By Richard L. Gaw
There may have been four individuals speaking to an audience the New Garden Township Building on Oct. 22, but as the evening wore on, the generous overlap of their opinions made it sound as if the key issues of importance to the township were being issued by one voice.
Speaking before about 50 New Garden residents at a Chester County League of Women Voters-sponsored "Meet the Candidates" event, Mike Donovan, Randy Geouque, J. Patrick Little and Richard Zimny -- candidates for three soon-to-available positions on the township's board of supervisors -- agreed that proper fiscal management and the future of development on the Route 41 corridor take top billing as factors that could affect the future of the township.
Donovan, Geouque, Zimny and Richard Ayotte, a fourth candidate who was not present at the event, are vying to fill the two six-year term board positions soon to be vacated by outgoing supervisors Robert Perrotti and Bob Norris, in an election to be decided on Nov. 5. Little is running unopposed in the race to fill the two-year term vacated by former supervisor Warren Reynolds earlier in the year and currently occupied by Peter Scilla.
Over the course of the one-hour event, in which residents submitted questions to panel moderators, the candidates fielded questions on topics as far ranging as public transportation, preservation of farmland, 24-hour policing, and the future management of the New Garden Air Field.
Perhaps the most glaring admission of the evening was shared early, when each candidate -- except Zimny, who serves on the township's zoning hearing board -- said that they had little to no prior experience on any New Garden Township committee or volunteer effort. Using his experience as a temperature-taker to how the township runs, Zimny said that if elected, he would attempt to provide a better understanding of zoning laws to township residents, as well as support public access to township meetings and allowing the public to see publicly-posted township invoices.
The commonality of the candidates may have began with their inexperience in serving in New Garden, but it crystallized on the topics of fiscal responsibility and managed commercial growth.
Donovan, a key member of the Friends of New Garden -- who have served as both a vocal and legal adversary of the planned White Clay Point development on Gap-Newport Pike in the township -- weighed in on the topic, referring the side roads that connect to the major corridor "an absolute debacle," and called for better land management in the future. While echoing Donovan's stance on the responsibility of the board to be proper stewards of township land and hold the line on development, Geouque said that another crucial factor affecting the township will be how the board will manage its tax structure.
"How are our tax dollars being spent?" Geouque said. "Are they being used in the correct way? Are we handling our debt properly? People want to have the reassurance that their taxes are being utilized properly, every penny of it."
None of the candidates had a clear vision for a potential bus transportation system in the township, but Geouque suggested that in exploring options, the township look at what other area townships of similar size are doing to develop their own systems. Zimny called a potential bus system "a great idea," and said that the township should explore opportunities to obtain grants, as well as develop cost-sharing relationships with other local municipalities.
Although none of the candidates were able to provide clear-cut ideas on how the township should preserve its existing open space and farmland, each called for a common-sense, balanced approach between maintenance and development.
"My wife and I moved here 15 years ago because of the rolling hills and open space, so it is critical that we preserve that, but how do we go about doing it?" Geouque said. "In today's current state, it's a challenge. We had a tax increase last year. How are we going to continue that? We can keep increasing taxes to preserve open space, but is that the proven thing to do? I think we need to look at every alternative and figure out how we preserve that land, because that's why the majority of us are here."
Related to the topic of land preservation, the candidates agreed that the establishment of an environmental advisory committee would provide for added input from residents and environmental experts, as a measure of support in the face of increasing federal and local regulations. "The more support we can get from residents, the better," Zimny said. "We're going to need more eyes and ears, as well as a broad range of support from farmers, our mushroom growers and those who protect our streams."
In May of this year, the board of supervisors authorized a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage with the New Garden Police Department. Each of the candidates applauded the move, saying that the initiative is in direct line with the continued development of the township. On the topic of moving the department's current location in a converted trailer on Route 41, each candidate supported the idea that the police barracks be moved to the township building on Starr Road.
Little, who has a pilot's license, did not support the idea of establishing an airport authority at the New Garden Air Field. "I don't think you can get the airport authority to do the volume of business that they do now," he said. "I think (airport manager) Jon Martin is doing an outstanding job right now."
Before an airport authority would be set up at the air field, Geouque said that the township first explore its functions, its costs, and what possible return on investment the township could receive, through a cost-benefit analysis. Zimny said that he would prefer that the township maintain its role as the air field's primary steward. "The interests of an outside authority may not be the same interests of a township," he said.
In their closing statements, each candidate talked about the challenging issues ahead for the board. "You're going to see three new members on this board, that are going to have to work together, and in some cases, will have to make decisions that are going to affect you," Zimny said.
"Were in a difficult situation, and we need to figure out how we are going to either decrease expenses and/or increase revenue?" Geouque said. "We need to put all options on the table in order to be fiscally responsible. We're not all going to agree as residents what the best course of action is, but we need to figure out the best course of action for the majority of residents."