New Windsor hopefuls see communication as key

Five candidates vying for two seats on Town Council

May 07, 2001|By Jamie Manfuso | Jamie Manfuso,SUN STAFF

Five candidates are running for two open Town Council seats this year in New Windsor, where the main issues are Main Street revitalization, the future of an abandoned middle school building, and the expected increase in truck traffic from the expanding Lehigh Portland Cement Co. plant in nearby Union Bridge.

Sam M. Pierce is running uncontested for mayor in the town of about 1,500.

Pierce and most of the candidates for the council say the mayor and council need to do a better job of communicating with residents - and with each other.

"We suffer like other small towns in that people lose interest in town government," said Pierce, 67, a retired businessman who moved to New Windsor in 1995 after selling a farm outside the town. "Sometimes we have four or five people at the council meetings."

A regular newsletter, e-mail lists and other forms of communication would help get residents plugged into town affairs, he said.

"We really do need better communication between the mayor and the council, and I'm really looking forward to that with Sam being mayor," said Councilman Neal Roop, who is seeking his fourth term overall and his second consecutive term.

Whoever wins the two seats will walk into a potentially rancorous political situation, caused by tension between Pierce and departing Mayor Jack A. Gullo. The two men will be working together for the next two years after Gullo was appointed to fill a vacant council seat at the council's meeting Tuesday.

Pierce lost to Gullo by 12 votes in the 1997 mayoral election. Before Tuesday's meeting, about 20 residents waved signs reading "Time to go Gullo" outside New Windsor Town Hall. About 80 residents jammed Town Hall to voice opinions on the appointment.

Gullo has been criticized for not informing residents and council members of city business during his eight-year tenure.

Saying the move would be unfair to the incoming mayor, Roop cast the sole vote in opposition to Gullo's appointment. Councilwoman Rebecca H. Harman, who is running for her fourth term, voted in favor of it.

When the new council gets to work, the town's $15 million Main Street revitalization project will be near the top of its list.

The council needs to get residents' input on the project, Roop said.

"Everybody would like to have Main Street look like Emmitsburg's Main Street, but the cost may be prohibitive to bury the telephone lines and the electric lines," he said. "They need to tell us what they'd like to see."

Roop has lived his entire 43 years in New Windsor. He ran his family's grocery business, Roop's Grocery, in New Windsor until it closed in 1997. He is executive director of Carroll Transit.

Candidate Ed Palsgrove said he liked the small-town feel of New Windsor, and wanted to preserve it. He expressed hope the Main Street revitalization would help attract businesses.

"Small businesses give the town some community focal points or gathering spots, places to meet and greet your neighbors," said Palsgrove, who is manager of buildings and grounds at Brethren Service Center in New Windsor.

Palsgrove, 46, has lived in New Windsor for 25 years. He is a 17-year member of New Windsor Fire Company, where he is assistant treasurer.

Harman also said the town should try to attract businesses.

"We have the lowest [property] tax rate in Carroll County," said Harman, a member of the Main Street revitalization committee. "We also have the lowest water rate in Carroll County. I think these are two incentives that might bring people in."

Harman, who is in her 80s, is a retired teacher with a master's degree in education from University of Maryland. She has lived in New Windsor for 56 years.

The Town Council will have to confront increased truck traffic resulting from the $268 million expansion of the Lehigh Portland Cement Co. plant in nearby Union Bridge.

"Unfortunately, we have no provisions for a bypass, and we're simply going to have to work the best we can to accommodate this large increase in truck traffic," Pierce said.

One possible solution mentioned by several candidates would be extending High Street to Route 75 to keep trucks off Main Street.

Candidate Frazier Hollenbeck said funding was key to a solution to truck traffic.

"If the state doesn't help, I don't think much will get done," said Hollenbeck, 60, a New Windsor resident since 1995. The retired postal worker has not run an active campaign because of a recent hospitalization.

The council also will discuss uses for the vacant New Windsor Middle School building. A senior center and a recreation center have been mentioned as possibilities.

Harman said she believes the fire company should be given the first choice to develop the school building and surrounding property.

Candidate Bill Geelhaar, a resident of New Windsor for 4 1/2 years, wants better enforcement of ordinances banning junked cars on people's lawns. He also wants a solution to roadside basketball courts that interfere with traffic.

Geelhaar, 68, works part time as the town's code and zoning inspector. He also does odd jobs for the developer of the Blue Ridge Manor community where he lives.

Neighbors call Geelhaar, who has never held elected office, the mayor of Blue Ridge Manor, he said.

For Geelhaar, like many others, the election isn't about taking firm stances on issues. It's about who can work best with residents and the council to reach solutions.

Said Geelhaar: "We've got to have better communication and we've got to start working as a team so we can get things accomplished."

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