Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Here is a New Twist to Save Money in Pennsylvania . . . Let’s Do Away with Township & Borough Government

There are some elected officials in Pennsylvania that think they have come up with a way to save money although it would require changing the Commonwealth’s constitution to make it happen. The proposed Pennsylvania House Bill 2431 would eliminate city, township and borough governments . . . in other words; the bill suggests collapsing local government to create county-run control.

Those behind the bill believe that state-level legislation to consolidate local government is a way to reduce the overall cost of government. Forced municipal consolidation would radically change the governing of Pennsylvania. Potentially all local governments would be wiped out in one fell swoop and the municipal responsibilities would move to the county level. The bill would create a committee to condense the townships and boroughs and have local control pass to the county level. From snow removal to providing water and sewer, from law enforcement to land use decisions — these now local services would become regionally provided for by a centralized, bigger government . . . the county!

Under the current system, our local government is local. We have our elected officials working and living in the area they serve. With this proposed legislation, resident questions and concerns would pass to the larger county government. For instance, if a resident or a neighborhood has a zoning issue (Mt. Pleasant community as a recent example) you would be reliant on the county officials to respond. Under this proposed bill, the residents would contact an unknown official who could be on the other side of the county. How much would the county official really understand about a localized community issue? Stands to reason that depending on where the resident is in any given county, there could be a complete disconnect and lack of understanding of the specific issue. Look at Chester County and our diversity . . . one could imagine the vast difference of issues of residents in the dense, more developed areas of northern Chester County and the rural, less-populated areas of southern Chester County. In making decisions, would the county officials be able to offer even handedness of all resident issues. Not sure that would be possible.

However, shared services between local municipalities should be heralded as a form of cost cutting. Based on the specific needs of given local governments in the Commonwealth, municipalities should encourage the consolidation of services where fiscally responsible. Depending on the township or borough, the sharing of services could take different direction . . . health care plans, snow and trash removal, law enforcement, etc. Individual local governments and their elected officials should take up this cost-saving cause . . . but not forced consolidation by state mandate.

Although I am not aware that our elected township officials have responded specifically to the proposed legislation, many townships in Chester County have been very vocal about passing a resolution to oppose House Bill 2431. The Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors is supporting resolution to oppose the proposed legislation. The road for House Bill 2431 is a long one . . . if it were to get House and Senate approval; it would still require the support of the majority of Pennsylvania residents. Although not likely to be supported by the residents, the bill would then go back to the legislation to be shaped in to a specific law with guidelines.

This is one of those proposed legislative changes that is unlikely to go very far; although it would be fascinating to know how much money would be saved if you did away with all local government in Pennsylvania.

However, at the end of the day, I think House Bill 2431 makes the case that ‘bigger government’ is not necessarily ‘better government’.

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  1. Of course many townships have been very vocal about this, it would be there jobs. In spite of all the noise that they are making about this issue, aren’t some of these ideas worth taking a look at. I am sure the TAXPAYING public would like it!!!!!

  2. This is no different then most of the country where counties are the true municipal authority. PA being a commonwealth, the city, township or borough has ultimate authority. In most states, State police patrol everywhere, but County Sheriff Deputies patrol each county. Local areas may have their own police, but that is only if they decide to tax for it themselves. In states like NY, the county taxes are way higher then local tax, which only pays for things like parks and services hat the town/city wants that the county won’t provide for.
    I believe consolidation can and should happen, but not at this level. Our townships may have some money issues now due to the economy, but look at the state budget! Oh bother!

    There will of course be areas who need this to make life better. They just simply can’t support themselves on their own taxation revenues. Even in Chester County you have areas like Valley, Parkesburg, Pomeroy and Modenea where municipal funding isn’t enough. But if they could consolidate their revenues and expenditures, they would probably benefit a lot.

  3. there is a need for a painless revolution.
    T. Jefferson suggested this while writing the declaration.
    ….State and national governments have over stepped their purpose, and are in need of outside reform.
    …I do not have the correct solution as of today, but I am working on it. As of to date, there is a clause to abolish all MBA programs, and disband 2/3 of the lawyers and 1/2 of the architects.


    W.W. Ivey IV

  4. Papadick
    Every time I used other district contracts as part of my preparation for contract talks, I speculated on the benefits of having a larger district where places like Radnor, Lower Merion, T/E didn’t compete with each other for hiring — and thus artifically raised salaries based on perceived demand. It’s hard to embrace, but I have long believed that is a question worthy of debate and research. PA, however, has the highest percentage of people living here that were born here (I assume that is still true); we may be the most change-resistant state in the country. Not a lot of new ideas come here, and not a lot of statewide educational commonality — we very often send our children to the schools where we grew up. Status quo defines our way of life. Many states have consolidated districts with varying degrees of success –and failure — and it is typically only successful (meaning it happens — not quantifying the quality of the result) when the state orchestrates it by increasing state funding for districts that do it. The obvious difficulty with that model is that it means politicians (see today’s DL letter about politics) would be involved….which means non-educational issues would influence the decisions. Studies over the past 20 years are relatively limited in scope (studying consolidation is often limited to specific states, doesn’t always consider school sizes vs. district sizes, and rarely conclude anything about consolidation in general, but rather identify the benefits of consolidating small districts (less than 500 students).
    But the reality is — we already have Tredyffrin-Easttown School District….and we have Tredyffrin AND Easttown townships…..imagine the furor over deciding which township would rule…or why one township would want to incorporate the other in their process (they already have different tax structures, tax bases and get different percentages of transfer taxes.) While the US was consolidating districts aggressively up until the early 70ss, our area actually split out districts, creating Great Valley….
    The issue cannot be just cost when it comes to education — so returns on investment have to do with student outcomes….and consolidating usually crosses demographics, so even student outcomes / achievement levels are difficult to measure.
    By the way — this is in no way a start to the debate. And I think it is obvious that there are likely to be more economies of scale at the township level (where we already share lots of public services — libraries across the township, schools across the township, snow plowing (sort of)….) And I’m not sure anyone wants that debate to take place either…

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