Mayor profile: Bernie Novakoski
KULPMONT - Bernie Novakoski was elected mayor two months ago, but today is the day things will change.
He takes the oath of office this evening, and that, he says, is when his work will begin.
"I'll let you know how I feel after a year on the job," he joked last week.
The 68-year-old retired union tradesmen said he's been involved in politics since he was 16, but it was his second try for mayor that earned him his first stint in public office.
In 2009, he lost a write-in campaign. In the 2012 primary, he earned the Democratic nomination by defeating Nicholas Goretski III, but the same two men tied for the Republican vote. A random drawing of lots gave Novakoski the Republican nomination, too, and the battle for Kulpmont's mayoral race was effectively over in May.
Novakoski said he had a simple reason for running.
"I want to see what I can bring to the table, help out my community," he said.
The building issue
He said Kulpmont residents haven't been asking too much about the issues since November, only because he told them he wasn't yet on the job.
As far as what he wants to do in office, his first priority is to "find out who's on what team."
"You talk to one guy, he tells you one thing. You talk to this guy and then the two get together and they say something else," he said.
However, he knows one problem that is looming larger than any - construction of a new borough complex.
"I finally got to see some of the drawings," Novakoski said. "I'm going to keep expressing to these guys (council members) that they don't work for the architect; the architect works for them," he said. "I've dealt with them in the past," he said of architects.
Novakoski said in the little time he's looked at the plans, he has already seen ways to save money.
"In the parking lot, there's a plan to put a divider in the middle with flowers and trees," he said. "What do you need to spend money on that for?"
The plan to build a new borough building has several vocal critics who contend taxpayers can't afford the $1.47 million loan it will take to do so. They said repairs can be made to the current facility, but council has said that isn't practical.
Council tonight is expected to approve a 4.5-mill property tax increase to help balance the $2.098 million 2014 budget. The millage boost would mean an average tax increase of $35 to $40 for property taxes, it has been reported.
A new chief?
Novakoski acknowledges the borough has problems, and he wants to employ a team effort to address them.
"We have a housing problem with the landlords to work on, and with the pedestrian crossing," he said, the latter an issue of citizens safely crossing Route 61. "I watched people waiting for 45 minutes to cross because the traffic wouldn't slow down," he said.
If there is a first priority, it's getting a new chief of police in place.
"I have expressed an idea who I would like to have on the job, and I made my recommendations," Novakoski said. "I hope we can set that up on Monday."
The borough has been without a chief since Richard Wilson III retired from the force in July, a week after the department was placed "out of service" because its previous police liability insurance carrier announced it was not renewing the borough's policy. The discontinuation was reportedly linked to a civil rights lawsuit brought against the borough and Wilson over the treatment of a female the chief took into custody in 2011.
At the time, Patrolman Michael Pitcavage was named officer in charge.
Ready to work
Since the spring election, Novakoski has attended every borough council meeting to observe and learn.
"I don't know what all the issues are, but I know that come Jan. 6, I'll be ready to work with borough council on them," he said.