Meet the Candidate: John Morgan
Millcreek Township Supervisor
I am a professional planner serving in my first term as Millcreek Township Supervisor. Elected in 2015, I have been dedicated to bringing modern planning principles and best practices to Millcreek Township including establishing the first municipal planning department in Erie County, and leading the award-winning planning initiative “Embrace Millcreek”, Millcreek Township’s first comprehensive plan in twenty years.
I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration and I am a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. Prior to taking office, I worked for the Erie County Department of Planning as Administrator of the Erie Metropolitan Planning Organization for ten years, where I managed community and multi-municipal plans and projects, and served on numerous technical advisory boards including Erie Refocused and Destination Erie.
I am a McDowell Graduate and single father of two residing in the Kearsarge area of Millcreek with my son, who is majoring in finance at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and my little girl, who is a kindergartner at Chestnut Hill Elementary.
Why are you running for Millcreek Township Supervisor?
I chose to run for office in 2015 because I saw a severe lack of professionalism, transparency, and a commitment to public service in Millcreek Township. The majority of the Board at that time seemed more interested in playing politics and making decisions based on personal preferences than best practices, and I believed that my skills, education, and experience could make a difference for our community and help move Millcreek forward. I was honored and humbled to be elected as Supervisor in 2015, and I’m proud of the work I’ve helped our community accomplish to create and implement the Embrace Millcreek plan. I am running for a second term to keep that momentum going and not allow Millcreek to slip back to the same old politics of the past.
I’m dedicated to public service not politics. I wasn’t asked to run by politicians and special interests, I chose to serve to stand up to them, and I have. Because I believe good government requires principles and planning, not political favors and empty promises. Of course, no one person has all the answers or can solve every problem, but I am committed to always doing what’s right for our community, not what’s easy; to serving all of our residents, not just the politicians and special interests; and to making necessary tough calls instead of getting cheap headlines. Because continuing to challenge the status quo and putting principles over politics is the only way for us to keep moving Millcreek forward.
What are your top three priorities you wish to work on if elected?
My priorities for the Township are the following:
A. Continue to ensure the fiscal stability and public accountability of the Township government through proper and transparent budgeting processes; regularly evaluating operations to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and equity in delivering Township services; and setting budget priorities based on proper planning and long term investment strategies rather than quick fixes.
B. Continue to improve and expand our infrastructure maintenance program through investments in GIS technology, cross-training Township labor crews to better coordinate project management, and continuing our partnerships with the Erie Metropolitan Planning Organization and private industry to secure additional infrastructure funding (we have secured $900K federal dollars so far) and stretch it further with private sector efficiency (we have nearly doubled neighborhood paving since 2015)
C. Continue to preserve and expand our Township tax base through the implementation of the Embrace Millcreek Plan by continuing to utilize the Planning Department we established in 2017 to push back against blight to protect property values (we have doubled code enforcement actions since 2015), modernize our zoning and development codes to attract appropriate new development (we secured a $200K State Grant to update our ordinances), and tirelessly advocate for investment in the Gateway to Presque Isle. (we secured $2.5M to improve Peninsula Drive and are currently pursuing a $6.5M grant to transform 8th Street)
How would you be an advocate for key education initiatives such as the Erie County Community College, K-12 education, and early education as they relate to workforce development?
While I believe that this policy goal is important and necessary, I think any attempt on my part (or anyone running for municipal office) to express how Millcreek Township can have a direct impact on this item would amount to a little more than pandering. Second Class Townships have no legal authority or policy influence on matters of education.
However, what we can do, and what I have successfully advocated for is that our Board actively participates and invest in the Erie Forward Initiative to support the Chamber’s efforts to lead and coordinate these efforts. Also, by running a tight ship at the Township and implementing policies and programs that preserve and expand our tax base, our local school district will benefit by collecting more revenue at current millage rates which will lessen the tax burden on residents and businesses while maintaining funding levels for K-12 education in the Township.
How will you work to advocate for the modernization of public health infrastructure and encourage public/private partnerships to address deficiencies in our public health system?
Similar to my previous response, this is an area of public policy that has very little opportunity to be directly impacted at the municipal level in terms of policy and financial support.
What we can do is work with public health entities to ensure that zoning and development standards in the Township are appropriate to allow for equitable distribution of healthcare services for ease of access. Also, we are very active in working with LECOM, the largest healthcare entity in the Township, to ensure that the LECOM Health System can expand services in our community while contributing equitably to the tax base.
And again, I am committed to Millcreek being an active investor and partner with the Erie Forward Initiative to support their advocacy efforts.
