With Election Day now just days away, if you live in the borough of Hellertown you may want to know more about the five candidates who are running for borough council.
Saucon Source is committed to providing local readers with as much timely and accurate information about elections as possible, which is why we planned to host a Candidates Night for Hellertown Borough Council candidates earlier this month. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, that event had to be canceled. (A Lower Saucon Township Council Candidates Night was held Oct. 24 at the Grist Mill Tavern Room.)
In lieu of the public forum that was planned, we subsequently asked the candidates to answer several questions they would have been asked by the publisher, Josh Popichak, at the event.
Three of the five candidates who are running for four open seats on council responded with their answers, which you will find below.
Please note that incumbents Andrew Hughes and Philip Weber are both running for four-year seats on council. Also running for the three four-year seats that are open are incumbents Mike McKenna and Earl Hill, who did not return answers to the questions. Political newcomer Matt Marcincin is running unopposed for a two-year seat on council in a special election that is being held due to the resignation of a council member.
Below the questions are statements provided by two of the candidates, Hughes and Marcincin.
For more information about the borough council race as well as other local races, please refer to our November 2019 Hellertown-Lower Saucon Township Voters Guide.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing Hellertown today and how will you work to address it if you’re elected to council?
Hughes: Our Borough finances/tax situation. Ensuring balance between the services we provide to our residents and their taxpayer costs is the top issue that faces Hellertown. The Borough has some unique revenue challenges. I too desire further investments, but we must also recognize and accept certain economic realities. We must ensure we understand the long-term financial impacts of the decisions we make at Council. I believe increasing our financial transparency and making tougher financial decisions will help restore this balance. If you review my short tenure on Council, you will find I have already facilitated a couple of improvements around financial transparency and cost containments.
Marcincin: A big issue facing Hellertown is the fact that land is barely available for new construction. This limits our tax base from which to draw funding for the borough. Being in business for myself has taught me to be financially responsible. I will work to help keep our spending as low as possible by asking, ‘Is this what Hellertown really needs or does it just make sense for just a few?’
Weber: The biggest issue facing Hellertown and this community is its small commercial and industrial tax base. The services which we provide are important to our community, we love our parks, our pool, our summer concert series–the programs that make this a great place to live. We also appreciate our Police, Public Works and Administrative staff. However, those programs and services cost a lot of money which needs to be funded via taxes. Our Borough’s assessed valuation or value of a mill of taxes has largely remained stagnant for years. You may hear people say our Borough has the second highest tax rate in the county, but no one will say that Hellertown has one of the lowest assessed values in the county. Everyone wants to continue to offer the same level of services as they are what make Hellertown a great community. However, that becomes difficult due to increased costs that are largely out of anyone’s control. Just recently we were notified that our healthcare costs increased over 14 percent for 2020. This is on top of our collective bargaining agreements that also contain 2.5 to 2.75 percent annual wage increases for 2020. Hellertown does not have elaborate programs and services and we have been very lucky to receive millions of dollars in grants to fund all these great projects, but those grants do not provide funding for operational needs, police, public works and those programs we hold most dear.
What is your current opinion regarding a proposal to build a public works complex on the Reinhard field? Do you support the proposal? Why or why not?
Hughes: Over the last year, I have been educated to this effort. Through the various meetings, hearings, testimonies and research, I have concluded that there is the growing need to build such a building and Reinhard Field is the best location for this purpose. However, I am still concerned about the project’s total cost and the funding necessary for it to come to fruition. I recently voted in the minority on two grant proposals because I don’t believe they are the best or most effective means to fund this project.
Marcincin: Although I wish there were an alternative, economical site, I am in agreement that it makes sense for the future of Hellertown. We do need a building for our trucks, but I am torn about whether we need to have it there. I also question the construction expense and would like a cost breakdown of the project to help myself and my neighbors understand the current proposal.
Weber: Yes, of course, the proposal makes the most sense financially for most residents of Hellertown. Certainly, people do not want it in their back yards, but no matter where it gets built in a fully developed borough it will be in someone’s back yard. To build this building anywhere else would be financially irresponsible and our tax base cannot handle a financially irresponsible project. To do this project anywhere else would be impossible. The plans for a large-scale public facility–be that fire, EMS, police, public works, etc.–have been in the works for over 20 years, and discussions on replacing the current facility go back to the 1960s. It’s time we act and move forward as a community. The project can be blended into the neighborhood with the correct buffering and in all honesty is a low-impact use compared to the school that was there previously.
Party affiliation aside, how would you describe yourself politically? For example, would you call your views conservative, progressive, middle-of-the-road, liberal, etc.?
Hughes: While I don’t believe folks should be judged by “labels,” but on their actions, I am right of center on many topics. We are fortunate that local government is the least impacted by partisan politics. The primary role of local government is to facilitate folks living together in a community and that we provide the needed services at reasonable costs. A couple of my philosophical tendencies are that I believe more in individual freedoms than state authority; that local administration is more important than the federal administration; and that it is your money, not the government’s. I am not a Socialist.
