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Two incumbents, newcomer seek GOP Commissioners nominations

May 16, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Managing growth in the county is a key topic for the two incumbents and one challenger running for the Franklin County Board of Commissioners in next Tuesday's Republican primary.

Chairman G. Warren Elliott and Commissioner Bob Thomas are each seeking re-election to a third term on the board. Scott Blanchard is seeking one of the two GOP nominations for the November general election.

Commissioners are salaried at $55,303 this year.

"We plan to continue to work with the municipalities through the Council of Governments on many quality of life issues," said Thomas, 48, of 171 Lincoln Road in Chambersburg. The former radio executive and Chambersburg councilman said preserving open space and farmland are priorities as development pressures increase from Baltimore, Washington and Harrisburg.

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"Part of that growth, unfortunately, has also been the growth of crime and the abuse of drugs and alcohol," Thomas said. "It's put significant pressure on the judicial system, as well as the prison."

To deal with that, the county formed the Criminal Justice Advisory Board to streamline the judicial process with innovations such as central court for preliminary hearings and to explore alternatives to jail for nonviolent offenders, Thomas said. The county is studying the possibility of building a new prison, but Thomas said all other options have to be looked at first.

"One thing I think experience brings to any incumbent is you learn to know the people you need to work with," Thomas said. That includes the county's delegation of four state legislators, state senator, congressman and state government officials who can help get things done.

Support from those quarters will be essential to protecting jobs at Letterkenny Army Depot when another round of base closings is considered by the Department of Defense in 2005, he said.

Thomas said the state has to be as supportive of federal jobs as it is of private sector industries.

"For the last eight years, this board has worked aggressively to preserve and enhance our quality of life," said Elliott, 48, of 822 Shatter Orchard Road in Chambersburg. That included the development of a comprehensive plan for growth, preserving farmland, initiating a plan for open space and recreation and expanding services to senior citizens "while maintaining one of the lowest county tax rates in all of Pennsylvania."

"We need to continue to work to have family-sustaining jobs for our people, opportunities for our youth, a growing economy, while at the same time protecting our open space and environment through planned managed growth," he said.

Since farmland preservation began in the early 1990s, 45 county farms totaling 6,484 acres have had development rights purchased so that each will remain in agriculture. Elliott said three farms with 363 acres have been preserved so far this year, with another seven comprising more than 700 acres scheduled to be added by the end of the year.

"We have also worked hard to expand our job base with over 6,000 new jobs created since 1996, as well as our efforts to protect our existing jobs, including Letterkenny," said Elliott, a senior sales representative for a regional legal publisher.

"Franklin County is in the forefront of our own homeland security," according to Elliott. He said the county has been recognized as a leader in training, preparing and equipping for disasters and emergencies.

Property tax relief, the environment and farmland preservation are on the agenda for Blanchard, 39, of 4810 Rockwell Road in Greencastle, Pa.

"The tax burden is almost all on the property owner," Blanchard said, noting that the county is "bound by state law to only collect property taxes."

"It would take action in conjunction with the state legislature and senators" to change that law, something he would attempt to do as commissioner.

Blanchard is president of the Coalition of Residents Organized for Political Self-expression, a group that has taken on the issue of spreading sludge from sewage treatment plants on county farmland.

"Our county is being covered with toxic sewage sludge ... None of the sitting commissioners, from either party, have spoken one way or another on the issue," he said.

While the state issues sludge permits to municipal treatment plants, Blanchard said the county is not powerless to act. He said Northampton County has a countywide ordinance regulating sludge.

"Counties can pass ordinances that can test every load of this brought in for pathogens and pass the cost along to either the hauler or the landowner" who applies sludge to their land, Blanchard said.

"It is not enough to preserve farmland. We have to keep it in the hands of the family farmers, rather than the corporate farms that take their profits out of the county," he said. Blanchard said the county loses 4,000 acres of farmland per year.

Democratic incumbent Commissioner Cheryl Plummer and Don Richards, the chairman of the Franklin County Democratic Committee, are running unopposed for the two Democratic nominations.

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