Primary hopefuls field queries

Candidates running for Blair County commissioner in the May 21 primary agreed on at least one idea during a Tuesday night forum. All said they’d like to see the weekly commissioner meetings videotaped and made available for public viewing.

The recording could be done with a phone, Republican candidate Joseph Zolna of Altoona said.

And if commissioners held evening instead of morning meetings, then working people could watch from their homes and participate as technology allows, Republican candidate Amy Webster of Hollidaysburg said.

The idea surfaced during the two-hour event hosted by the Blair County Tea Party and Indivisible Blair County at the Bavarian Hall where candidates rendered impromptu answers to questions prepared by the organizations.

In addition to Zolna and Webster, other Republican commissioner candidates present were incumbent commissioner Bruce Erb of Hollidaysburg and Bruce Kelley of Altoona. Two other Republican commissioner candidates, Debra Weston of Tyrone and Charles Gojmerac of Roaring Spring, notified organizers that they were unable to attend.

Democratic commissioner candidates, incumbent Ted Beam Jr. of Altoona and Laura Burke of Hollidaysburg, also attended and fielded the same questions. Because they are the only Democratic commissioner candidates, they are expected to win both nominations their party will make in May 21 primary.

But on the Republican ticket, voters will sort through six candidates to select their pair of nominees.

Among questions posed to the candidates, several focused on the proposed pursuit of a home rule charter for county government, an idea presented by Commissioner Terry Tomassetti who isn’t running for re-election.

When asked about forming a study group to consider home rule for the county, Burke offered support and other candidates said no, except Erb and Beam who said they would be OK with a study if that’s what the voters want.

Reassessment and property values also surfaced during questions and answers.

Webster, an attorney whose practice includes real estate matters, spoke of helping many residents with tax appeals after the county’s recent reassessment project.

In the future, she recommends the county partner with appraisers and other local entities that know the local real estate market and can provide accurate values.

Beam acknowledged “errors and mistakes” within reassessment, but said they resulted from 58 years without reassessment.

“The appeals process is there … use the process. It works,” Beam said.

Burke offered another opinion while addressing the topic.

“You should not have to pay an attorney to get a fair and honest assessment on the value of your house,” she said.

The forum also gave the candidates a chance to ask for support.

“You should seek people who have experience,” said Kelley who has been an Altoona councilman for 14 years and previously served on the legislative staffs of state and federal lawmakers.

Erb told those attending — about 50 — that his initiatives in changing the county’s health insurance have led to a $1.2 million savings.

He and Beam also referred to their decisions to make higher contributions to the underfunded pension plan, thereby pushing back insolvency from 2024 to 2042.

Tea Party President Rhonda Holland said the event was jointly organized to educate people about the candidates and their positions.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.