Six candidates are vying for four open seats on Kulpmont Borough Council in Tuesday’s primary election. With Councilman George Malakoski not running for re-election, three seats are available for four-year terms, while one two-year term spot is up for grabs.
Meet the candidates
Democratic Councilman Bob Chesney is seeking re-election for a two-year term on council. He decided to run because he said there are numerous projects that the current council has begun and he wants to continue to see them “moving forward in the right direction.”
Chesney has worked closely with members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up the J.H. & C.K. Eagle Silk Mill and said he wants the opportunity to see it through completion. Work done in tearing down the two smoke stacks and cleaning asbestos from the boiler rooms is a topic of pride for Chesney.
With the tackling of the mill property, Chesney said council is now able to focus on other blighted properties that have been pushed aside in the past, such as buildings on the 900 block of Chestnut Street. Absentee landlords have made dealing with dilapidated properties difficult, but council is working on tracking them down and holding them accountable for cleaning up the properties, Chesney said.
“It will take a little more time, and I think that the team that we have is working very well together. I think a lot of progress has been made in a year and a half. How far we’ve come is even a little bit surprising because all of us are fairly new at this game, but we’re learning what can be done and the appropriate way of doing it,” he said.
Newcomer Joseph J. Dowkus II is doubling his chances of serving on council by running on the Republican ballot for both a four-year term and a two-year term. At 32 years old, he said he’s a younger homeowner within the borough and doesn’t see those within his peer group represented.
Dowkus doesn’t believe there is enough transparency between the council and citizens and he would like to see more people being held accountable for their roles within local government. While he regularly attends meetings, he said he believes a lot of decisions are being made behind closed doors and residents don’t learn what is going on until they read it in the newspaper or hear about it throughout the borough.
He said he believes much has been neglected in the past and now the borough is filled with dilapidated properties and trash. Citizens needs to be held more accountable for cleaning up their properties because issuing fines to owners hasn’t fixed the problem.
Apart from blight, one of the most important issues facing the borough is a lack of businesses, Dowkus said, adding the borough looks run-down due to closed storefronts falling into neglect.
Building up the Kulpmont Police Department was a positive for the borough, and Dowkus said not only does he support hiring a fourth police officer but he believes the borough needs to move to 24-hour police coverage. The “severity of some of the situations” police face in the borough need to have an eye kept on them at all times, he said.
Also appearing on the Democratic ballot for both a four-year term and a two-year term is former councilman Stephen Motyka, who said his main reason for running is his belief that many things were left undone after his final term on council in 2017.
Motyka took on many community projects as councilman and said he’s continued in his time since leaving council. He believes the borough was successful in organizing volunteers and getting projects done at a reduced cost and he wants to bring back the use of volunteers to better the borough.
Motyka said the way to approach improving the borough is through applying for grants, which is something he was instrumental in when serving on council. Since leaving council, he said he sent numerous grant opportunities to council but saw none of them acted on.
In addition to his numerous project undertakings, Motyka said during his time on council he was most proud of moving the borough building from the former Wilson school to its current location at the former East End Fire Co., which is saving the borough $30,000 a year on utilities alone.
A 3-mill tax increase required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to acquire a grant for the renovations of borough hall was never put toward the borough building, allowing council to use the extra money on items such as police coverage, he said.
Motyka left council with a budget surplus, which he said he thinks the current council has been “spending carefree.” At the current spending status, he believes the borough will eventually see a tax increase in order to maintain a four-officer police department.
Another former council member running on the Democratic ticket for both a four-year and two-year term is Greg A. Sacavage, who served on borough council from 1986 to 1994. Sacavage, the athletic director at Mount Carmel Area School District, said his many years of public service in the community, county and school district would benefit the citizens of Kulpmont.
Sacavage said he wants to be part of the equation to help the citizens as best he can and he’s ready to provide his services to the borough without any agenda.
As a former council member, Savage said he has working knowledge of municipal government and has worked with budgets. His work in the school district has also made him familiar with many families in Kulpmont and the difficulties they are facing. Sacavage said he can help them now only educationally but will be able to do so on a municipal level if elected to council.
The biggest challenges facing Kulpmont are limited resources and increased services and, despite a decreasing population, the borough has just as many needs. The trouble is finding a way to provide services while maintaining fiscal responsibilities, he said.
When he served on council, Sacavage said they got the ball rolling in tackling blight by working with the Northumberland County Housing Authority, a partnership that continues today. The problem is larger than in 1986 and he’s not sure where to begin with it, but said he’d be happy to sit down with people to come up with the best idea for the borough.
Sacavage believes there is a need for 24-hour police coverage in the borough and believes Kulpmont needs to keep its identity through keeping the police department staffed with four officers. If elected to council, he would look at ways to fill in the gaps between coverage through potentially working with neighboring municipalities.
Seeking re-election to his current seat is Republican Walter Lutz, current council president. Lutz said he’s proud of the work accomplished by the current council, but there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done.
High on his list is a continued fight against blight. Clean-up work done at the mill is one of the things he’s most proud of from his time on council, and he’s happy to see two buildings on the 900 block of Chestnut Street be knocked down in the near future. Lutz said he put together a memorandum for 10 additional properties to be torn down, should the borough be able to secure the money.
Lutz said when the current council took over in 2018, the borough was facing a severe deficit that has since been “managed in a professional manner” and, through the use of QuickBooks for all borough finances, council ended up with a surplus.
He believes council has instilled more transparency, as well, with the ability to provide financial statements and in dealings with the public. While meetings are sparsely attended, council hosts two town hall meetings a year and also puts together an article for the newspaper every six months on what is transpiring within the borough.
Lutz said if re-elected, he will continue building up the current police force and working toward full-time police coverage. He said he looked at the projected budget and the borough is capable of maintaining four officers through at least 2021.
Seeking a four-year term is Republican Robert Slaby, who was appointed to council to replace Keith Tamborelli, who resigned from council in April 2017. Slaby said he decided to run on the encouragement of the current council and because with his past experience of serving 12 years as mayor of Kulpmont gives him an advantage in working with a municipal government.
Since leaving the mayoral office in 2010, Slaby said he’s noticed blight increase significantly within the borough and believes council has done a good job in dealing with the issue. He would like to continue fighting blight and believes strong code enforcement can help if done in the early stages.
He said council has conducted a “supreme effort” at dealing with blight throughout the borough, taking a proactive position to go after property owners and hold them accountable.
When he served as mayor, he wanted to have a full-time police department and said he’s still looking in that direction. He’s pleased with council for building up the department and supports seeking a fourth police officer.
He still believes full-time coverage would be ideal for the borough and would like to look into ways to make that happen, such as employing a few part-time officers.
With his 12 years of service as mayor, current position on the council and employment as city administrator of Shamokin, Slaby said his experience helps him considerably in making recommendations to his fellow council members in Kulpmont.