Township officials called to act
People like local government because it is accessible. Yet that personal touch is in danger of being eliminated if Pennsylvania's legislature is successful in passing various bills aimed at consolidating government into a county or state format. The message brought to members of the Franklin County Association of Township Officials, which held its fall convention Oct. 22 in Greencastle, was for officials to be alert and active on issues.
Antrim administrator Bradley Graham and supervisors Rick Baer and Fred Young III were among the hundred people gathered to receive updates on current and statewide issues at the Rescue Hose Company Special Events Center.
William Hawk, a member of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, said the public was clear on its attitude toward their elected officials. "They know where you live, your phone number. They can get a hold of you every day of the week."
He added that citizens favored reduced government until it hit close to home, especially if it was forced rather than a choice.
Cory Adams, PSATS' legislative analyst, followed up during his featured speech "A Call to Action." From his dealings in Harrisburg on a regular basis, he understood that township government was viewed by some as a special interest, not a partner with the state. It, as well as borough governance, had been called an "antiquated relic" that should be abolished.
Adams cautioned, "Local government has no protection under the Constitution. That's how scary this is."
He noted state funding had been eliminated for shared municipal services, sewage facilities enforcement grants, land use planning and technical assistance programs. No money was available to help municipalities and school districts implement Act 32 of 2008, which is currently underway as a countywide Earned Income Tax Collection system is being organized.
House Bill 1500 addresses state police fees for those townships that do not provide police protection. The cost per person would be $52 the first year, then go up to $104 and $156 annually. Failure to pay would result in loss of state funding through the liquid fuels fund, to which Antrim was allocated over $404,000 this year, and the loss of state police coverage. "It's a bad bill," said Adams. "It needs to be defeated."
He urged the FCATO members to speak to their legislators and urge common-sense reforms that cost little yet provided measurable benefits to local government.
Adams highlighted various ideas on the table in Harrisburg, including raising bidding limits from $10,000 to $25,000; and the phone quote threshold from $4,000 to $7,000. "In theory these would never have to be addressed again, because the threshold would go up with the Consumer Price Index. The numbers have not been amended in 19 years."
Other pertinent bills under discussion were the publishing of legal notices, with an option for posting online rather than in a newspaper; establishing a plan in which PennDOT revised its bonding schedule; using a formula for federal revenue sharing to benefit municipalities of all sizes; and an optional county sales tax.
The number one hot issue for PSATS in the last year was the new Right to Know law, with hundreds of final determinations made by the Office of Open Records. Adams stressed that personal financial information was public, meaning everything on a W-2 form except the social security number. Email was also treated the same as any other document, and even personal computer emails could be required to be produced if used for township business. "Be careful what you send on your computer," Adams warned.
Sprinklers in new residential homes could also be required if a recommendation from the International Codes Council was adopted. PSATS supported the sprinklers only if it was a local decision, not an unfunded mandate, and he thought the cost to rural property owners using wells would be "astronomical."