The candidates for Bedford County commissioner gave their responses to some of the current issues facing the county.

Four Republicans: Charwin Reichelderfer of Bedford, Josh Lang of Everett, Barry Dallara of New Paris and David Copley of East Providence Township are seeking two seats; Deb Baughman of Saxton is the lone Democratic candidate on the ballot.

The candidates were asked to respond to these questions:

Would you agree to an increase in the room tax as the Bedford County Visitors Bureau has requested? The commissioners are empowered to set the room tax and the bureau members have asked that the room tax increase from its current level of 2 percent to 5 percent. They say they are at a disadvantage when it comes to promoting tourism in the county as other neighboring counties have tax rates at 5 percent. Would you agree to increase to any room tax increase at all?

Bedford County’s warden has appealed to the commissioners to increase wages for corrections officers to decrease the turnover at the jail. (Troy) Nelson said the turnover rate jumped from 43 percent in 2017 to 72 percent in 2018. The rate has increased each year dating back to when it was 20.5 percent in 2015, he said. What’s the solution to the turnover rate?

Gov. (Tom) Wolf wants to decertify voting machines and make sure all are replaced by 2020. Pennsylvania’s counties where paper-ballot or paper-backup machines are used have complained that they should not be forced to switch. But Wolf’s administration has maintained that those machines are aging, lack continuing support for their software and hardware and will be more expensive in the future to replace. If Bedford County must replace its machines in the next year or near future, what is your plan to secure machines that can verify a voter’s intent?

There is a concern that Bedford County’s population is aging and that youth leave the area once they are done with high school or college. The planning commission in its annual report states the county had a median age of 45.9 in 2017, having increased from 39.5 in 2000. The number of residents 65 and older increased from 8,243 to 9,476 in 2010, according to the Census. Do you agree that is a problem and if so, how can that start to be addressed?

Poor cell phone coverage and lack of broadband — they are two topics that residents in the county deal with every day. It’s a safety concern and it also is a hurdle for business owners who need the service or for entrepreneurs who need the service to launch a business. There’s a new regional broadband task force but what will you do to improve these services in the county?

Are there other issues you would like to address?

The responses of the candidates will begin with the Republicans as they are listed on the May 21 ballot. Baughman’s responses will follow Copley’s. The questions were abbreviated when appearing with the responses.

———

Charwin

Reichelderfer

Age: 68

Hometown: Bedford

Occupation: Bedford County Sheriff

Would you agree to an increase in the room tax as the Bedford County Visitors Bureau has requested?

I was approached by several individuals specifically to not agree to a 5% room tax. After doing my own research, I must agree on raising the room tax. We have the lowest tax in the state and must let our tourist bureau be competitive. Our tourism along with agriculture, small businesses, manufacturers, and warehousing makes our county viable. We must grow our county not stifle it! Let the business people run the tourist bureau not our county government.

Bedford County’s warden has appealed to the commissioners to increase wages for corrections officers to decrease the turnover at the jail. What’s the solution to the turnover rate?

Raise the wages! As an example — in my office as sheriff, I have lost all of my senior deputies due to low wages. In a majority of my exit talks, they would have stayed if they were paid more. I have heard all the commissioners’ excuses. It’s a shame we as a county are at the bottom of all 6th class counties in pay scales. Across the board, it is an embarrassment that some county employees qualify for state aid. Over the years between the prison, sheriff’s office, and all offices for that matter, have lost hundreds of thousands of tax dollars in training. That is not a good way to do business and literally waste tax dollars.

If Bedford County must replace its voting machines in the next year or near future, what is your plan to secure machines that can verify a voter’s intent?

That plan, from my understanding, is currently already in progress. It would be my responsibility, if elected, to go forth and support the current effort on using the machine procurement that is in place. I sincerely hope Gov. Wolf sends a check to cover his mandate.

There is a concern that Bedford County’s population is aging and that youth leave the area once they are done with high school or college. Do you agree that is a problem and if so, how can that start to be addressed?

We need to do exit questionnaires with high school seniors to seek out their point of view and needs. Business/Vo Tech partnerships for training and trade schools to train skills would possibly be a start. In my opinion, our youth leaving has been around for decades. It seems all that has been done is talk about it. We need to try to solve the situation.

Poor cell phone coverage and lack of broadband —they are two topics that residents in the county deal with every day. What will you do to improve these services in the county?

