Candidate Questions: Dr. Sarah Derr Sterious, OD (R) Running for Plymouth Township’s Council – Ward 4

Free feel to use this space to tell readers about yourself and anything else you want to share.

On June 11, 2019, I decided it was time to stand or move. I have chosen to stand and be the change I wish to see in our area. I have lived and/or worked in this great community for the past 15 years and I have chosen to raise my family here. My children are born and raised here as I have a deep love for this area and consider it my first home as I personally grew up moving. I am a 2003 graduate of Temple University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and graduated in 2007 from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry with second Bachelor of Science degree in Visual Science as well as a Doctorate of Optometry. I am an involved and proud mother of three boys, local optometrist, and environmental advocate for the community. I hope to bring strong leadership, as well as thoughtful and strategic planning to maintain the highest quality of life for all residents of Plymouth Township.

What is the most important issue in your ward and how would you address it if elected?

After knocking on many doors and listening to the concerns of fellow residents, I feel most residents are concerned about taxes. Many residents are aware of the school tax hikes coming our way, but are unaware of the pending renovation vs. rebuild of the Plymouth Township building. I have met many seniors who are living on a fixed income and fear the tax hikes. At the most recent council meeting and on the Plymouth township website it is states that our township “taxes have not been raised in 27 years” but I do not feel this reasoning alone necessarily gives a green light to council to raise taxes. Many young families are moving into our area because of the low taxes we have relative to surrounding areas and it is important to be fiscally responsible and work hard to maintain this reputation.

How have you funded your campaign and who are your five largest donors?

Local friends and families whom have graciously supported me have largely funded my campaign. I am so thankful and overwhelmed by the support of everyday people within this community. My top five donors include the Plymouth Township Republican Committee and four personal friends, as well as many other donations from local residents, my proud parents and my personal friends in the region. 

In 2018 Plymouth Council’s discussed the need to renovate or replace the township building. Selling the sewer system was one of the ways under consideration to fund the project. What are your thoughts on selling the sewer system to fund the renovations?

After reading many articles on this issue and paying attention to our meetings and discussions within Plymouth, I presently do not support the sale of the sewer system. It is too risky to sell the sewer system given the information we currently have and the potential rate hikes that face residents post sewer sales in other communities. With all of the data presented so far, though I recognize it is a complicated issue, I do not believe it would be in the best interest of residents to privatize the sewer at this junction. For example, I have read about the Limerick acquisition and how customers there are facing an 84% bill increase, to $70/month after the current rate freeze expires in 2020, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. I feel it is best to wait at this junction, gather more information and learn from surrounding communities that have already sold their sewer system.

The Colonial School District recently underwent a bidding process for a new middle school. The bids received under its “Responsible Contractors” policy resulted in just two bids and both were over budget. After the school board waived the policy for the general contractor and rebid the project, it received double the number of bids and was able to secure a general contract at a savings of three to four million dollars. If elected, would you support reviewing the ordinance and consider repealing it?

One of the reasons I’ve become involved in Plymouth was because of the Colonial School District “Responsible Contractors” policy. I was featured on the NBC10 news coverage speaking out against this policy for CSD. I am concerned that CSD and Plymouth Township have two common threads: one is they both share the same appointed solicitor Michael Clarke of Rudolph Clark, LLC and two they both share similar “Responsible Contractors” policies drafted under this solicitor. The third common thread is the need to update Colonial Middle School paralleling the need for renovations to the Plymouth Township building as demonstrated on the Plymouth township website. I have been inside both buildings and understand need to invest and build a new middle school, but I truly believe the current Plymouth Township building should explore fiscally responsible updates and renovations to that building first. I know that current members of council are exploring and establishing budgets and costs for this pending project and they are considering both a new building vs. renovations according to their answer to my public comment and question at the last township meeting, to which my opponent for ward 4 was not in attendance. Given the info coming out of CSD currently, if elected, I will absolutely consider repealing it and hope to be a strong voice on Plymouth’s council for the community as I have been during public comment at the school board meetings in CSD leading up to their bids for the middle school project. 

There is a growing concern among the public about the environmental and quality-of-life impact of the Covanta plant located in the township. Are there any alternatives that you would support in regards to how the township disposes of its trash? Since alternatives may drive up the cost of trash disposal, how would you incorporate those factors when making a decision?

As many residents know, I have been one of the voices of the environmental movement within Plymouth Township. Just this past week, another malfunction at Covanta Plymouth occurred and resulted in the same pattern many of my neighbors and I have experienced, a malodor that takes over the surrounding community post malfunction, as many of us witnessed 12/30/18, 6/10-11/2019 and again on 10/15-16/2019. This week, after coordinated community engagement and involvement, the PA Department of Environmental Protection issued a Notice of Violation of Covanta’s Title V operating permit. Within the email to residents, the PA DEP states “DEP cannot definitively say what Covanta’s emissions were during the 10/15/19 event because of the upset system. If you are experiencing symptoms or are concerned about your health, we urge you to follow-up with your healthcare provider.” As a mother who chooses to raise my children here, I take this very seriously. I understand the convenience and fiscal responsibility of trash disposal. I also have personally made many positive changes in my own life and the life of my family towards a goal of zero waste and composting. I am now working hard to carry reusable bags, reduce waste, reuse when I can and we have as a family cut down the waste we personally produce. In 2018, China stopped accepting the USA’s recycling and it has left little market for recycled products. I was shocked to learn that Covanta incinerates products intended for recycling. I think as a whole, the recycling market needs significant improvements across this country, but also locally. Also, I believe Plymouth Township could work on a single use plastic bag ban and work hard to be environmentally sustainable. I hope that if elected, I can make a positive impact by supporting a clean air law to protect the health and safety of residents. It is important to consider the land lease held between Covanta and Montgomery County that is up in 2025. That land lease was set to coincide the average lifespan of such facilities, which has been documented in the literature available online and with incineration experts as 30 years. Covanta Plymouth is currently at 27 years in operation and the future of this facility needs to be considered by all leaders at the township level as well as the county. It should be a proactive, thoughtful discussion and not a reaction.

An October 2018 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a rising number of arrests for marijuana in the suburbs, especially involving African-Americans, and Plymouth Township statistics were utilized to document the trend. Representatives of the NCAAP attended a November 2018 meeting of Plymouth’s Council and offered concerns it had about the issues outlined in the Inquirer article and submitted a list of requests. What would you to address these concerns.

Like the environmental injustice facing Plymouth Township residents described above, racial injustice is concerning to me as well. I grew up in a more rural setting and chose to attend Temple University because I desired a more diverse community. As a child, my parents hosted children of all backgrounds in our home in an inclusive and understanding environment, to which I am grateful. I am excited to currently be a candidate alongside Chris Mundiath, whom if elected would make history for Plymouth Township as the first Hispanic person on council. After attending the newly appointed Chief of Police’s town hall meeting at the Plymouth Fire Co, Chief John Myrsiades did address this topic. I have confidence in the leadership of Chief Myrsiades and support him in his new role. Accepting and validating an issue is the first step to addressing the issue and making positive change for the community as a whole. I do feel after attending Chief Myrsiades town hall meeting that he is willing to address such issues head on.

Articles referenced:

Philadelphia Inquirer –

Times Herald –