The voters of Lower Merion's Ward 7 in Wynnewood (and Penn Wynne), will choose their Board of Commissioners representative on Tuesday: either Democratic incumbent Liz Rogan, president of the Board, Republican challenger Beth Ladenheim.
To learn more about the candidates ahead of Tuesday's election, Patch asked both the same questions, via email on Thursday. Both were gracious enough to respond by Sunday afternoon.
Their answers, edited only for Patch editorial style, are below.
Rogan and Ladenheim Oct. 17.
Tell us in the comments for whom you plan to cast your vote.
- Elizabeth (Liz) Rogan, 53, of Holly Lane in Wynnewood
- Beth Ladenheim, 52, of Remington Road in Wynnewood
- ROGAN: Certified professional (AICP) in planning and community design; president of the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners.
- LADENHEIM: Homemaker, Community Volunteer, Part-time Dance Fitness Instructor, former masters’ degree Dance/Movement Therapist.
What’s the most important issue that is specific to your ward?
ROGAN: The feedback I receive varies widely and generally relates to what’s going on in each person’s life. Overall, I believe residents in Ward 7 want to know that the quality of their lives and the character of our neighborhood are protected and enhanced where possible.
Year round neighbors are concerned about speeding on local streets and in the winter there are concerns with having streets plowed and salted in a timely fashion. Most frequently I hear about the desire to retain the quality of our services, including police and fire protection and the programs provided in our libraries and parks systems. My neighbors clearly support investing in maintenance for our roads and the storm and sanitary sewer systems and, when asked specifically, people say they believe their Township taxes are reasonable for the quality of services they receive.
LADENHEIM: According to the people I visited all over the Ward, they are concerned about potholes that need fixing, stop signs that should be obeyed and kept visible, and crosswalks that are safe. They also wish for sidewalks so their children can get to the playground, or so they can walk to work. They do not want more traffic congestion, and most of all, they are unhappy with the overspending and overtaxing in the Township, since my opponent took her seat and became a “strategic planning” advisor for the Lower Merion School District during their recent spree of tax hikes.
What’s your opinion of the township’s current financial situation?
ROGAN: Lower Merion is one of less than a handful of Townships nationwide that enjoys a double AAA bond rating, which Moody’s and Standard and Poors’ state reflects “strong financial management” and the Township’s “sound financial position….[including]… very strong reserves.”
The Township uses a consistent, long term approach to managing public facilities and over the years has kept up with maintenance of infrastructure and major equipment while taking advantage of opportunities to invest in facilities that enhance our quality of life, now and for future generations.
With most of the costly capital improvements completed in the later 1990s and early 2000s (the Township’s administration building and Koegel complex, all the fire stations and improvements to our local parks and playgrounds) the Township is now, finally, addressing our libraries. With borrowing costs at historic lows, our total net debt is now decreasing—from $113.5M in 2010, to $105.4M in 2011 and $100.3M by January 2012. As a direct result of our strong financial planning and management practices, the Township will not go to the bond market again until the beginning of 2013, saving another $800,000 +/- next year.
By finding efficiencies and enhancing productivity, we have maintained a high level of municipal services with 12% fewer employees as compared to 2008. In the wake of the “Great Recession” and the associated loss of non-real estate tax based revenue, we reduced spending by more than $7M since 2009.
Now that we have stabalized Township finances, I am supporting and advocating that the Board adopt a 2012 budget with no real estate tax increase. I believe that with continued strong management and oversight by the Board of Commissioners the outlook for 2013 is just as promising.
LADENHEIM: Although we enjoy a AAA bond rating, it is being imperiled by the high levels of debt and spending imposed by the current majority on the board, led by my opponent. Our taxes, furthermore, have been increased sixty percent since 2003, yet our property values have fallen over the last few years. This is not a coincidence—high property tax burdens create a negative drag on property values, threaten our outstanding services and our bond rating.
What is the township funding too much or too little?
ROGAN: In response to the very challenging economic conditions we all faced, the Board of Commissioners significantly reduced funding dedicated to purchasing large equipment, such as our vehicle fleet, public works trucks and emergency management communication equipment. This necessary and purposeful decision helped lessen the need for additional operating revenue but, if the Township’s well founded practice of long term financial planning is to continue, the implications of this temporary solution must be understood and a policy decision concerning how to fund these inevitable costs must be made.
In terms of services, I am concerned about public safety and our ability to keep up the maintenance and repair of heavily utilized roads and aging stormwater and sanitary sewer systems. Local government services are provided by people and we will therefore need to carefully track the impact of the many unfunded, vacant positions in recent Township budgets and, as economic conditions permit, look to fill some of these positions.
LADENHEIM: The township has been funding too much in super sizing projects that are then delivered off schedule and over budget and funding too little essential services like police and storm water management. My opponent voted to approve $24 million in new debt in 2010 and we do not have one more police officer on our streets and storm water is literally washing away parts of our township. Paying back debt is becoming an unsustainable part of our budget which threatens essential service delivery and we must reverse this trend.
