Backyard chickens, community engagement and pay for officeholders in Elizabethtown were among the topics of debate Thursday during a forum for candidates seeking a spot on borough council next month.
In the Nov. 7 municipal election, Democrat Bill Troutman, Republican Chris Seitz and Green Party candidate Timothy Runkle are competing in the borough’s 1st Ward.
Republican Neil Ketchum, an incumbent, and Democrat Mary Auker-Endres are competing in the 2nd Ward. And Republican Marc Hershey is unopposed for re-election in the 3rd Ward.
The forum, hosted by The Elizabethtown Advocate and the Rotary Club of Elizabethtown, was moderated by Advocate editor Dan Robrish and Paula Knudsen Burke, an investigative reporter for The Caucus. Both The Caucus and The Advocate are publications of LNP Media Group.
All the candidates in the two contested races except for Seitz participated in the forum, which touched on a range of local issues from rental properties to the wide-ranging opioid crisis.
Backyard chickens even entered the mix when a local resident asked where the candidates stand on keeping them in residential yards. All four agreed there should be a balance between allowing them and not disturbing neighbors or letting them become a health risk.
The most recurring theme throughout the night was getting constituents of the 12,000-person borough engaged in the community.
Auker-Endres, a child birth educator, repeatedly emphasized how she has engaged with the community as a candidate — through community meetings, canvassing and police ridealongs. As a councilmember, she said she’d host community gatherings that are more informal than “intimidating” council meetings.
“It’s a two-way door,” Runkle, a project manager for an envirnomental firm, said about how councilmembers should get out into the community rather than just host bi-monthly meetings.
Ketchum, a councilman and environmental consultant, defended the council meetings that are advertised publicly and said he hopes more people will join them.
Troutman, an electrician, said he’d be interested in starting a “civic innovation hub,” possibly a website or through other means, to foster ideas from constituents.
The candidates were also asked if they support the state boroughs association’s decision to seek an increase in pay for council members. Their current pay is $270 per month, which is about $10 less than the max permitted by state law, Robrish said.
Ketchum and Runkle both emphasized they don’t think council members go into it for the money, and Troutman said he’d want to learn more about the budget before answering.
Auker-Endres said she’d be more interested in the money going to the understaffed police department.
Moderators also asked the candidates what can be done about ongoing drug-related crimes in the borough that has been a part of the nationwide heroin and opioid crisis.
All four candidates said the borough’s obligation is to provide for a fully funded police force and other emergency services.
“The opiod crisis is a complex problem and borough government is only involved in a portion of that,” said Ketchum, who said the police department has a role in the countywide drug task force.
Troutman said the borough should work more on focusing on how the drugs are getting there. Auker-Endres said increasing the police force is a top priority, and Runkle noted the borough should be networking as much as it can with other counties and private groups working on the issue.