Marcincin: I have never identified as a Democrat of Republican. Rather, I pride myself on being pragmatic and use common sense to do what is right for any situation.
Weber: I consider myself to be a middle-of-the-road conservative Democrat who puts partisan topics and ideology aside to do what’s best for the most people in Hellertown. I am a lifelong community member who has coached youth sports, served on committees, and served on council and the planning commission.
If you could change one thing about Hellertown, what would it be? How would you try to do it?
Hughes: Traffic–Truck traffic and distracted drivers. While not the fault of Hellertown, we are near a good number of tractor-trailer hubs and a significant portion of those trucks find their way to some of our streets. While the police are performing an admirable job keeping them under control, the number of trucks continues to grow. Our local streets have a maximum speed limit of 25 mph. There are numerous crosswalks where pedestrians have the right of way, but there are too many times where drivers are not mindful of the local speed limits or the laws regarding pedestrians. This is making for unsafe conditions for our children and pedestrians. Since my time on Council began, we have collectively adopted ordinances to further restrict truck traffic from our local streets and have restricted parking at some locations to improve visibility for local drivers. In 2020, we will leverage a very sizable grant to enhance many of our crosswalks on Main Street. If elected, I will continue to promote pedestrian safety on our local streets through citizen awareness, driver education, crosswalk improvements and stricter enforcement of the laws.
Marcincin: We have a wonderful borough and that I would never want to change! Hellertown is a great place to live! One thing I would like to see improved is the road traffic that passes through our borough and the parking situation on Main Street. We want our pedestrians to be safe and our small businesses to thrive–to make Main Street more vibrant and inviting. Both ideas need further study to arrive at any solutions that could rectify the problem.
Weber: Hellertown has come a long way in my lifetime. I would not change much at all. I will support it to grow. It’s our duty to be a part of the solution and not just another problem. If we work together our community will flourish. If we are divided our community will fall.
If elected, in coming to a decision on something, how will you balance your views with those of your constituents in a case where they are in conflict with each other?
Hughes: I believe I hold the same opinions and beliefs as most of Hellertown’s citizens. There are times when members of Borough Council have access to information that may influence the perceptions of a topic. There is the significance of the “Big Picture” and the long-term view of something. It is also extremely important not only to be sensitive to folks’ emotions, but also to apply logic to our decision making. So, in the rare event my personal views conflict with the larger community, I will vote my conscience.
Marcincin: In coming to a decision on any one situation I will balance my views with the views of my constituents by asking, ‘Is this what Hellertown needs for its future or are we trying to satisfy a few in the present?’ I will always try and keep the needs of our town’s future in perspective.
Weber: Again, no one will agree 100 percent of the time and that’s okay. As a councilman, my job is to make a choice for the greater good of Hellertown. I will not let partisan politics, lies and misinformation prevail. As a councilman I am human, but I am no different than you. I promise to work hard, represent all and work together to make Hellertown a community we are all proud to be a part of every day.
Hughes: Ten months ago, I was fortunate enough to be appointed to Borough Council. I view service and local government on equal footing as other community service commitments. To reinforce this belief, I have donated my entire Borough Council salary to the Hellertown Lions Club since my first paycheck, and will continue to do so until my local government service ends. I have learned much since my appointment, but there is still more to learn about the operations of local government, its impact on our community and the significant limitations we need to navigate through. I engage in training, attend seminars and read the various position briefs to become more familiar with the topics that confront us, coupled with listening to all members of our Hellertown community for their guidance and input. What I believe I can bring to Borough Council is a fresh perspective and a very diverse life background to positively contribute to the decisions we make on behalf of our citizens. My goal is about restoring and ensuring balance between the services we provide to our residents and their taxpayer costs. We have some unique challenges as a Borough from a growth in revenue perspective. I too desire further investments in which to make Hellertown family-friendly location for future generations, but we must also recognize and accept certain economic realities. We must ensure we understand the full long-term financial impacts of the decisions we make as Council. I have no political party agenda nor a single focused topic, but will act prudently, professionally and respectfully on behalf of all the citizens to do what is best for the common good of Hellertown. So, I ask for your support in the upcoming election. Thank you.
Marcincin: Having management experience nearly all my working life, I decided to move into the role of business owner. I’ve expanded my business, supervised numerous people and worked with fiscal responsibility and will continue to do so for the people of Hellertown. We face many challenges in local government: growth, finance, safety and community wellness, to name a few. It is the role of Hellertown Borough Council to manage taxpayers’ money, be stewards of the town’s properties and to initiate policy. We are responsible not for just the next 2-3 years but the next 10-20 years of our town’s future. I will strive to make considerations for our future as well as the future of our children.