According to TrackTheRecovery.org, Erie County is estimated to have lost over 28% of small businesses. How would you work to encourage financial stability within local and state governments without overburdening the small business community?
Financial stability at the local level is not complicated. And maintaining it benefits everyone in the community alike whether homeowners, large industries, or small businesses. We just need to:
A. Reduce Projected Increases to Expenses
B. Enact programs to preserve the tax base
C. Make targeted prudent investments to expand the tax base
The only reason it gets complicated is a lack of political will to ask blunt questions, make tough calls, and stand up to self-serving outside influences.
A. The most impactful means to reduce projected increases are to negotiate tax-payer-friendly labor contracts. I believe that the right to unionize and collectively bargain is ESSENTIAL to a healthy and equitable economic system. HOWEVER, the key to financial stability in local government is for elected officials to “bargain” with union leaders, not roll over for them. In my first year in office, I led what turned into a two-year labor negotiation that resulted in a 20% reduction in our long-term cost projections. This has not endeared me to many of my fellow Democrats, but it was the absolute right thing to do for our Township. Millcreek no longer gives away the farm, but we still pay competitive family-sustaining wages to our employees and have not had any trouble securing top talent to open positions.
B. The most impactful means to preserve the tax base is to proactively and assertively enforce property maintenance and zoning ordinances, and again, this requires political will. Too often at the local level enforcement is hindered by political favors or the slightest hint of push back from property owners. Regardless of whether someone is connected or not, wealthy or not, or runs a business or not, everyone needs to be held to the same community standard. Exceptions and political influence lead to a systematic decline in the tax base through approving incompatible land uses and allowing disinvestment in properties.
C. The most impactful way to make targeted and prudent investments is to have a Community-Driven Plan and stick to it. That’s what we did by spending 2 years developing the Embrace Millcreek Plan. We brought every corner of the Township together to prioritize goals and objectives and we’ve been committed to implementing it. Developing and remaining committed to a community-driven plan is how a municipality avoids the tendency to give into squeaky wheels and doing political favors that spread finances too thinly and dilute the impact of investments. It takes political will to say “no” to developments and programs that look good in the headlines but hurt the long-term viability of our community.
Our community is expecting a total of $225 million or more in American Recovery Plan funds. As a community leader, how would you prioritize this funding?
I think the most important thing to clarify is that this $225 million dollar award is not a lump sum. It’s going to be parceled out to dozens of entities and interests with a myriad of different restrictions and Federal programmatic goals and objectives. So I wouldn’t presume to dictate how all of those dollars ought to be spent. I will say that generally, I think the most appropriate thing for local governments to do with large one-time revenue enhancement is to:
A. Eliminate or restructure municipal debt. Millcreek is fortunate in that we don’t utilize bonds for operational expenses, but many local governments do which only increase their annual expenses. A one-time infusion of cash is an opportunity to create long-term reductions in annual expenses by paying off debts.
B. Make prudent investments to create a long-term revenue source for future projects and programs. This what I successfully advocated for in Millcreek when the Township received a one-time influx of $20M from selling the Water Authority. We invested those funds in a restricted account. The principal has generated $2M in interest so far, which we utilized to establish our Business Development Loan Fund programs.
C. Invest in significant long-term capital improvements and utilize the funds to leverage additional state and federal resources. This is what I successfully advocated for in Millcreek to utilize a portion of the principle of the Water proceeds to match and secure a $2.5M State grant to transform Peninsula Drive to enhance our tourism district, and to also utilize those funds to pursue a $6.5M State grant to redevelop the 8th Street Corridor which is a small business hub for the region.
Pittsburgh has seen success with tools such as Tax Increment Finance and Transit Revitalization Investment District to spur their City’s revitalization. Are you willing to make long-term investments in economic development?
I believe we’ve made great progress in Millcreek since I took office to be more proactive in business development and attraction. We have committed to a five-year investment in the Erie Forward Initiative. We have established the first-ever Business Development Revolving Loan Program in Millcreek Township with an initial investment of $2M to help the industry expand and small businesses thrive. We are currently performing site reviews as part of a Townshipwide Market Analysis to determine the most appropriate incentives to put in place (ie LERTA, TIF) in targeted areas of the Township. We are tirelessly pursuing State and Federal funding to redevelop the Gateway to Presque Isle District to support our tourism industry and local businesses, which to date has resulted in an unprecedented $5M of additional State and Federal resources to the Township. And we pursued an Opportunity Zone Designation for the Gateway to Presque Isle District.