Supervisors chairman steps down

December 26, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - In May 1945, a month before the American invasion of the Japanese-held island of Okinawa, Paul Benchoff, then a young Marine, was sent ashore with other Marines to check things out.

"We kind of snuck around for eight days looking for places for landing beaches," said Benchoff, now 78. "Maybe it prepared me for last night."

Benchoff was referring to a meeting of the Washington Township Supervisors Monday night and its vote on a controversial rezoning that paves the way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter to be built near the Food Lion shopping center in Rouzerville, Pa.


That rezoning and other requests by developers to change more than 1,000 acres of farmland into mostly residential projects totaling nearly 1,300 new homes has been at the forefront of township business since the summer.

On Monday, the supervisors approved the rezoning request for the Wal-Mart proposal and two residential developments. They postponed a vote on six others until a Jan. 19 meeting.

Benchoff, chairman of the supervisors for the last two years, won't be there. He ends 18 years of service as a township supervisor this month. Before that, he served on the zoning hearing board.

Benchoff was elected to his first six-year term as a supervisor in 1986 and was re-elected in 1992. He was re-elected again in 1998, the year his wife, Eleanor, made him promise that it would be his last term.

"She said, 'You don't need this anymore,'" Benchoff said.

He heeded her request and did not file for re-election this year.

"Yes, I'm going to miss it," Benchoff said. "You don't be that involved for 25 years and not miss it."

Benchoff grew up in Zullinger, Pa., in the western part of the township. He graduated from the then-Washington Township High School in 1943, then went into the Marines.

After World War II, Benchoff worked for Letterkenny Army Depot, enrolled at Lock Haven State Teachers College (now Lock Haven University) for his freshman year, then transferred to Penn State, where he earned his bachelor's degree and later a master's degree.

His first teaching job was at a high school in Lancaster County, Pa., followed by a job in a Fairfield, Pa., high school that was launching a new vocational agricultural department, his field. He came to Waynesboro in 1955 and retired from the high school in 1987.

He still works as a substitute teacher.

Benchoff said he has seen many changes during his years as a supervisor and sat through many controversial issues.

He remembers when the township bought the land for what is now Pine Hill, a 176-acre passive and active recreation area east of Waynesboro. The supervisors agreed to pay $150,000 for the original 146-acre tract.

"There was controversy at the time," Benchoff said. "Some people didn't want us to spend money on land."

Benchoff said the supervisors also beat out a developer who planned to build houses on the tract.

As things turned out, a severe windstorm swept through the area and knocked down so many trees on the township's new land that the supervisors were able to make $120,000 on the timber salvaged from them. Later, through selective cutting, they made another $30,000.

"We ended up paying for the land from the timber," he said.

Today there are ball fields, soccer fields, pavilions, paved parking and several miles of hiking trails at Pine Hill, and the work on developing it is just beginning. The latest 30 acres purchased makes Pine Hill contiguous with Red Run Park, which also is owned by the township.

Another accomplishment during Benchoff's tenure was the creation of a recycling center off Pa. 16 east. This year the facility, which accepts recyclables not only from Franklin County, but from surrounding counties in Pennsylvania and Maryland, ended with a profit for the first time, he said.

The township's current greatest need is the repair and repaving of its 76 miles of roads, Benchoff said.

For the first time in 18 years, the supervisors raised the local tax rate. Next year, it will be 2 mills higher than this year. Some of the money the increase will generate will go to road improvements.

"This is the first time since I've been on the board that I voted for a tax increase," he said.

Benchoff will be succeeded by Christopher Firme, who will be sworn in next month.

Benchoff said he has some advice for the newcomer.

"Listen to the public, take advice from your fellow board members, the township administrator and the staff, and then balance the information with your own intelligence before you vote," Benchoff said. "And don't get locked in by any particular group or clique."

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