Catherine Stoker, president and owner of Brite Belt Technologies, has served as a West Chester trustee since 1994 and is the board’s current vice president. She also serves on the executive committee of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
Why are you running?
I believe that it is still important for residents to have at least one elected official that has repeatedly proven she is unafraid to stand up to established special interests to protect the health and welfare of the residents.
In the 1990’s, I worked with other residents filing verified complaints regarding the violation of vital regulations regarding our water and sewer systems, hazardous waste sites, and more. Local and state elected officials refused to enforce the law. When I was elected in 1993, I was able to bring greater influence to bear to correct some serious problems.
The water and sewer capacities were dramatically increased to serve increased development. The township no longer stinks of raw sewage, and we no longer run out of water during the summer. An improperly operated medical waste incinerator was shut down, and the Skinner Superfund site was capped per a judicial consent decree. We stopped the state from building a hazardous waste incinerator across from Union Elementary School.
I personally sued the Butler County Transportation Improvement District (TID) to stop what I alleged was an illegal license plate tax. I organized an army of petition circulators that successfully stopped an increase in sales tax. These two efforts alone kept about $100 million in the tax payers’ pockets.
I have worked as a volunteer dispatcher for the free Senior Van Transportation service for at least 15 years. I helped create the RASKALS program that organizes hundreds of volunteers to do seasonal chores for West Chester seniors to help them safely stay independent and in their own homes.
For twenty years I have devoted myself to the welfare of the citizens of West Chester. I have forced the correction of environmental problems, supported a $3 BILLION investment in this community, bringing over 30,000 new jobs.
What makes you the best candidate?
I have the most experience in township government. For twenty years I have devoted myself to the welfare of the citizens of West Chester. I have forced the correction of environmental problems (see above), reduced taxes, and supported the growth of clean businesses with good-paying jobs.
- Economic Development: As measured by the amount of new business development and new business expansions, West Chester is the most business friendly community in the county, if not the region. Since I became a trustee, we have experienced about $3 Billion in new investment and 30,000 new jobs. This new construction includes a new hospital, 3 major shopping centers, ten hotels, office towers, restaurants, and more. Commercial development provides revenue for schools ($3 million from our township TIFs last year), new roads, new police and fire headquarters, and amenities like the new library. While other communities are drowning in debt and empty stores and offices, West Chester’s credit rating is now AAA (the highest possible); and our unemployment rate is about 3.3 percent.
- Volunteer Work
- Keeping seniors safe in their own homes: For at least fifteen years I’ve been a volunteer dispatcher at the West Chester free Senior Van Service. I helped found RASKALS, wherein the township organizes hundreds of volunteers to twice a year do seasonal chores for local seniors.
- Keeping the cost of government under control
- Attrition: For fifteen years, whenever someone left our employ, the staff would review their operations in the affected department to determine whether they could reorganize the workload and thus be able to leave the position empty. 25 positions have so far been eliminated, the equivalent of a $1.275 million payroll. This reduction in cost has helped us keep our general fund expenses level for the past five years.
- Collaboration: The Township does the repaving as needed on the county owned Union Center Boulevard. In return, the county engineer performs some of the maintenance on our township streets. This collaboration has been saving each agency about $300,000 annually.
- Outsourcing: The Township outsources some services, after a case by case review indicates that doing so will save taxpayer funds. For example, we outsource our legal and IT services, HVAC and office maintenance; we replace small worn out culverts internally, but outsource the replacement of larger culverts.
- Merit increases only (no COLA’s) for non-contract employees. Some employees haven’t had an increase in years.
- Public Private Partnerships: UCB property owners paid for most of the UCB corridor infrastructure through right of way donations and by accepting a hefty assessment to pay for the construction of the UC Boulevard and UC interchange. We used the township’s borrowing power and administration coupled with the funds from the UCB property owners. Revenue into the UCB TIF from the commercial development that followed paid for the new police and fire headquarters, the new library, more infrastructure improvements, etc.
What specific services are you willing to cut?
NONE. Our careful, conservative financial management ensures that we will be able to continue to provide essential services.
What fees or taxes are you willing to raise in order to keep or expand government services?
We expect to be able to provide all essential services without increasing fees or taxes at this time. In 2016, however, the current Police levy will have reached the end of its projected “life span;” and we may need to return to the voters then.
What services are you willing to share with other governments?
Anything and everything. Townships traditionally share and collaborate as needed. For example: We currently have mutual aid agreements with our surrounding government entities which enable us to come to each other’s assistance in the case of emergencies. We collaborate with the County Engineer by resurfacing as needed the county’s Union Centre Boulevard using our TIF funds. In return, the County Engineer performs some maintenance work on township roads. Each of us save about $300,000 per year with this arrangements.
We have submitted a quote at the request of the City of Middletown to provide emergency 911 dispatching services for the city. We have an agreement with Liberty Township to share the use of their Princeton-Glendale fire station for fire calls until such time as the population growth in the north-west corner of West Chester justifies building a new fire station. West Chester maintains and stores as needed Butler County’s technical rescue vehicle.
West Chester has seen great residential and commercial growth in the past decade. How do you weigh the need to increase the city’s tax base with community concerns about the potential effect of development on the quality of life for city residents?
I have not heard residents complaining about negative effects from development. They seem to appreciate the 30,000 new jobs and the fact that the commercial development significantly supports services for residents. For example, income from the Union Centre Boulevard Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district paid for the new library, new police and fire headquarters, new 911 dispatching center, Beckett Park ball fields, Muhlhauser Barn. Lakota School District’s annual revenue from the township TIF’s reached more than $3 million last year.
West Chester merchants pay for the free weekly concerts at Keehner Park and The Square throughout the summer; as well as for the maintenance of the UCB interchange and boulevard landscape maintenance. West Chester merchants contribute tens of thousands of dollars every year to benefit the many area charitable organizations that bring real support and comfort to those in need.
What are West Chester’s three largest hurdles and how would you work to overcome those issues?
We must continue to find new ways to bring excellent services while reducing the cost of government. We should continue to use with appropriate care the tools of attrition, reorganization, collaboration, volunteers, outsourcing, and public/private partnerships (like that which built the UCB corridor).
We need to restart the discussions with the Route 42 property owners on ways to improve their area to incentivize good quality business growth. Now that ODOT has finished rebuilding Route 42, we need to host a meeting involving the business and property owners to finish what we started. It is important, from my perspective, that proposed improvements only be made where they meet the support of the majority of the property and business owners involved; and be done in a financially careful manner.
The dedicated revenue that we receive from gas and license plate taxes only pays one quarter to one third of the actual cost of maintaining our roads and culverts. We must continue to safeguard and add to our sustainable infrastructure funds to ensure that we can meet future needs. Aging and failing infrastructure of all kinds is a slow-moving train wreck spreading across this country. Only those communities with far sighted financial policies like West Chester are going to be able to maintain these essential structures without having to increase taxes substantially, or having essential infrastructure fail causing significant community disruption.