The task force is in place and is apparently trying to address the problem. One person cannot solve the problem more so than a task force. My roll would be to get on board and function with the team in place. I have no magic answer and no one else has either or it would have been solved years ago, not just being worked on in the short period leading up to an election cycle.

Are there other issues you would like to address?

A. Address the major parking problem around the courthouse and garage.

B. Fix the leaking upper deck of the parking garage that has been leaking since around 2013. Lack of repairs will cause structural issues.

C. Fix the heating and cooling system in the courthouse complex that hasn’t worked right since it opened. A lot of wasted tax dollars.

D. Insulate & repair rotted windows in the old courthouse & Timmons Hospital buildings. A tremendous energy loss is occuring costing tax dollars.

All these problems should have been addressed. Current attitude is “kick the can down the road”!

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Josh Lang

Age: 32

Hometown: Everett

Occupation: Bedford County Commissioner

Would you agree to an increase in the room tax as the Bedford County Visitors Bureau has requested?

As a County Commissioner, my responsibility is to listen and represent the interest of all citizens. There have been many people and groups who have voiced their opposition of the proposed tax increase, including hotels that collect the majority of the tax. As I continue to conduct my due diligence, I believe this is an ideal time for the Visitor’s Bureau to gather feedback from all parts of the county, so that their concerns are heard. We must work together for the betterment of its citizens.

Bedford County’s warden has appealed to the commissioners to increase wages for corrections officers to decrease the turnover at the jail. What’s the solution to the turnover rate?

I am proud to be endorsed by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the organization that represents these employees due to our positive relationship we have developed. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the work at a correctional facility, our facility is not immune to turnover. I will continue working with my colleagues and employee stewards to find solutions that address turnover in the most fiscally responsible way possible.

If Bedford County must replace its voting machines in the next year or near future, what is your plan to secure machines that can verify a voter’s intent?

Gov. Wolf wants to decertify voting machines and make sure all are replaced by 2020. Pennsylvania’s counties where paper-ballot or paper-backup machines are used have complained that they should not be forced to switch. But Wolf’s administration has maintained that those machines are aging, lack continuing support for their software and hardware and will be more expensive in the future to replace.

There is a concern that Bedford County’s population is aging and that youth leave the area once they are done with high school or college. Do you agree that is a problem and if so, how can that start to be addressed?

This is an issue that requires the entire county working together. There are no short term solutions to reverse the trend. I supported the largest comprehensive plan in PA history. This plan focuses many goals, such as implementing cell phone/broadband service, adding attractions, and providing entrepreneurial opportunities. These goals are currently in full swing. I will continue to invest in youth priorities and work with individuals and organizations to attract young people in our area.

Poor cell phone coverage and lack of broadband — they are two topics that residents in the county deal with every day. What will you do to improve these services in the county?

Since being a county commissioner, I have lobbied for cell phone/broadband service. Unfortunately, it took the train derailment in Hyndman to prove even further the need for service. The County Commissioner lobbied for a tower in Hyndman and expect a cell tower to be implemented in the near future. We just signed a cooperative agreement to begin the process of implementing additional services throughout the county and I am prepared to invest in this initiative.

Are there other issues you would like to address?

As your county commissioner, I will continue being someone who get the jobs done that needs to be done. I will be fiscally responsible and continue to be transparent. I will work with individuals and organizations to benefit the entire county. This is what it means to live a life of public service. I represent all facets of the community. I want to be your Commissioner to continue moving Bedford County forward — together.

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Barry Dallara

Age: 72

Hometown: Alum Bank

Occupation: Bedford County Commissioner

Would you agree to an increase in the room tax as the Bedford County Visitors Bureau has requested?

A significant increase in the so called hotel tax rate should result in a significant increase in the number of travelers that visit our entire county. I do not believe the proposal presented to the board of commissioners will accomplish that goal. I believe there are better examples of how other county TPA’s use the funds more effectively and should be given greater consideration by the BCVB Board. If we are going to give $1,250,000 annually to the BCVB, there must be greater accountability with regard to if the funds expended do in fact increase tourism in our county. It would also be appropriate that a minimum, hotels that collect 75% of the tax should support any proposed increase.

Bedford County’s warden has appealed to the commissioners to increase wages for corrections officers to decrease the turnover at the jail. What’s the solution to the turnover rate?

