Editor's note: This is the third of a four-part series leading up to the election on Nov. 5.
Two seats on the five-member Newtown Township Board of Supervisors are up for election on Nov. 5. Incumbent Mike Gallagher and Kyle Davis are running on the Republican ticket; Jen Dix and Judy Norkin are running as Democrats.
To help you get to know the candidates we’ve asked them a series of questions about local issues and, leading up to the election, will publish their answers. (Answers have not been edited and appear as submitted by the candidates.)
This week’s question for the candidates is:
In recent months, with the closing of the Swim Club, many residents have suggested Newtown needs a YMCA or a recreational facility. Do you agree? If so, where would you suggest it be located?
Judy Norkin, Democrat
Bio: Norkin is a 16-year resident of Newtown Township and lives in Cliveden Estates with her husband and two children. She is a former member of the Newtown Township Traffic Committee. Norkin has been a board member of the Cliveden Homeowners’ Association for more than 10 years. She works as a freelance writer and editor and is studying for her masters in Community and Regional Planning at Temple University. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from New York University.
Answer: The Newtown Swim Club provided recreation and entertainment for residents in the Newtown area for over 50 years. Thousands of area residents went to the Newtown Swim Club to see friends, learn to swim, and enjoy the friendly, family-oriented atmosphere. In fact my children had their first swimming lessons there. The Club's closing is a great loss and it is easy to agree that a swim club is a valuable asset to our community. However it currently appears there is no financially viable way to preserve the Newtown Swim Club. A review shows that the land it occupies and the business itself are prohibitively expensive.
What about a YMCA? The Y in Doylestown is very successful and gives much of value to that community. There is already a YMCA Charter for a facility in Newtown but we need to discuss how having a Y impacts our community. Some oppose it because it is a non-profit and they believe it competes unfairly with businesses operating in a for-profit environment, i.e.: paying taxes. Others contend a Y will attract a different customer base not currently well served and therefore does not directly compete with for-profit businesses. Some think having both for-profit and non-profit organizations in town will benefit everyone.
There may actually be a third way which it seems has not yet been explored. If there is sufficient interest we can also take an economic development approach and go out to search for and find companies and investors willing to be involved in the development of some type of recreational facility. As always, if we pursue this approach we will work with residents to decide what the priorities for this project should be.
Regarding the location—there are several parcels of land large enough to accommodate a swim club but it is not wise to identify those parcels now as that would drive up their price.As Supervisors Jen and I will always review all options. We will hold meetings to consider community members’ perspectives and when necessary, conduct feasibility studies to answer our questions. Ultimately the decisions we make will be those that we see as being the best for residents and Newtown Township.
Jen Dix, Democrat
Bio: Dix, a 20-year resident of Newtown Township, is a consulting actuary in the health insurance industry who served on the Township’s Financial Planning Committee in 2006-2007. She is married with two children and serves as the treasurer of a large local church. She has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Messiah College.
Answer: It was a huge loss to our community when the Newtown Swim Club closed its doors last month. My family enjoyed 15 summers at that facility. It was a summer “home” to hundreds of kids who swam competitively and it was a vital part of our local economy. It would have been a win-win to keep it a recreational facility but unfortunately the premium on the land does not make it financially viable.
A second option of having a YMCA elsewhere in the Township is something I wholeheartedly support. The YMCA has had a presence at Chandler Hall in Newtown for many years and is a current member of the business community. If they decide to expand and offer more services that could be valuable amenity to our community. I realize we have other existing businesses and public facilities that offer similar services to our residents, but I don’t think local government should play favorites when it comes to assisting one business over the other. If the YMCA wanted to expand and looked at areas where land might be less of a premium, then I would certainly be as helpful as possible in assisting this valued member of the Newtown community.
Mike Gallagher, Republican (incumbent)
Bio: Gallagher is a small businessman and software engineer with an undergraduate degree from DeSales University. He is currently chairman of the Newtown Board of Supervisors. He has served on the board since 2008.
Answer: Having grown up swimming for Somerton Springs Swim Club, I appreciate the asset to the community that Newtown Swim Club has been. I am fortunate to have had my summers at the swim club and can understand how difficult it would have been to have that taken away.
I believe the closing of Newtown Swim Club is providing Newtown an opportunity to re-evaluate our recreational opportunities. There are many public and private recreation facilities and organizations in Newtown and I think both our Park and Recreation Board and Department do a fantastic job providing programs and facilities.
We have opened a dog park (in Core Creek), skate park and Veterans Park within the last few years. And we’re still moving forward, the P&R Board is working now to replace the adult recreation trail at Carl Sedia park with upgraded amenities. Newtown Township needs to continue to improve our facilities and the diversity of our offerings.
Regarding a YMCA or other private entity coming to Newtown; I think that needs to be left to residents and market forces. If there is an opportunity for a new business to be successful providing recreational programs to our community, I certainly welcome that. The location would be based on the market as well, what space is available for purchase that makes sense for the business model, and other market forces.
Kyle Davis, Republican
Bio: Davis is a software engineer who currently serves on the township Technology Committee. He is the vice chairman of Greater Newtown Republican Club. Davis is a Council Rock graduate and former Army reservist.
Answer: I believe Newtown is a perfect place to locate something like a YMCA and, as a Supervisor, would work hard to attract a new recreation facility to our community in much the same way the current Board has attracted other new businesses to Newtown.
However, be it the YMCA or any other private group, those decisions will be made predominantly by market factors analyzed by the interested companies – factors which include space and other considerations. As a government, we need to make Newtown the most attractive place for them to settle, but we cannot force them to.
Thankfully, our current Board of Supervisors has made the improvement of our public recreation facilities a top priority, so there is still much for our families to enjoy. They have improved or opened several new parks (including a dog park and skate park), as well as improved our walking trails.