Jim Thorpe Borough is one heck of a community, according to the candidates for mayor and borough council who appeared in a two-hour Candidate's Debate Wednesday evening at the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
The forum, hosted by the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce, invited all the borough candidates to sit at a common table and answer questions from the public.
The debate, organized as written questions from the audience with responses from two randomly selected panelists, was anchored by Dan Hugos, president of the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce.
The candidates seemed to know one another, largely to have worked together over the years, and spoke in praise of one another. Even the most high-profile mayor's race, pitting Democrat Jeremy Melber and Republican Michael Sofranko, came down to who would treat the other to tickets to the Yankees baseball game.
The candidates were Republican Mayoral candidate Michael Sofranko; Justin Yaich, Democrat; Ammon Hontz, Republican; Kyle Sheckler, cross-endorsed; Donald Reese, Democrat; Dan Rimsky, Republican; Joanne Klitsch, Republican; Gregory Strubinger, Democrat; and Democrat mayoral candidate Jeremy Melber.
Sofranko joked that the chamber must have moved the two mayoral candidates to opposite corners in anticipation of a battle.
It was far from a debate battle as the candidate praised the fact that Jim Thorpe was voted number seven of the Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel Magazine.
An issue that struck a chord among the candidates was whether a borough manager should be hired. The censuses of the candidates was that the existing system – including managing day-to-day the evolving borough by council members – needs to change.
As the council members are not full-time employees of the borough, they have to strain their schedules to be available to cover events at every hour of every business day to negotiate, manage, and approve the personal, financial operations, and construction projects in the borough.
Several candidates noted that by not having a borough manager, it is both hard on the council members and provides poor oversight of borough activities, which were noted to have suffered financially because of such oversight. They generally agreed that a borough manager was necessary if an acceptable method of funding could be agreed upon.
Many questions from the audience were about on the downtown area, where most of the members of the chamber have their shops, and focused on traffic and water issues.
The traffic issues cited included the speeding on Broadway and congestion at the Broadway and Susquehanna intersection. The water issue concerned rainwater accumulating at the curbs and running onto the sidewalks.
Regarding speeding on Broadway, Sofranko suggested leaving a police cruiser at Broadway, citing that just seeing the vehicle would motivate people to slow down. He added that doing this, and periodically putting an officer in the vehicle would be a low cost and effective deterrent.
As to the traffic issue, there was disagreement whether the changes made to the intersection have helped. By and large, there was a general feeling that since these are state roads – plus they are affected by traffic going over the Rt. 903 Bridge – much of what needs to be done requires coordination with the state. The same general feeling applied to the water problems on Broadway.
After the two-hour forum, each candidate thanked the chamber, and Hugos invited them to meet with the audience over refreshments.