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May 15, 2013

GOP Vernon super candidates stump at candidates forum

VERNON TOWNSHIP — While candidates vying for the Republican nomination to the Vernon Township Board of Supervisors described different paths to their community’s future, they believe they ultimately have the taxpayer’s best interest in mind.

Denis Alexatos, local contractor and businessman, and Dick Astor, retired Conneaut School District superintendent and current Meadville Medical Center board member, both emphasized their loyalties to township residents, speaking to key issues at The Meadville Tribune’s candidate forum at the Vernon Township building Tuesday evening.

The third candidate seeking nomination was not present Tuesday night. About 24 hours after agreeing to participate in the forum, incumbent Supervisor Alden Hills backed out of the forum, stating his 14-year experience on the board speaks for itself.

“I’ve proved myself in the township,” Hills told the Tribune last Friday. “People know my record. I don’t think I need to debate anyone.”

Reminded on Friday that the event was not a debate between candidates and was rather a forum where candidates were given equal time to answer questions, Hills, a retired tool maker, said, “I just feel better about it if I stay away from it.”

Topics of Tuesday’s forum ranged from specific issues, including major medical development “Vernon Place,” the MMC’s building project for the former Meadville Mall property on Route 322, to general platform perspectives like the candidates’ views on economic growth.

“You have to have the basic things people want to have,” said Astor, promoting the installation of shopping areas, education centers and medical facilities to create an infrastructure which will attract people and, by proximity, new businesses. “That’s going to build this community.”

Astor cited the ability of the Yolanda G. Barco Oncology Institute to attract visitors and patients from “81 different zip codes” which he said can translate into revenue for area restaurants and hotels. By comparison, Vernon Place’s potential to house eateries and commercial shops could serve to stimulate the township’s economy.

Refuting Astor’s claims in favor of local developers getting township help to initiate projects, Alexatos believes the MMC’s largely tax-exempt status will serve to counteract its potential benefit to the township, claiming the organization’s development ate up prime property only to circumvent the township’s tax roll.

“The low tax structure is due to the developers,” he said. “It wasn’t the giant he (Astor) represents that pays no taxes. I’ve developed this township for 60 years and I don’t get free taxes.”

Not all MMC services are tax free, Astor rebutted, adding the MMC contributes roughly $3 million worth of charitable care to the community, making the development a win-win scenario for the hospital facility and local residents.

The candidates also differed on their views of zoning ordinances and enforcement within the township, with Astor in favor of the zoning board’s incumbent system and Alexatos wanting leniency.

“Being a developer, I think (the building codes) are stringent,” Alexatos said, remiss as to why residents seeking the zoning board’s approval have to pay out of pocket through the process. “I had a bad situation on (Route) 19 and wasn’t going to build again in the township.”

Alexatos referred to his now-defunct lawsuit against the township, filed in 2008, claiming he was discriminated against by township officials when he was ordered to cease a Route 19 commercial development found to be 10 feet too close to the roadway, a violation of township zoning regulations.

“Ordinances and codes are there to protect all people in the township,” Astor said. “It’s up to the supervisors to enforce (them).”

In terms of encouraging business growth and expansion, both candidates seek to realize the township’s full potential for economic success.

More growth leads to more utilization of local facilities, Astor said, such as the Port Meadville Airport, located in but not owned by Vernon Township.

“Vernon Township is growing,” Astor said, adding that more people will be attracted to the area as it develops.

“The (Airport) Authority has done wonders; they’re moving in the right direction,” Alexatos said, although he doesn’t predict much improvement over the next few years, explaining any outside interest potentially garnered is put off by cost.

The township’s welfare also extends to public services, according to both supervisor hopefuls. Alexatos voiced his support of potential police and fire department consolidation, creating joint law enforcement and firefighting forces from Vernon Township and Meadville’s respective departments for “better control over things.”

“I’m sure when they go on call, they (follow protocol) and work together,” Astor replied. “I’d leave it to them to make that call.”

Other key issues addressed at the forum included funding sought by the Meadville Area Recreation Complex, for which Astor previously vocalized support.

He called for more involvement from businesses and the community at large to aid such a “valuable resource” and expressed he would be “remiss to let it falter.”

Conversely, Alexatos said he would advise the township to take care of its own recreational facilities first, noting Vernon’s prior annual support provisions of $50,000, recently cut to $40,000.

“I think the township is well-run,” Astor concluded. “My agenda is to see the township flourish and grow and keep developing the way it is.”

“What you see is what you get,” Alexatos remarked. “I’ll do my best to serve the people. You’ll get an honest opinion from me.”

About two dozen people were in attendance at the forum, which was free and open to the public. Candidates were given set periods of time for opening and closing statements as well as answers to questions provided by the moderators, Tribune Executive Editor Pat Bywater and reporter Keith Gushard.

WMVL-FM, Cool 101.7 aired the forum live. Armstrong cable television taped the event and will play it on Channel 23 on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 10 p.m., Sunday at 1 and 8 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

No Democrats filed for the seat, according to Crawford County Voter Services. As a result, the Republican nominee is the likely winning candidate unless a write-in campaign of unprecedented success was launched in the fall. The primary election is scheduled for May 21.

You can watch

Armstrong cable television taped the Vernon Township Board of Supervisors Republican nomination forum and will play it on Channel 23 on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 10 p.m., Sunday at 1 and 8 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kfekos@meadvilletribune.com.

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