Franklin County mayors challenge towns to grow

June 06, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. -- Municipal candidates are hitting the campaign trail across Franklin County to secure votes for the Nov. 3 general election, but the county's six mayors are resting easy because it seems this year, no one wants their job.

"I like to think no one is running because they like the work we are doing," Mercersburg Mayor James Zeger said.

With no challengers in the upcoming election, the mayoral incumbents in the boroughs of Chambersburg, Waynesboro, Greencastle, Mercersburg, Mont Alto and Orrstown each will have four more years to do what they do.

Unfortunately, "not everyone knows what their mayor does," Chambersburg Mayor Peter Lagiovane said.

Pennsylvania has a weak mayor system, he said.

"That means the mayor cannot vote and he or she cannot make policy," said Lagiovane, 62. "It does not mean the mayor is powerless."


The borough code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania establishes the mayor as a sort of chief executive officer of a borough, heading the police department, breaking ties in borough council votes, preserving order in the community and performing marriages.

"I have the power vested in me," Lagiovane said with a laugh.

Often residents assume their mayor has more power than the code allows, Zeger said.

"When people think of a mayor, they think of the mayor of New York City, swooping in during an emergency, changing things around," said Zeger, 62.

Borough code does give a mayor the ability to declare a state of emergency for no more than seven days without action by the borough council.

Most of the time, however, Zeger said as a local mayor, he is attempting to solve small emergencies such as flooded yards.

As for making changes, that is in the hands of the borough council, Greencastle Mayor Robert E. Eberly said.

Not voting on borough business is a blessing, he said.

"I am pleased that I do not have a vote on council," said Eberly, 65. "It is my job to keep those who do from fighting and I appreciate the ability to voice my opinion without casting a vote."

Despite being classified by academics as a "weak mayor," Waynesboro Mayor Richard Starliper said a lot of responsibility comes with sitting at the head of public safety in a community.

Prior to the last mayoral term, some of the local boroughs, including Mercersburg and Greencastle, struggled with police issues.

"It was a difficult time," Zeger said. "I am glad to have helped worked us through it."

Crime and police issues are still top concerns across the county, and as head of the police department, the mayor is heavily involved, said Starliper, 71.

Yet for all of the meetings, ribbon cuttings, marriages and police business, the pay for being a mayor makes the job at most a part-time endeavor, he said.

Borough code allows a borough to set the salary of its mayor every two years based on the population, said Courtney Accurti, director of communication for the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.

Starliper said he is paid $2,500 per year as the mayor of Waynesboro.

Lagiovane, the highest paid mayor in Franklin County, said he makes about $5 per hour for the few hours a day he logs each week in Chambersburg, totaling about $6,500 annually.

Eberly said he is paid $1,800 per year in Greencastle, while Zeger said he performs the duties of mayor of Mercersburg with no compensation.

While no one is challenging the incumbent mayors for their jobs in November, they said they are challenging their towns to grow over the next four years.

"We have got to get some kind of sidewalk ordinance in place," Eberly said. "That is my only goal in the next four years is to have something in place that is fair to all."

Lagiovane said he is hoping to continue downtown development.

"We cannot have a good healthy community without a strong downtown at the heart of it," he said. "I hope to see more restaurants and businesses downtown that bring more tourism and more funding our way."

In Mercersburg, Zeger said he wants to see the borough police department continue to grow.

"I would like to see us be the best police department in the county," he said. "But I also hope to work with our Chamber (of Commerce) to foster new business."

"I hope to see the completion of our downtown area," Starliper said. "I want the responsibility of being a top-rated community."

Mont Alto Mayor John Esser and Orrstown Mayor Glenn Smith also are up for re-election in November.

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