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December 06, 2016
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A new courthouse debate – ballot question proposed

Delaware Township Supervisor Tom Ryan said the rest of Pike County needs to be involved in the courthouse addition debate and proposed a ballot question.
TRR photo by David Hulse

MILFORD, PA — New voices last week joined in the Pike courthouse addition debate that has dominated county commissioners’ meetings since the beginning of the new year.

Over that period, spokespersons for the 500-member preservation-minded Concerned Pike Taxpayers (CPT) group have been questioning and calling for alternatives to county plans for the addition, in particular the demolition or removal of the Kenworthy Building in the borough’s National Historic Preservation District.

The commissioners’ basic response has been that alternatives that the group seeks would add an unreasonable new project cost of $1.4 million for utility relocations. The county is also negotiating with Verizon about who would pay to relocate utility lines. Additionally, the county position is that the borough’s architectural review board, which oversees the historic district, is the place to debate the future of the Kenworthy Building.

On March 19, as the debate was renewed, Delaware Township Supervisor Tom Ryan said that after listening to months of debate, it was time for “the whole county to be represented. We’ve heard from 500. Fifty thousand haven’t been heard from.”

Ryan said residents in the county’s southerly townships, who have been hard-hit by property value losses and tax sales in the current recession “don’t want to hear about new taxes. The new expenses to be incurred by the people of the county far exceed the value of the Kenworthy Building.”

Saying it was time to engage the rest of the county in the discussion, Ryan proposed that issue become a ballot question.

Commissioner Rich Caridi confirmed that “if you’ve got 350 qualified voters favoring it, (the question) goes on the ballot as a non-binding resolution.”

Commissioner Karl Wagner agreed with Ryan. “I’m tired of hearing the same questions and the same answers. I’ve read the minutes of meetings where I have been absent and they are the same questions and answers as before,” he said.

Wagner, an attorney, said the county would not litigate the utility costs in court. “I know what litigation entails—level after level of litigation. I’m not going to get involved in litigation.”

Saying hers was a “struggling family” with two kids, Blooming Grove resident and county employee Tammi Gillette said she had taken personal time to attend the meeting. She said the commissioners were trying to “hold the line,” and “99% are being pushed around by 1% for personal and financial interests.”

Milford native and Shohola Supervisor Keith Raser said Milford was not the same place that it was years ago. He recalled that, “The old Vandermark Hotel was knocked down [for the construction of county administration building] and there was no uproar. We’re in the administration building and it looks fine. It’s time to do it,” he said of the court addition. “We’ll do a good job and it will look fine. I agree with Mr. Wagner that we’ve exhausted the conversation.”

CPT spokesman Bill Kiger said, “Getting back to the point, the building is overbuilt, it costs too much and it’s in a National Historic District. We’ve offered to negotiate since December and you have rejected it.”

County Solicitor Tom Farley said Pike has answered CPT engineering questions and the group wanted behind-the-scenes talks. “Does that mean that these people cannot be present? That’s unacceptable.”