Last week, Bensalem Patch had the opportunity to sit down with the mayor of Bensalem Township Joseph DiGirolamo and ask him some important questions.
Bensalem Patch: I've grown up in Bensalem all my life and for as long as I can remember you've been the mayor. Were you always involved in politics?
Mayor DiGirolamo: Not always. But when I retired at 51, I knew I wanted to become involved in the community. My parents, immigrants, were hardworking patriots and instilled important values in me, including the fact that it is important to give back to the community. After I retired, I began to volunteer within the community, including being the chair of the tricentennial committee in 1989. In 1990, the government of Bensalem Township changed and the first mayor, Ed Burns, was elected. I continued being involved in the community through the tricentennial in 1992. When Ed Burns decided not to run for another term, people began telling me I should run for mayor. So I threw my hat in and became mayor on January 1, 1994.
BP: What kinds of changes have you made as mayor?
MD: Even before I became mayor, I'd told Ed Burns that the roads were in dire need of repair. The mayor put in a referendum with a maximum of $9 million to fix the roads. After he declined to run again and I was elected, I began to hold town meetings and we discussed the road situation. The roads were evaluated and I discovered that it actually was going to cost $17.9 million to have the roads fixed. We passed a bond for that amount and by the second year of my term, paving was occurring on every township road.
BP: Were there any other changes you implemented early in your mayoral career?
MD: When I took the position in '94, there weren't a lot of businesses coming to Bensalem Township. I wanted people to know that Bensalem was looking for companies to come in, increase revenue, and of course, create jobs. In addition to putting a sign on Route 1 that stated Bensalem is a business-friendly place, I began talking to different businesses such as restaurants, retailers, and manufacturers. To convince them to come to Bensalem, I initiated a more-streamlined process that cut out a lot of red-tape and made it easier for businesses to establish themselves here.
BP: Speaking of businesses, how has Bensalem fared during these tough economic times?
MD: Well, times are tough economically. But for 17 years, and I'm very proud of this, I've never raised general fund taxes, in fact, I lowered them twice and completely eliminated the Per Capita Tax. When I came into office, there were 70 police officers. Now there are 100. I'm very focused on the welfare of the community and we have very fine police, fire, and emergency units and we see to it that they are well-trained.
BP: You seem focused on safety.
MD: Of course. Safety is unequivocally important. I've managed to take precautions to ensure that Bensalem is protected should there be any sort of disaster. But I also want to stress that education is also enormously important to me. During my time as mayor, I've worked very closely with the school board.
BP: Are there any other issues important to you? Being someone who ran a farm for 25 years, do you find yourself environmentally-conscious?
MD: Well, the environment is a big one to me. This building [the Bensalem Township Municipal Complex] is actually very environmentally-friendly and parts of it are LEED-certified. Construction workers are installing solar panels as we speak. Outside of this building, we like to keep open space in Bensalem. Think about the golf course.
BP: That's true. I can't help but notice the TD Bank Amphitheater outside. What inspired that?
MD: I wanted to bring all sorts of entertainment to Bensalem. When I grew up, rock and roll was king. As times change, so does taste in music. By creating a venue in Bensalem where bands and live music can come, I can expose the township to a wide variety of culture and music that they might not be familiar with. We've also put $4 million into the construction of the new gym at Bensalem High School, so we're definitely going to get some use out of that as well.
BP: Do you have any future plans for the township?
MD: I'm very interested in what I like to call the “riverfront renaissance.” There is a lot of unused property on the riverfront and I've been trying to get new housing and businesses to develop that area. Keep in mind, this isn't clearing land for new businesses and homes. Rather, we are recycling and rebuilding what's already there, but not being used.
BP: Thank you for your time. It seems like you've accomplished a lot during your time as mayor.
MD: Thank you. I want to make it very clear, however, that it wasn't just me that influenced the changes here in the community. I work with a team of very skilled individuals and without their help very little would have been accomplished. I'm merely the leader of a team, the chairman of the board. I owe a lot to these talented people. And I always have the interests of the township at heart. I bleed Bensalem.
For more information about the mayor or to contact the mayor's office, feel free to visit the official biography page.