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Conversation of community

Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo shares township updates at Bensalem Business Directory meeting

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Forever grateful: Pondeli Hajioannou (left), owner of Philadelphia Private Gym and founder/president of the Bensalem Business Directory, presented Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo with a plaque, naming him an honorary member of the networking group. Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

What’s a fun fact about the mayor of Bensalem? Joseph DiGirolamo hates plaques. It’s not because he doesn’t appreciate the honors they symbolize. He just has so many, he wonders who will want them when he someday passes.

But on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 3, DiGirolamo was gifted another to add to his collection, one that represented the gratitude felt by a local business owner who largely credits the mayor for where he is today.

This newest plaque was presented by Pondeli Hajioannou, owner of Philadelphia Private Gym and founder/president of the Bensalem Business Directory, at the organization’s monthly meeting held at the Bensalem Country Club. Not only did it name DiGirolamo an honorary member of the networking group, it thanked him for “trusting and believing” in Hajioannou’s mission to unite the local business community since 2009, when the BBD was born.

Hajioannou shared a story about DiGirolamo with the dozens of attendees, among them Rep. Gene DiGirolamo and Fred Harran, director of public safety. Twenty-nine years ago, before the idea of running for mayor entered DiGirolamo’s mind, he attended his first council meeting. Newly retired from a career in farming, he was curious to see what it was all about. Little did he realize, the councilmembers would battle about the township’s budget until 3 a.m.

By that point, DiGirolamo had enough of their bickering, and decided to stand and make suggestions of his own. Councilwoman Barbara Barnes, who would later become a close friend and administrative assistant of his for more than two decades, didn’t want to hear it. If DiGirolamo thought he could do a better job, she told him to step up. And that’s what he did.

“That story reminds me of how, years ago, when I came up with the idea of starting a business organization to help the community out and I went to talk to him about it because I had no idea how to do it,” said Hajioannou.

DiGirolamo essentially told Hajioannou the same thing Barnes once said to him — “Why don’t you do it yourself?”

“Ten years later, here I am running this organization with up to 180 members,” Hajioannou said, proudly stating how the BBD encompasses businesses of all sorts, both large and small.

On at least an annual basis, he meets with DiGirolamo to discuss what’s going on in Bensalem and how the business community can potentially help. Each January, DiGirolamo returns the favor by serving as the guest speaker at “Meeting with our Mayor,” which typically receives the highest turnout. Members are able to ask questions of DiGirolamo and learn about local projects that could potentially affect their business.

An open discussion: Bensalem Township Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo was the guest speaker at the Bensalem Business Directory’s recent “Meeting with our Mayor,” which allowed members to ask him questions and learn about local projects. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

Though DiGirolamo didn’t have anything specific prepared, admitting that he’s not one for speeches, he engaged attendees with an overview of his journey. He reflected on when he first came into office, and there were 13 empty buildings on Route 1.

“Bensalem was in bad condition, very poor shape. Roads, infrastructure, everything,” he said. “It was time to have a new start, find a way to get things done.”

One of his first orders of business was securing $17 million to fix the roads. Though his decision to spend this much on infrastructure was met with negativity, DiGirolamo stuck by his actions.

“We had to step up to the plate. We had to make the tough decisions,” he said.

DiGirolamo then touched on the importance of the business community, and how those improvements he fought for so long ago helped it grow.

“That’s always been №1 — to make sure we have people that want to be here and run their businesses here,” he said. “I think we’ve done that. Are we perfect? Of course not. Could we do more? And that’s where the business community comes in. You have to open up to us also, tell us what the needs are, how we can make it better.”

During a closing Q&A session, DiGirolamo shed light on the members’ concerns of the influx of tobacco shops and severe flooding issue on State Road.

“The tobacco problem, there’s absolutely nothing we can do. It’s a commercial area, you’re allowed to sell cigarettes,” he said.

Still, he mentioned several initiatives underway, including police regulation of underage teens going in the shops, and an upcoming request for the stores to take down their advertisements, many of which are located by bus stops frequently utilized by children.

“There’s stuff all over. It’s out of control. It’s probably going to make a lot of people mad but again, you have to make that tough choice,” DiGirolamo said. “It’s just so difficult trying to get people to cooperate. It’s just a tough road, but it looks a lot better than it used to.”

As for State Road, he explained how the area has flooded since he was a child, but never to its recent extent. Though it’s considered a state highway, DiGirolamo said the township is stepping in to replace the pipe that runs underneath, which was installed in the 1920s.

“It should help. It’s not a solution because when the tide is up and a storm comes, the water can’t go out,” he said, adding how the township is working with engineers to permanently fix the problem over the next five years.

Additional issues brought up by BBD members included the lack of sidewalks on Station Avenue and Bristol Pike. According to DiGirolamo, Station Avenue in the direction of the river will soon get sidewalks, though Bristol Pike isn’t currently in the budget. He also addressed the question of whether the bus stop at Knights and Street roads, arguably one of the most dangerous intersections in the country, could be moved. DiGirolamo encouraged the member to call SEPTA and keep him updated so he could follow up if necessary.

“Teams win,” he said. ••

Visit BensalemBusinessDirectory.com or facebook.com/BensalemBusinessDirectory for more information on the organization.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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