Centre County Commissioner candidates make final push

Dershem says his track record speaks for itself




BELLEFONTE — If you’ve driven around Centre County, you’ve likely seen the large red and white signs that simply read: DERSHEM COMMISSIONER.

Dershem, who has been a Centre County commissioner for four terms, is seeking a Republican nomination in the May primary as he campaigns for his fifth term on the three-member board.

The Bellefonte native and Centre County resident recently sat down with The Express at a coffee shop in Bellefonte to discuss what he’s accomplished, what he wants to do and why Centre County voters should cast their ballots for him in the primary election on Tuesday, May 21.

“I love Centre County for one thing and I’m passionate about the future,” Dershem said. “I grew up here, my family lives here, we intend to live here. We’re well-grounded in the community. I just see my family being here for a long time.”

For Dershem, there truly is no place like home. He said that Centre County is unlike anywhere else in the Commonwealth.

“This is one of the most amazing places in the state. If you just look at the culture of Centre County. You’ve got a suburban lifestyle, you’ve got an urban lifestyle, you’ve got the wilds. It’s just a great place to grow up. I really enjoyed growing up here. It was a fantastic experience and I want to share that with generations to come,” Dershem said.

Dershem was first elected commissioner in 2003. During his third term, he served as chair of the board.

At 58, he shows no signs of slowing down.

“I really enjoy it. I think the challenge for any government right now is to see if you can keep government going in such a way that it doesn’t really burden the taxpayer. That’s really whart my mantra has been the entire time I’ve been here. I’ve always tried to put the taxpayer at the table with me when we’re making decisions,” Dershem said.

When it comes to taxes, Dershem said that his track record speaks for itself.

“We’re on a nine-year streak of not raising taxes. That’s done not by accident. We find alternative funding methods, we find ways to stretch dollars. We’re not frivolous with our dollars. I think we have a solid retirement program for our employees, but it’s not a Cadillac. It’s a nice Chevy. That’s really what it takes. You have to be smart about how you do things. Sometimes you have to say no, which is sometimes the hardest thing to do,” Dershem said.

According to Dershem, he has a good working relationship with his fellow commissioners, Mark Higgins and Michael Pipe.

“The commissioner’s office is not partisan. You’re really running an $80 million corporation. Because of that, because of the challenges, you’ve got to work well with people. I’ve been on boards where the relationship is dysfunctional and I’ve been on boards where it’s been very functional. Whether you’re a minority or majority commissioner, everyone has to work together. There are times when you realize that you have to put the county in front of ideology. You’re doing what’s best for the county,” he said.

Dershem said that having four terms as commissioner under his belt has prepared him for anything and everything.

“Things come up. Challenges present themselves. Being prepared … that’s where you need to have that good working relationship. It doesn’t matter if it’s a flood, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Jerry Sandusky case, no matter what the situation is, there are going to be things that you didn’t see coming. You have to work through it,” Dershem said.

When it comes to future goals, Dershem has several. He said that he has concerns about the county handles those with mental health issues.

“We as a county, we as a state and we as a country need to have a serious look at how we deal with mental health issues particularly in relation to the criminal justice system and the correctional system. Our jails are turning into mental health facilities. And there’s gotta be a better strategy for dealing with folks. I think whether it’s a drug court or alternative mental health avenues to go down, we’ve got to look at how we administer mental health resources and dollars. It’s a serious problem,” he said.

When those with mental health issues are incarcerated, it’s much harder to address to help them, Dershem said.

“Sixty percent of the folks in our jail have mental health issues. We are not capable of addressing all of the issues that they’re bringing to us. We’d like to send them out the other end better than they were. We’d like to direct them to services and it’s just very difficult. We’re trying as best we can, but the resources are finite for that. I really do believe that mental health is at the top of the list to work on,” he said.

Dershem also has strong views when it comes to legalized gambling – especially when it’s internet-based.

“I’m against all internet-based gambling,” he said. “I think it’s a good way for someone to max out their credit card and destroy their family. It’s too easy to punch your credit card in. Unfortunately, much like any other addiction, the rush is just too much for them to say no.”

Dershem realizes that the Republican side of the ballot is stacked. Ultimately, he’s hoping that Centre County voters will help him advance on Election Day.

“I think I have the experience and the track record that indicates I can do the job competently. I’ve worked with a variety of different folks and I’ve made a lot of really good things happen,” he said. “I’ve done a 911 system, built a jail … and have created a pretty good environment for county employees and county residents. I’m proud to be part of Centre County government and I’d like to continue that.”

For more information about Dershem, visit www.dershem.com or check out his Facebook page.