbs, sidewalks and lighting, and planting trees have made our downtown beautiful. The City also supports downtown by providing services such as snow removal, sidewalk cleaning, trash removal, mowing and tree-trimming.

I also sit on the Summer Concert Series Committee, which provides free concerts on the floating stage and at Triangle Park. There is also a free movie series at Triangle Park. I have voted to allow many uses of the park for non-city events. These concerts, movies and events bring people to the downtown area which helps businesses in and around the commercial district.

I continue to work with the Clinton County Economic Partnership Operating Board which identifies and recruits new businesses to create new jobs while retaining established businesses and the jobs they created. Part of the Partnership’s work is tourist promotion which brings people into the area, and I sit on that board. I also sit on the transportation committee which inventories our roads and bridge projects, then submits them for funding, such as the Jay Street/Paul Mack Boulevard upgrade.

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