by Jonathan Weaver
More than a dozen Armstrong County Commissioner candidates expressed their views on about a half-dozen topics during a community forum last night.
More than 120 local residents listened to the 14 candidates present state their viewpoints in one minute regarding county wages, Clean and Green rates and job creation.
Most of the candidates agreed that the office of commissioner is and should be a full-time job when three of them fill the vacant seats in January 2016, but they had varying opinions on how to bring jobs into Armstrong County and if Keystone Opportunity Zones (KOZ) should be expanded to help.
Roy Morrison, of Apollo said expanding the industrial park is one of the easiest ways to attract new businesses, but others disagreed.
Paul Rearick – a current Manor Township supervisor – and Keith Williamson – a former Worthington Borough councilman – said that Keystone Opportunity Zones have not worked to strengthen the county and opposed expansion
“KOZ’s have produced marginal results – why invest more money to get the same result? It doesn’t make sense,” Williamson said.
Fellow Manor Township Supervisor Pat Fabian and Candidate Mel Marin, of Ford City, have seen KOZ’s fill the Manor Township business park – such as with Steve’s Auto Body and Projectile Tube -, but said Keystone Opportunity Zones are ideal for every municipality.
“They all have their advantages and disadvantages, but those need to be assessed community by community, property by property,” Fabian said.
Jason Renshaw, of Freeport, also was not in favor of dedicating more land as Keystone Opportunity Zones.
“That’s work with what we have and get them operating and filled up,” Renshaw said. “We need to get businesses in there – whatever we can do to attract them, we need to do that. Adding more is not going to do any good.”
Corporate net income taxes, capital stock and franchise taxes and sales taxes, among others, from the municipality, school district and county will all be withheld from business expenses for up to 10 years should a company move into such Keystone Opportunity Zone properties once they are vacant.
Armstrong County currently has five designated KOZ’s: the Northpointe Industrial Park in Freeport, the West Hills Industrial Park in East Franklin Township, the Manor Township Business Park in Manor Township, along the Allegheny River in Ford City Borough and along the Kiskiminetas River in Apollo Borough.
Keystone Opportunity Zones were instituted by county commissioners in 1999. About 570 acres are currently designated areas for 10-year tax breaks.
Incumbent Commissioner David Battaglia, of Rayburn Township, said he preferred approving Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, or LERTAs – a schedule that would start with no business taxes but increase by 10 percent each year for 10 years.
David Croyle, of Kittanning, Fabian and Renshaw all said they have personally talked with municipal leaders or different businesses in the past two years about moving into the local area.
“Jobs are central to what we do if we want to move the county ahead,” Croyle said. “I believe so much in being able to network and market the county through personal representation, not just depending on a marketing plan or a brochure.”
Patricia Kirkpatrick, of Cowanshannock Township said officials must first keep local businesses thriving in the area, and then find businesses in the same fashion without losing taxes through Keystone Opportunity Zones.
“It’s about relationships: you walk in the door, they should be able to recognize you,” Kirkpatrick said.
County Republican Committee Chairman Michael Baker listened from the audience as the eight Republican candidates spoke on the issues
“I think they all hit on the key areas on voters’ minds – jobs, taxes and trying to cut spending,” Baker said.
Jollene Depner, of North Buffalo Township, travels 122 miles per day roundtrip to work in the pathology department at Jefferson Hospital in the South Hills. She said she learned more from listening to and seeing the candidates rather than just reading about their opinions.
“I’m very interested in hearing if Armstrong County is going to pull jobs here. I do a lot of traveling – I love my job, and that’s not to say I’d come back, but I’m always curious if they know about people like me,” Depner said. “If you don’t have the choice here, you have to go somewhere else.”
The evening was organized by Val Houston and Bob Iseman – both past Armstrong County Farm Bureau directors. Both said the event was successful and were pleased with the turnout.