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Voter's Guide: November 3, 2015

October 28th, 2015
Hello Neighbor!

Following is a summary of Barrett’s recent pre-election Candidate Forum held at our library.  Sue Ruskin-Mayher representing the Community Center did a great job moderating the event, presenting candidates and questions.  Three of the four candidates for Barrett Supervisor (Benjie LaBar, Patti O’Keefe, and Michele Sisak) were present as well as one uncontested candidate for Paradise Supervisor (Gary Conrad), and three of the four candidates for County Commissioner (John Christy, Charlie Garris, and John Moyer.) Sue asked each candidate to briefly introduce themselves including what issues need to be addressed, why they are running, their strengths, and how they envision leading change.


As a resident for 43 years and beauty salon owner for 25 years, Benjie feels she understands small towns, knows our residents, and will use her strong people skills to sustain Barrett as the last bastion of a beautiful environment in the Poconos.  Her strengths include being trained to analyze issues, solutions, and assess all options as well as having strong communication and organization skills.  Her vision is to improve the road-side appeal of Barrett and its marketing to current residents who can then market the town to others.


In addition to being a current Barrett Supervisor and teacher, Patti was previously a Scout leader and soccer coach; and as a current member of the Brodhead Water Association, she often leads hikes.  During her tenure as Supervisor, she has acted as a “squeaky wheel” to reexamine procedures “that have always been done that way.”  She successfully worked on a $410K grant for Open Space, supported the library, didn’t support police regionalization, pushed for a user-friendly web-site (inviting 60 businesses to join the web-site), and decreased township dental expenses.


A resident since 1981, Michele retires in February as a Lieutenant Commander with the Navy. In charge of Desert Storm logistics, she saved money in communications and also was instrumental in retention of the Tobyhanna Depot.  While working with the New York State Insurance Fund, she won 8 awards for excellence in communication with her newsletters.  Michele feels Barrett should focus on improving the state of derelict buildings, road paving, and infrastructure.  And her successful experience working with local, state, and federal governments should enhance project results.


A warm and personal unopposed candidate for Paradise Supervisor.  (presentation not summarized here as this email goes mostly to Barrett residents)


Owner of a construction consulting company in Shawnee,  John warmly joked that he is new to campaigning and explained that townships have all the power in a Commonwealth.  Thus commissioners often act as omsbudsmen, bringing people together.  He believes in listening carefully to people, formulating and solving issues, and then moving ahead in the people's interests. John believes we can’t wait for Harrisburg to act to solve our problems and that a central listing of all potential commercial sites for development would better showcase Monroe’s potential.


A current commissioner, Charlie entered politics because he wanted public funds to be well-spent.  A former Manager of Patterson-Kelly, Mayor of East Stroudsburg, and Board Member of PMC, he is working with the other Commissioners on the development of the 2030 plan which will increase business development.  The idea is that new businesses will increase jobs and business taxes while decreasing taxes paid by individual taxpayers.  Charlie also feels the Community College needs to broaden trade course offerings in order to develop an adequate skill base for new businesses.


A current commissioner, John has shaped Shawnee development for many years. A former professor and currently President of Bannerstone Management, John stresses continued fiscal responsibility.  When he first became Commissioner, the County had to borrow money in order to pay salaries before tax revenues were received later in the fiscal year.  The county now maintains adequate cash to avoid unnecessary borrowing costs and is planning development in order to increase the number of available jobs and reduce the current taxpayer burden.


Q -- What are your plans for dealing with our declining town?
A --  Benjie --  rally town residents to serve on a fully utilized Marketing Committee.  Fact is back!
      Patti --  leverage peer pressure to improve buildings and landscapes.  Update residents with meeting minutes available on the web.
      Michele — push Harrisburg, comply with the law, and with lean management promote open, ethical, transparent and accountable government.

It was stated during the Forum that Barrett had lost its Liquid Fuels tax remittances from the State.  Pam Ferro later clarified that Barrett is still receiving Liquid Fuel funds, but that the township had to repay the state $112,000 of these funds.  This is because in 2010 and $2011 Barrett purchased $112,000 in road maintenance supplies from a vendor not approved by the State.

Q —- Can central sewers be installed to increase property attractiveness for businesses?
A —  Benjie is for sewers but feels it will be a challenge with Barrett's reduced tax base.
     Patti believes in evaluating alternatives to traditional septic systems.
     Michele wants to work with city and state programs to improve Barrett's infrastructure.


Q —  What is the state of property tax reassessment?
A —  All commissioner candidates agreed that current property tax assessments are “out of whack” and need to be reassessed to assure greater fairness among taxpayers.  However, in this process care must be taken regarding seniors living on fixed incomes.  No time frame was given.

Q —  What specifically is entailed in the 2030 new Monroe County development plans?
A —  John Christy described a central listing of all potential commercial properties which should be made available for marketing to businesses.
     Charlie Garris explained that improvement in education is very important to attract businesses.  Our community college needs to increase the breadth of courses offered and include more trade education.
     John Moyer stated we need to stop the loss of young people by developing Monroe's infrastructure, improving work-force training, and helping businesses (including with grant submissions).  Adequate land has been purchased for Open Space, and business development will not negatively impact the county but will reduce taxes for current taxpayers.

Q —  Can the Commissioners help us reduce too-high school taxes?
A —  John Christy described how School Boards can only control 10-15% of their budgets.
     Charlie Garris feels “Vote for Change” at the next election is the only real opportunity for taxpayer control.
     John Moyer explained that Commissioners have no control over school budgets, and he doesn’t understand why school budgets continue to increase with declining enrollment.

Q —  Can community services be provided using out-of-use schools?
A -  John Moyer explained that it would be more efficient to provide the same level of human services with a reduced number of organizations and facilities.  The same is true for tax collecting and other services.  Additionally defined benefit pensions are just too costly.  This, however, would require a change in Pennsylvania’s constitution.
     Charlie Garris feels that Pennsylvania’s 502 school districts should be reduced to run more efficiently.  Although this must be done in Harrisburg, such reorganization surely needs to be tackled.


BENJIE LABAR— I’m an activist who can redirect our sustainable community.  We have much potential in Barrett to open-up, utilize and market.
PATTI O'KEEFE—  Barrett has lots of potential.  I hope to work on more grants, market Barrett, and work in an open and transparent way.
MICHELE SISAK —  Retiring in February, I’ll have lots of time to devote to insuring a better future for Barrett. I will face whatever needs to be done.
JOHN CHRISTY —  The best thing about Monroe County is the people, and you are fortunate to have such excellent candidates running for Supervisor. I believe in working for the best interests of the people.
CHAARLIE GARRIS —  I’m proud this county has a 174 bed nursing home (with 75% Medicaid patients) that is now working efficiently.  I want to insure this level of service for Monroe County residents while attracting new businesses.
JOHN MOYER —  Since substantial Open Space has now been set aside, I want to insure fiscal responsibility and attract new businesses while reducing taxes for current taxpayers.

Congratulations are in order for Pam Ferro Gardsy — Barrett Township’s Executive Secretary/Treasurer— who was married in September.  Best wishes, Pam!

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