Election 2013: McGaw says Shamokin must draw the line on spending
SHAMOKIN - Mayoral candidate Dan McGaw doesn't feel like an outsider in the city.
The Bloomsburg native moved here more than a decade ago, around Christmastime as he recalls. Neighbors offered the newbie a seat at their table for a holiday meal.
That kindness was not lost on McGaw, who believes the people of Shamokin are the city's best asset.
"When you walk down the street everybody says 'hi' to you. Well, 'ho butt,' but at least you get a 'ho butt,'" McGaw, 54, of 506 S. Seventh St., said of the coal region lingo.
But Andy Griffiths isn't
the sheriff and Shamokin is no Mayberry. He identified areas he'd like to address if elected mayor: cleaning the downtown and expanding the farmer's market, working to capitalize on potential economic opportunities presented by the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area and, most importantly to him, keeping an eye on the city's finances.
McGaw hasn't reviewed the city's budget or the financial well-being of its general fund, and he could make no specific reference to out-of-control spending under the current leadership in City Hall. However, he believes spending must be limited.
"I am not going to spend money we don't have, period. That's it. That's the bottom line. If we don't have it we're not buying it," McGaw said in an interview with The News-Item ahead of Tuesday's general election.
No to Legion loan
He also opposes taking a $2.8 million loan to renovate the American Legion Building on Independence Street. The loan, under consideration by council members, would require a payback of more than $5 million over 40 years. The recreation millage was increased by council last December to 7.208 mills to repay the proposed loan.
"We couldn't afford to buy a diving board for the swimming pool this year, but we're going to take the money from parks and recreation to pay off a loan?" McGaw asked.
Council put off buying a new diving board in July after the old one was removed for safety reasons. Quotes from two firms were $3,400 and $3,900 for a new board. An estimated September delivery for the cheaper of the two was cited as one reason the purchase was put on hold.
As to the pool, which city officials say consistently loses money, McGaw drew the line at belt-tightening. It may lose money, he said, but it's value in providing an outlet for young and old is worth the cost. If he's elected, he said he'd donate half the mayor's $3,300 salary to the pool, the other half to the police department.
Won't take insurance
McGaw won't accept health care insurance coverage through the city; he has his own through retirement. The mayor's position is part-time, he said, as are city council positions. They're undeserving of the benefit, he said, and he would push to have city-paid health care insurance eliminated for the mayor and city council members.
The exact cost for those positions are at the center of an open records legal dispute between the city and Northumberland County Commissioner Stephen Bridy. Group benefits for council members, the mayor, controller, solicitor, community development officer and a secretary are lumped into one line item that totaled more than $121,000 in the 2013 budget.
McGaw believes the "public outcry" he anticipates if individual insurance costs are made public would be enough to spur the move. It may also keep the city from asking a county judge to exceed the maximum millage for property taxes, he said. For five straight years the city has received court approval to assess property taxes at 30 mills, 5 mills higher than allowed by law.
"It shouldn't be private; it should be told," he said of the insurance costs. "Even if you're not doing something wrong, it makes people think you're doing something wrong."
First time in politics
McGaw is a former state parole agent. He retired from the state Board of Probation and Parole after 28 years, five months. That includes time served with the U.S. Army, during which he was a military police officer.
He is divorced, the father of one adult son, and now drives truck locally.
It's his first foray into politics, he said. He calls himself a "fair, equitable" candidate, citing his background in law enforcement as one qualification. The position of mayor oversees the police department.
His opponent, Bill Milbrand, has name recognition. He's been on council the past four years and is well-known through the Independence Fire Association and his ownership of Catawese Coach Lines. His election signs are posted around town.
McGaw's signs are few and far between, but he has knocked on doors and shook hands of potential voters. And he isn't concerned that his name recognition may not be as strong as his opponent's. If anything, he believes it may help.
"I don't know that it's a bad thing being an unknown commodity," McGaw said.
A known commodity downtown is the popular Saturday morning farmers market. He wants to market it to attract more vendors and more customers.
He advocates a "spit-and-polish" method: people needing community service sweep sidewalks and streets and have the street sweeper do a once-over.
"I love going down there and walking around and seeing what's there. It's a great time, but not enough people are enjoying it. I think that's something that could be bigger. I think we could have a bigger farmers market and bring people to town for it," he said.
Two downtown restaurants opened in the last year. He said they serve good food in a good atmosphere. What they're lacking is the public's support. People must support downtown business owners he said. Part of that would be for the city to work to make the downtown more inviting. Clean it up, and if something's broken, fix it, he said.
That could help attract visitors to the AOAA if it is successful. Shamokin must find ways to get the visitors to the downtown, he said, and he believes the park will attract out-of-towners.
"Why would they not want to be at one of the largest places in the United States where people come to ride ATVs?" he said.
McGaw also advocates transparency in City Hall. Anyone looking to find out how money is spent should simply get the answers they're seeking, he said. He'd like to list expenditures in a "mayor's page" monthly in The News-Item.
"If they buy a pencil, we should know they bought a pencil," he said.