We will need to increase wages of the BCCF corrections officers as soon as we are permitted to do so in accordance with the county code. The current contract expires on December 31,2020. Until then we are exploring the concept of recruiting and retention incentives that if permitted by law could possibly reduce the BCCF turnover rate. This is not a problem limited to Bedford County. In America today and in Bedford County, there are more job openings than there are applicants to fill them. Workers today have a greater ability to increase their wages than they have for 50 years.

If Bedford County must replace its voting machines in the next year or near future, what is your plan to secure machines that can verify a voter’s intent?

The current board of commissioners has declared that whatever the law requires us to do, we will comply to ensure that votes cast by our voters are counted. We will insist that the state certify that our voting machines meet whatever standards that are set. We do however feel that if the Gov. wants to act unilaterally with regards to a voting machine mandate that he provide the funding necessary to comply with his mandate. Otherwise we as county taxpayers will be required to fund an expenditure of approximately $700,000.

There is a concern that Bedford County’s population is aging and that youth leave the area once they are done with high school or college. Do you agree that is a problem and if so, how can that start to be addressed?

Yes this is a reality that will significantly impact our county for the next 10 years. It will take time to implement strategies that will impact this trend. It will require significant investments in programs that attract and retain our youth and young adults. We will also need to Invest in our infrastructure both electronic and physical to support an increase in commerce and bring opportunities for prosperity throughout the county to reverse the trend of outmigration.

Poor cell phone coverage and lack of broadband — they are two topics that residents in the county deal with every day. What will you do to improve these services in the county?

The PA FirstNet is a dedicated broadband network for public safety, the planned cell site in Hyndman is the first of such sites in the state and will save lives and support first responders and will expand cell phone service in that part of the county. Additionally, The current board of commissioners has set aside $500,000.00 to support the expansion of e-connectivity for broadband and high speed internet access. We are a member of a regional consortium to enhance our ability to attract private sector companies to invest in our electronic infrastructure. We are ahead of many other rural counties in developing greater cell service availability.

Are there other issues you would like to address?

The opioid addiction epidemic is destroying individuals and families at an exponential pace and must be addressed more aggressively and effectively than in the past. Our children and youth services are being overwhelmed by this crisis. Stronger enforcement and punishment for those selling and distributing controlled substances for financial gain, coupled with alternatives to incarceration for those plagued with addiction need to be reviewed and updated by our judicial system.

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David Copley

Age: 57

Hometown: Everett

Occupation: Para-transit driver for Med-Van Transport; retired state police

Would you agree to an increase in the room tax as the Bedford County Visitors Bureau has requested?

A 5% room tax is essential for Bedford County tourism promotion. Act 18 of 2016 authorized the higher tax rate and clearly delineates that those funds shall be used for marketing in three specific areas. Tourism grants may be awarded to entities, however; a cash or in-kind local match of at least 25% is required. BCVB’s plan for utilization of these funds is sound and has my support. We pay this tax when we stay in other counties.

Bedford County’s warden has appealed to the commissioners to increase wages for corrections officers to decrease the turnover at the jail. What’s the solution to the turnover rate?

The CO turnover rate at the prison is due largely to the very low wages afforded by the County. Low wages also are contributing to high turnover with deputy sheriffs as well. Past commissioners have intentionally repressed wages for county employees, presumably to keep taxes low and help their reelection. We must pay county employees a living wage and have a pay scale commensurate with other sixth class counties. I will work hard to improve morale and engage in fair labor negotiations.

If Bedford County must replace its voting machines in the next year or near future, what is your plan to secure machines that can verify a voter’s intent?

Governor Wolf’s voting machine directive was made without input from the legislature and definitely not from the counties. The 2016 Persidential Election looms large in the background as the impetus for voting machines changes. The 2020 deadline is unrealistic and this would be another unfunded mandate from the state to the county. Elections are the sinew of our Republic. Fair and honest elections are vital and I would support a system utilizing paper ballots and no connection to the internet. The legislature has at least nine bills introduced relative to elections currently.

There is a concern that Bedford County’s population is aging and that youth leave the area once they are done with high school or college. Do you agree that is a problem and if so, how can that start to be addressed?

Bedford County has a significant number of retired individuals and the median age of residents is inching up. We need to bring good paying jobs to the county and it’s obvious that our large business recruitment efforts are not paying off. Milepost 1 of the I-99 Corridor is in Bedford County and that’s where we need to bring jobs, not to Blair and Centre counties. Better paying jobs would allow our youth to be employed here and bring young people to our are, increasing the tax base and economic picture. We need to look to the future and develop our economy accordingly.

