Although there are only five candidates running for the five seats on the Berwyn Heights Town Council in Tuesday’s elections, campaign signs line the town’s tree-shaded streets, all of them for current Mayor Cheye Calvo and Mayor Pro-tem James Wilkinson.
In Berwyn Heights elections, the top vote-getter becomes mayor, and the second vote-getter becomes mayor pro-tem, who acts as mayor in the absence of the mayor. Wilkinson is looking to unseat eight-year incumbent Calvo in his bid for a fifth term.
The issue dividing the two is how Berwyn Heights moved forward with plans to install sidewalks.
“We have crowded streets,” said Wilkinson, who has been on the council since 2009, referring to the vehicles often lining the streets of the 3,000-resident town. “If a car comes barreling down the street, you’re yanking the dog on the leash to dodge between cars, and God forbid if you have a stroller.”
At a candidate forum Wednesday, four incumbents — including Calvo and Wilkinson — and one new candidate laid out their priorities for the next two-year term. All candidates run at-large.
Elections will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Town Center at 8603 57th Ave.
The two other incumbents, who are unopposed and returning to the council, are Patricia Dennison, a special education aide at Berwyn Heights Elementary School seeking her sixth term; and Jodie Kulpa-Eddy, a 12-year resident who works as a veterinarian at the Department of Agriculture, seeking a second term.
Rose Almoguera, a former research analyst at the Food Policy Research Institute and now a full-time mother of two, has lived in Berwyn Heights for six years and is running unopposed to fill the council seat being vacated by Richard Ahrens, who is not seeking re-election to a second term.
Wilkinson said he has a plan to pay for sidewalks throughout the town in three years, using funds from speed cameras, the town’s infrastructure fund, a portion of a half-million-dollar surplus and federal grants.
“It’s a safety issue,” Wilkinson said, adding that the infrastructure improvements would also raise property values. “[Sidewalks are] what people today expect in their neighborhoods.”
Calvo said he is in favor of sidewalks but is concerned about the town council biting off more of the project at one time than it can chew financially.
While the council voted April 9 to start a $21,000 study on a few of the town’s most heavily traveled streets, Town Administrator Edward Murphy said it is too early to know how much the entire project will cost the town.
“Three years ago, we saw our tax base decline 27 percent,” Calvo said, referring to home value assessment in the town, which depends on real property taxes for more than 65 percent of revenue. “Next year, it could be a 5 to 10 percent decline.”
Calvo also said he does not want to push forward with the project without building consensus in the community.
“From talking to people, I would say two-thirds are for sidewalks, and one-third are against it,” Calvo said. “I’m fearful if we push this, we’ll get nothing done.”
Ahrens’ wife, Joan Ahrens, said she looks forward to the day when she can walk to Beltway Plaza shopping center on Greenbelt Road on sidewalks rather than on busy 62nd Avenue, which she said is a main entrance to the town.
“You either have to walk on the grass or take your chances on the street,” Joan Ahrens said. “I’d love to see a sidewalk on 62nd.”