Lebanon County voters re-elected its three incumbent County Commissioners to four-year terms in Tuesday’s general election.
Republican Mike Kuhn, in his first general election after being appointed to fill Bill Ames’ seat following the former commissioner’s death in December 2021, garnered the most votes at 19,158. Fellow Republican Robert Phillips received 14,330 votes, while Democrat Jo Ellen Litz took the third seat with 11,029 votes over Democrat Michael Schroeder’s 8,501 votes.
Kuhn said he had similar reactions Tuesday night to when he was first appointed in February 2022 by the county judges to fill Ames’ position.
“I was quite honored to get that news,” said Kuhn about the judges’ call, “and within a few minutes of hanging up that phone call after receiving that news, I probably felt the greatest sense of pressure that I’ve ever felt in my life. Yesterday was very similar in learning the results. It was very humbling but I also felt that sense of pressure again. The voters put their faith in me in casting their votes and I don’t want to let them down.”
Phillips expressed relief in being elected to his fourth term in office.
“I would say just like every candidate who has competition, you’re just glad it’s over,” said Phillips. “If you’re unopposed, that’s the dream ticket, but if you have competition for the seat it’s never clear until the votes are cast and counted. So, that’s a good place to be once it’s over.”
He had many individuals to thank for assisting his campaign.
“I would express my gratitude to the voters, to the volunteers and others that helped get me over the finish line, and my family for the sacrifices they made on behalf of the candidate as well.”
Litz was grateful for the opportunity to serve again.
“When I think about it, I have been blessed to be given the opportunity to serve in the past and it has been a wonderful, wonderful experience, and I appreciate that people see the value in the work I’ve started,” she said.
The returning candidates know their victory celebrations will be short-lived with many issues on the horizon in 2024 and beyond.
The county will craft a new comprehensive plan next year while addressing other problematic areas, including housing affordability and an inventory crisis, workforce development and retention issues within the ranks of the county employees and overall rising costs being spiked by inflation.
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“We face the same pressures that every business and industry face right now with rising costs of labor, of materials, contracted services,” said Kuhn. “You sat through the report a few weeks ago by our director of Children and Youth. Erin explained the 30 percent increase in provider contracts when we have to place a youth in protective custody. … It’s going to be a tough road ahead of us until we get a handle on labor costs and general inflation because we’re not immune to that.”
Phillips said a strategic approach towards each issue is how the commissioners have addressed problems in the past and he believes will continue to do while working on behalf of county citizens.
“Quite simply, as with every issue that comes before us, we bring the best people in that are closest to the issue and that have the most knowledge and expertise in whatever area we are dealing with and we come up with the best possible answer for the issue at hand,” said Phillips. “We take it issue by issue.”
Litz said she initially wasn’t planning to run for a seventh – and most likely final – term but changed her mind when asked to run again, and since she wants to see one major decades-old project finished: construction of the 26-mile Lebanon Valley Rail Trail. The LVRT is scheduled for completion in 2027. (She told LebTown during Election Day interviews for its live blog that, if re-elected, she will be in her mid-70s by the time her next term expires in four years.
“I just want to see it to its end and like I say, I think it is a project that is so worthwhile and a project worth investing both time and financially,” she said, “and it’s going to last a long, long time.”
Despite not winning a seat in the general election, candidate Schroeder said he was glad to have the opportunity to give voters a choice in the commissioner race.
“That’s what our team did and I believe we ran a really strong and honorable campaign of integrity and I am especially grateful to our campaign team … and everyone who offered some kind of moral or material support,” said Schroeder. “So I am just really grateful for the opportunity.”
Schroeder added he wasn’t surprised by how close the election was and noted he knew he was running against two long-term incumbents and being a “blue” candidate in what he called “a deep red county.”
“I am especially heartened by the message of support since the results were announced,” he said. “A friend said it best, there are plenty of other things in terms of working in the community and trying to make Lebanon County a better place to live and raise a family.”
Schoeder said he is uncertain of another run for office in 2028, adding that while no one knows what the future may hold, he also would not foreclose the possibility of entering the commissioner race again.
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