How would you approach your job in the upcoming term, if elected?
ROGAN: I will continue to talk to and meet with people who live and work in Ward 7 and throughout the Township to discuss their needs and ideas for keeping Lower Merion the first class community that we all know and love. My goal is to be readily accessible and continue to provide timely and responsive assistance to residents and property owners who seek help with any Township related matter. I am also committed to actively working towards and advocating for solutions that will make Lower Merion a more sustainable community, so that the costs associated with providing the services and facilities we all want and need are not a burden to those who currently work and live here.
LADENHEIM: The job of Commissioner is to be an advocate for and represent residents to local government, not, as my opponent believes to represent local government to the people. I’ll attend Civic Association meetings on a regular basis. I’ll listen to the the people. I’ll visit every house at least once a year, every year, even when it’s not an election year. I’ll communicate with everyone by e-mail and keep them informed of Township proceedings and issues before decisions are made, so we can prevent unintended consequences of our policies. I will treat the taxpayers’ money as carefully as they do in their own homes, and I will be accessible and responsive.
What makes you a better choice than your opponent?
ROGAN: Ward 7 residents have a real choice on Tuesday. My background, expertise and ideology are dramatically different than my opponent’s, who has not been involved in any substantive way with local government affairs or public policy matters. Our approach to and belief in the value and need for informed public debate and the purpose of “public service” could not be more different. My opponent has twisted “facts” and tried to frighten residents into believing spending and Township debt is out of control and out of line. Nothing could be further from the truth and I invite everyone to visit my website, www.FriendsOfLizRogan.org, for accurate information.
I volunteer to serve as the elected representative for my community and I am honored to have had the support and trust of my friends and neighbors for these past two terms. Personally and professionally I understand how local governments influence residents’ everyday lives and I believe that our engaged and educated community ensures that Township policies and decisions made by the Board of Commissioners protect the quality of life we enjoy and that it will preserve that quality and character for generations to come.
LADENHEIM: I am a lifelong Pennsylvanian, born in Montgomery County. (My only residence outside of the state was when I attended the University of Delaware, completing my Bachelors’ Degree in Psychology in three and a half years.) I am the only candidate in this race to have worked entirely in the private sector. I do not have lifelong interest in government; my only goal is to represent the citizens of Ward 7 in Lower Merion Township as a true “citizen-legislator,” without seeking personal or professional gain.
My opponent is also pushing a rezoning plan for Bala Cynwyd that will drastically increase traffic congestion, without a likelihood of any of the claimed benefits of such increased density. Additionally, her openness to a wage tax that she expressed during our debate on October 17, 2011 (see the Patch article about this, , wherein she said she “couldn’t rule it out”), will be at cross-purposes to any goal of a business improvement in the Bala Cynwyd district. She had also declared in that debate, “So yes, I am open to a wage tax.” This wage tax, furthermore, will put yet even more downward pressure on property values throughout the township, to the detriment of all of us and the excellent quality of life that we enjoy here. I, on the other hand, am strongly opposed to a wage tax.
Contrast the job performances of the board’s Democratic and Republican blocs in the past couple years:
ROGAN: When I first decided to resign my paid position as Lower Merion’s Director of Planning and Community Development, prior to 2004, I campaigned and shared my belief with everyone that national political party affiliation didn’t matter when it came to deciding when and how to pick up the trash and recycling, what to invest in our parks and libraries or how to maintain our roads, street and traffic lights. Over the past few years I have, sadly, slowly seen the national political scene infiltrate into our local Board of Commissioner’s meetings and discussions, both among colleagues and between Commissioners and the public. Some may say that is to be expected, but in my opinion, it has hurt our community by discouraging people without a partisan agenda from participating in local governing and decision making.
LADENHEIM: Since the Democrats became the majority of the Board in 2003, our taxes have gone up sixty percent, and our public debt has doubled. This is both unsustainable and unnecessary; our superlative essential services can be easily maintained at their high levels without these increases.
What’s the most positive aspect of Lower Merion Township:
ROGAN: If the question requires only one “aspect,” I have to say it is the people in our community who participate in a positive manner and contribute to improving all aspects of Township life, the recent completion of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, thanks to scores of dedicated volunteers, being a great example. If the question is more general, then nothing can compare to Lower Merion’s natural environment and the historic and cultural resources surrounding us, all while being a stones throw away from the cultural and historic resources in Philadelphia and a train ride from both Washington and New York.
LADENHEIM: The secret of Lower Merion Township is in its hard working, honest and generous people. It is a great place to live. The neighbors take great care and pride in their properties, and the trees are varied and beautiful. The services we receive are truly superior, and I would not countenance any decrease in them. And our firemen and police are the very best, and we all appreciate our streets being plowed early and often!