Q&A with York County Commissioner candidates: Judith Higgins
Four candidates — two Democrats, two Republicans — are vying for three open seats on the York County Board of Commissioners in the November election.
Republican candidates are Julie Wheeler and Ron Smith. Democrats are incumbent Doug Hoke and Judith Higgins.
The municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.
As part of The York Dispatch's ongoing election coverage, we posed five questions to the candidates and asked them to answer each in no more than 300 words.
Judith Higgins: Democrat
Family: Husband, Kevin, and three adult sons — Joshua, Sean and Ryan; two daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren. We also have a dog and three cats.
Occupation: Small business owner, J’s Inspirations & Ornamentations; adjunct instructor at Penn State University York, business and management classes
Education: bachelor's degree in public policy/pre-law; master's degree in human resources utilization; doctor of education in adult education.
Community involvement: Volunteer: Supporting efforts at Salem Square for Workforce Development, York County Economic Development, Workforce Development group, NAACP, York History Center member, helping Girl Scouts gain their jewelry-making badge, and bake sale coordinator for Craley Days. Also served as an elected school board director for over 17 years, also on Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 board and negotiations committee for 10 years. These are unpaid positions.
Question: What is the most pressing issue in York County government and how would you address it if you’re elected to the board of commissioners?
Answer: The 911 Center is the most visible and far-reaching concern to me because it affects all of our citizens. I do note, in my research, that there are regional concerns regarding 911 Centers, generally, but this is our York County concern. If elected, I want to evaluate the hiring, training and support of the individuals who are working in the 911 Center. I want to evaluate the pay practices of the county, as compared to our neighbors. This is important because we do not want to invest in training, only to watch our newly minted individuals get hired away. This is a very expensive loss for our county, and does not keep our residents safe. We need to be competitive in our pay and working conditions, so that we can train and retain qualified individuals in this critical role.
Question: After two consecutive years of tax increases, the county commissioners then held the line in 2018 and 2019. How would you approach the budgeting process: Are tax increases on the table, how would you prioritize spending needs and where would you look for cuts if needed?
Answer: I have not had enough time to evaluate or understand the prioritizing of the current budget. However, I was very disturbed when the current Republican commissioners used $750,000 that was unbudgeted in 2019 to a consulting firm they had already paid money to this year.
As for potential tax increases, I need more information and understanding of how the current budget is structured before determining what is the best financial decision for the next budget cycle. It is not my intention to make promises, one way or another, without knowing the facts, understanding the situation and evaluating what will be the best options for the county.
Question: While considering privatizing management of the 911 Center this year, a current board member suggested problems at the facility have been brewing for 25 years. What is the board’s responsibility for providing oversight of the county’s departments to ensure problems are dealt with immediately and not allowed to fester? What changes would you make to provide better oversight?
Answer: To have a current commissioner state that it has been “brewing for 25 years” simply reinforces the conclusion that the leadership needed to achieve change has not been present as that person has been on the board for almost 20 years. It is time for change as management oversight is one of the primary requirements of this office. I believe the responsibility of the board is to ensure that the knowledge, skills and abilities in the 911 Center are identified, supported and available. Privatization is, in my opinion, an abdication of responsibility of the board.
The board needs to ensure that we do not create an unintentional training site for other 911 Centers, resulting in the continued loss of trained people, talent and expertise due to shortsighted management decisions. I have a strong human resources and training background, and when coupled with Doug Hoke's financial expertise, I believe we will make decisions that create opportunities, rather than what we have now. I want to work with the management consultants and the 911 Center to develop positive outcomes that will address the needs of our first-responders, as well as keep our community safe, encourage people to apply for these positions and compensate them appropriately.
Question: Do you support continuing the county’s contract with ICE to house detainees at the York County Prison?
Answer: I need to better understand the county’s relationship with ICE before I can truly answer this question. Are the individuals brought in by ICE actually criminals, or are they undocumented? Those are very large distinctions.
There is also the matter of decency of treatment. These individuals, until the law changes, will be incarcerated. In the York prison, they are getting medical care, meals, beds and are being treated well. Refusing to accept these detainees will simply send them somewhere else, possibly further from support systems, and worse conditions. We have been told that the York facility is one of the best, and I don’t know that discontinuing the contract is going to be more humane for the people who are, and will remain, incarcerated.
Question: Why would you be a better county commissioner than the other three candidates?
Answer: I am an analyst, by training and nature. I look at situations in a systemic way, understanding the whole picture to ensure decisions will not have unintended, negative outcomes. This is a skill that I believe will serve the county well and is particularly critical when discussing allocating resources. For example, the Legislature recently eliminated a $200 stipend for the commonwealth’s poorest residents. This money put food on the table, paid for medication and was a lifeline. The unintended consequences is that all the services will now be pushed down to the counties, stretching local resources. I would have examined the distribution of the resources, noting counties that had higher participation and try to find solutions that would help the residents, support the county and still attempt to achieve the zero tax increase.
This solution also demonstrates my creative and visionary approach to making resources go further. I am a thrifty person, having grown up in a family that was rather poor. My mother was a waitress and my father passed when I was 15, after having spent most of my life disabled due to health issues. As a result, I try to ensure that money is well-spent, and that the decision is as positive for its outcome as possible. For example, I believe in investing in people. Bringing skills training, trades apprenticeships and other similar programs to York are fabulous ideas. These are career fields that need young people to step up, to earn good money, to start their own businesses or work for someone else, without significant college debt. We can improve York County when we improve the lives of all of York countians. I believe I am capable of working collaboratively, creating the vision and energy with the other commissioners to lead York County to better days.