At 75, Buterbaugh has served as Big Run mayor for three decades
BIG RUN — If there's anyone who has been as consistent as the Big Run Peepers, it's Joe Buterbaugh, who has been the mayor of Big Run for the last 30 years and is currently the longest-serving mayor in Jefferson County following the death of Worthville Mayor Forest L. Mauer in 2009.
"I first became the mayor in 1982, and me and the Big Run War Memorial building still look basically the same," Buterbaugh laughed.
Over the years, the War Memorial has undergone some changes, including restroom updates, Buterbaugh said, adding that the one thing that won't change is the borough's ownership of the building.
"The War Memorial was built by the citizens, and it belongs to the citizens," he said. "We need to do everything we can to keep it."
Buterbaugh knows all about the citizens of Big Run — and they know him.
Buterbaugh said he is known for always handing out Life Saver mints to everyone he sees, and for his most-recent birthday — his 75th — he received eight bags of the mints shaped like life preservers.
Though he may be known for candy, Buterbaugh, as mayor, is no stranger to tough situations that both borough taxpayers and officials face. His last 30 years as mayor, he said, have been an experience.
"Any time you are in a position of leadership, there will be some people who don't like you based on a decision made by council that they didn't agree with," Buterbaugh said.
He said borough council exists to serve the people and to save taxpayers money.
Buterbaugh said if council is doing something one way and discovers it can save money by doing it another way, members are obligated to make that change.
"Egos, and sometimes people, get in the way when it comes to making decisions," he said, adding that Big Run's population as of the last census was 624, which works out to be 262 households — and doesn't make for much of a tax base.
He said there are many people like him and his wife, Rose, who are on fixed incomes, which makes it difficult to pay taxes.
Buterbaugh said he can't remember the last time borough council raised taxes.
"None of us like to see an increase in taxes, but the borough needs money in order to perform maintenance and other services," he said.
"Most people living in small towns like to have big-town advantages, and it doesn't happen that way."
He said Big Run is located on one of the busiest highways in the state, Route 119.
"When PennDOT performed a traffic count on Route 119 several years ago, the counter recorded that 6,200 vehicles travel though this town everyday; that's an awful lot," Buterbaugh said, "And there's an awful lot of motorists who don't understand that the speed limit is 35 mph."
Buterbaugh said the reason speeding is such a problem in the borough is because it can't afford to hire a police officer to enforce the law.
"A former police officer, Brian Lyons, spoke at a recent council meeting and reported on the study that he performed on the costs of hiring a Big Run Police officer again, which was an estimated cost of $60,000 per year," Buterbaugh said. "That amount of money, which includes the benefits, would eliminate most of the borough's funds and savings."
He said the Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police force does what it can with patrols but has its own budget cuts to worry about and increased crime as the result of drug abuse throughout the area.
Buterbaugh said the drug culture has changed everything.
"I was talking with a DuBois City Police officer who works the late shift, and he said the drug situation drives most of the crimes that are committed there," Buterbuagh said. "Anybody who doesn't believe we have a drug problem around here has tinted glasses on. The idea of a resource officer at Punxsutawney Area High School to assist the school with the drug problem is a good one, except who's going to pay for it?"
As he handles the tough issues as mayor, Butuerbaugh also continues to stay busy in his retirement years by assisting at the McCabe Funeral Home in Punxsutawney.
"You'd be surprised of the number of people who sent me birthday cards that I met through working at the funeral home," he said. "From my experiences there I say, 'If you've got to cry, cry.' That's why God gave us tear ducts as an outlet."
Buterbaugh is hoping that when he passes on, the experience will not be quite so traumatic for his family.
"I told our family last Christmas that with all of our funeral arrangements completed and paid for, they won't have anything to do," he said. "I did say that I hope they turn up at the funeral.
"Then I took my son Joe aside and told him that I'm going to be laid out for five day and five nights; I don't want anyone to use the excuse that they didn't have time to come and see me at the funeral home," Buterbaugh said. "My son looked me right in the eye and said, 'If you think I'm coming down to the funeral home five days and nights, you're crazy,’" Buterbaugh laughed.
All joking aside, Buterbaugh praised council officials who have done a good job.
"(Council President) Nick Lantz and the other members are another great council, and Carmeta States is doing a great job as the secretary," Buterbaugh said. "I also had the privilege to serve with long-time borough secretary Eleanor Stumpf."
And don't forget his wife, Rose, who, for the first time in 30 years, was not in charge of elections in the borough.
"Behind every man is a good woman, and my wife, Rose, has been a great asset to the office also," Buterbaugh said.
With a rich past, Buterbaugh is looking forward to the future’ and said he would like to continue as mayor as long as his health allows him to.
"If everything continues to be good, I'll run again in 2014," Buterbaugh said. "No man knows when the end is going to happen. I've been lucky because Big Run Borough has been a great place to live.”