Candidates for Carbon County Commissioner and county sheriff debated during a program held Monday night at Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall. The program was broadcast live on Blue Ridge Communications TV 13.
The event was sponsored by the Lehighton 9/12 Project. The moderator was Kim Bell, general manager of Blue Ridge Communications TV 13.
The first half-hour involved the two candidates for sheriff -– Dwight Nothstein and Steve Armbruster.
Nothstein, the incumbent, is running on the Democratic ticket and Armbruster is a Republican candidate.
Most of the questions were asked by a panel of reporters: Emily Volz, TV-13; Ron Gower, TIMES NEWS; and Kerry Dowd, WMGH/WLSH radio. Other questions were submitted by the audience, and read by Bell.
Armbruster said he had ideas to fix the current problems in Carbon County and hopes to meet the changing needs of the county. One of his goals is to protect women from attackers.
Panel member Volz asked the sheriff candidates how they hope to fight the drug problem in Carbon County.
Armbruster said he plans to create a community outreach group and bring educational speakers to the county. Nothstein said he and his deputies take part in the DARE program which is a drug education program in the schools.
Armbruster then took a swipe at Nothstein, saying Nothstein is involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit with an employee in his office. Nothstein explained that since the case is ongoing, there is a gag order and that Armbruster should know that he cannot comment on an open case.
Armbruster continued to refer to the community outreach groups as a way to make changes happen in the community.
Nothstein rebutted that he had attempted to work with neighborhood watch groups and that those groups failed to work when people in the community did not participate.
Armbruster also stated that he would not take part in illegal sheriff sales.
Nothstein said he does his job and if a judge orders a sheriff sale, you cannot refuse. He noted that it was not his responsibility when people do not pay their mortgage and then the property goes into foreclosure.
Gower asked the sheriff candidates if they see their budget increasing, decreasing or staying the same.
Nothstein said he intends to keep taxes down and that he will work with his team to keep costs down.
Armbruster said that skilled people cost the county and hat he will use citizen advocates to solve problems in the county.
Bell asked if the candidates knew how the courthouse costs were funded.
Armbruster said that county employees are paid by the county and recommended that all court house positions continue to be funded that way. He suggested that college students be trained to help with security in the courthouse to lower costs.
Nothstein noted that there were no present issues with the courthouse. He said that sheriff's office employees are extensively trained and that the latest technology is used in keeping the people and the judges safe.
Volz asked what the sheriff's department should do to keep youngsters safe from online predators.
Nothstein said that parents should take responsibility for their children.
Armbruster said that it's not just a parent's problem, but a problem for the community. He recommended education and special programs that would protect kids from online predators.
Bell then asked about their views on weapons and weapon ownership.
Armbruster said that he would not require people to be residents of the county to register a weapon. He said that if a single mom from Northampton was a victim of domestic violence, he would see that she could register a weapon.
Nothstein said that the victim of domestic violence needs to get the weapon from Northampton County where she lived. He said that a weapons permit would be good in all of Pennsylvania.
Bell asked if the candidates considered themselves a statesman or a politician.
Nothstein said that he was a servant of the people and that he did not like the word politician.
Armbruster said that he was a statesman and that he would do community service and protect people's civil rights if elected.
Armbruster said that he would not perform illegal sheriff sales. He said he would do what was right.
Nothstein said that there are no illegal sheriff sales. He said that if people sign a contract and do not pay, it is not his responsibility to pay someone else's bills.
Bell introduced the four candidates for county commissioner: William O'Gurek of Summit Hill, Democrat, in his eighth year; Charles Getz of Albrightsville, Democrat, in his 16th year; Wayne Nothstein of Lehighton, Republican, in his 12th year; and Tom Gerhard of Packer Township, Republican candidate.
Gerhard said that if he is elected commissioner he would represent the people.
Nothstein said that his goal is for people to work together and start legislation that will provide property tax reform plus develop property in Palmerton to provide jobs. He also noted that something needs to be done about the drug problems in the county.
Getz said that he has accomplished a lot in 16 years and he will never forget to represent the people of the community. He said he is a servant of the people. He will try to keep taxes down. He said bringing industry into Packerton Yards and Palmerton will bring jobs to Carbon County.
O'Gurek said that since he has been commissioner, that the he has seen $5.7 million given back to the working people in Carbon County.
Volz's question about whether Packerton Yards should be put back on the tax roles sparked debate.
Nothstein said it should go back on the tax rolls as soon as possible.
Gerhard said that he felt that Packerton Yards was dead in the water and recommended that the underdeveloped Green Acres should be utilized.
O'Gurek said that Nothstein continuously supported motions to develop Packerton Yards, saying he had supported it 100 percent of the time.
Getz said that the Packerton Yards site has gas, water, sewage and rails, so it is a better site for industry.
Gower questioned whether the commissioners will see a tax increase, decrease or see taxes stay the same.
Getz said that taxes will remain the same for 2011, but after that it was hard to predict.
O'Gurek said that it was hard to predict because state and federal funding have been cut.
Nothstein said that without Weatherwood there wouldn't be funds to meet the budget.
Gerhard said that once the funds for Weatherwood run out, they would have to raise taxes.
Gower asked what their priorities were in Carbon County.
Gerhard said he would continue to support small business and suggested that everyone support small businesses whenever possible.
Nothstein said he believes that overregulation is keeping businesses and jobs out of Carbon County.
Getz said that he proposes to have the hotel tax be used to help lower real estate taxes, as it was intended to do.
O'Gurek said that a 11.2 percent unemployment rate in Carbon County, is the third highest in the state. He said that he would like to see Carbon County be a good place for people to settle down and raise a family.
Bell asked what will be done with the funds from selling Weatherwood.
Getz said with Weatherwood they were losing nearly $13,000 a day and he wanted to spend the money better. He also noted that the state needs to help fund the costs for the prison because the people should not support the jail. He suggested monitoring bracelets for prisoners to cut down on costs.
Getz noted that $4.9 million from the sale of Weatherwood went into the general fund and $2.5 million paid the short fall from the $7.4 million.
O'Gurek said that there would have been a 72 percent tax increase without the sale of Weatherwood.
Gerhard said that the county was losing $8,200 a day. He said that the employees were told that nothing would change, but for some wages were cut $4 and $5 an hour.
Nothstein said that the county lost $4.9 million and that it was mismanagement and should not have happened.
Bell questioned in hindsight, whether they would still purchase Packerton Yard?
O'Gurek said that he would because the Brown Fields can be remediated.
Getz said that he definitely would because land is not easy to come by and that possibly the land could be used as a training site for emergency workers.
Nothstein said that he appreciated the thought of a training center, but that a training center would not bring in revenue, nor would it bring jobs used as a parking lot.
As the final debate, O'Gurek questioned Gerhard, a Packer Township supervisor, if he knew the budget for Packer Township.
Gerhard answered $85,000 and then asked Gerhard what the millage was for Packer Township and how much a mill generated.
Gerhard said that he would look into the issue.
O'Gurek said that the county has a budget of $51 million versus $85,000.
Several candidates had campaign literature available in the back of the room during the event.