Poor cell phone coverage and lack of broadband — they are two topics that residents in the county deal with every day. What will you do to improve these services in the county?

Cell phone coverage and accessibility to broadband is critical to public safety and a good economy. We are well into the 21st century and need to develop the infrastructure to provide these services. The recent train derailment in Hyndman personified the real need for cell/internet. Railroad officials and high profile politicians experienced that need and promised to get it. I would work with the regional broadband task force and would rally fellow citizens to demand these services as provided for by PUC Chpater 30. Cell service, along the Turnpike and I-99, needs to be expanded into the rural areas.

Are there other issues you would like to address?

If elected, I will be looking at how effective and efficiently county services are being delivered. I also will look at the various agencies and boards associated with the county to ensure that they are functioning properly. As a represenatative of the citizen taxpayers, it is my duty to ensure that the county is functioning within the law and providing the services required by the State Constitution and county code, as well as other applicable laws. I intend to bring full transparency of county operations to the people and seek their input before making decisions that impact them.

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Deb Baughman

Age: 64

Hometown: Saxton

Occupations: Retired Career and Work Education Teacher

Would you agree to an increase in the room tax as the Bedford County Visitors Bureau has requested?

I support raising the hotel tax to 5%. All but two counties in Pennsylvania charge a hotel tax. Of those 65 counties that do, we stand alone with a 2% hotel tax rate. When our folks stay in other parts of the state, they pay a tax used to increase that county’s tourism. However, our county is not receiving the same benefit when visitors stay in our rooms. I believe it is foolish to leave over half a million in new hotel tax revenue on the table when it could be invested in Bedford County.

Bedford County’s warden has appealed to the commissioners to increase wages for corrections officers to decrease the turnover at the jail. What’s the solution to the turnover rate?

If we are going to keep working families in Bedford County, we must address low wages countywide. For corrections officers specifically — yes, they need a wage increase. How much will depend on how wages compare with other similar counties. A 72% turnover rate is unacceptable, as well as the employee replacement and training costs to the taxpayer.

If Bedford County must replace its voting machines in the next year or near future, what is your plan to secure machines that can verify a voter’s intent?

Providing for our country’s defense and protecting the integrity of our elections, is a core function of government. Citizens must have confidence in our election process. In our 6th class county, why not be able to use paper ballots exclusively, decertify the non-verifiable machines and stagger their replacement over a period of several years? The cost to replace all machines for 2020 will be approximately $600,000, or $12/person based on current population. While the state is expected to pay some of the costs, without the ability to tap into a county capital reserve fund, there would be little recourse but to borrow or raise taxes. Neither is appealing. At the state level, election code changes such as voting by mail could also lower county costs. I hope our commissioners are already working with state partners on a workable solution. 2020 is almost here.

There is a concern that Bedford County’s population is aging and that youth leave the area once they are done with high school or college. Do you agree that is a problem and if so, how can that start to be addressed?

The problem isn’t who is here, but who isn’t. We are losing our younger generation. Simply looking at current county school enrollment, we have 25% fewer 1st graders than 12th graders. This decline of young workers and families affects the tax base and the future potential of our county. It impacts all of us. The good news is growth is moving west from the southeast. It is almost at our county’s doorstep. To seize this opportunity, we must improve infrastructure- especially countywide broadband and cell service; create communities where people want to live- including recreation and leisure options; and provide diverse educational and employment options to allow residents to earn family-sustaining wages.

Poor cell phone coverage and lack of broadband — they are two topics that residents in the county deal with every day. What will you do to improve these services in the county?

If this was easy, it would already be done. It seems we keep having “studies”. Our county is being held back, and it is adding to our population decline. We can’t wait years for a solution. Broadband and cell service is an expectation of modern life- like electricity. Schools, healthcare, business, agriculture, public safety all depend on it. Some areas have no service at all. I believe the recently formed regional cooperative is the way to go. Rural counties need to band together to have more clout. This issue is my number one priority because it strongly impacts our rural economy and quality of life. Making sure it stays a priority for government officials, partners and providers will be my daily goal.

Are there other issues you would like to address?

Communication with residents: In addition to attending events and meetings, I think it is important for commissioners to be out of the office and into all townships and boroughs on a regular and informal basis to hear concerns from residents and local officials.

Contact Elizabeth Coyle at ecoyle@bedfordgazette.com; 623-1151, ext. 105.

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