On Jan. 19 the Lawrence Township board of supervisors and the Clearfield Borough Council will vote whether or not to move forward with consolidating the two municipalities.
If the plan passes both boards, it will then go to the voters of the municipalities on May 16 to vote on the referendum.
The Clearfield-Lawrence Joint Consolidation Committee has finished its work in drafting a home rule charter and memorandum of understanding.
Now, members are starting an outreach to the public to explain their work, including a public meeting at the Clearfield Junior-Senior High School this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
To that end, GANT News has interviewed the co-chairmen of the committee, Bill Lawhead of Lawrence Township and Brian Lytle of Clearfield Borough to get their perspectives on the consolidation plan.
The plan is for a consolidation, which is two equal partners joining together to make something better. A merger is when one entity takes over the other one.
In the case of Clearfield and Lawrence Township, the two – if approved – will join together and form a new municipality, the City of Clearfield, under home rule charter.
Lytle is president of Clearfield Borough Council and has first-hand knowledge of how borough government operates. He said the first committee meeting regarding consolidation was in March of 2015.
The borough learned of a grant through the state Department of Community and Economic Development and Alan Walker, former secretary of the department, was involved early on.
He said talk about the municipalities joining together would come up informally, but when the grant to actually investigate the possibility was awarded, the talks became formal. The borough filled out the application and it was approved by council and Lawrence Township was brought on board, as the money had to be used by both.
Home rule, Lytle explained in his own words, is where the rules are made at home. He said this was the easiest way to explain it. It allows the municipality to create a structure that caters to the needs of area residents.
According to him, townships and boroughs have books of rules to follow, municipal code books. With home rule, the rules are created at the local level catering to the unique needs of the people.
Lytle said there have been many public meetings held since that first meeting last year. The main committee, made up of residents of both municipalities, also created sub-committees regarding police, fire, administrative, public works and authorities.
He said this was to explore the different aspects of the municipalities and get input from those who do the work day to day. The sub-committees researched the functions of the different groups and how they work, and then presented this information to the committee as a whole. Lytle added there has also been a lot of discussion with the residents with committee members hearing both concerns and desires.
There has been discussion of joining the municipalities in the past, but nothing formally came of it. Lytle said the grant helped get things rolling. “There is a financial reality to the process,” he said. Additionally, there was always an issue of timing and getting certain basic ideas agreed upon.
Lytle said the group of committee members has been great to work with. “They’ve been patient and open-minded and willing to compromise,” he said, adding that even when there were disagreements the members didn’t allow them to create divides. He said the committee has been deliberate and thoughtful and worked through problems.
What are the benefits of the municipalities consolidating? Lytle said people need to look at the process as a whole. As things come together, there will be more efficiency and a financial benefit.
He said there will be an elimination of duplicate services, resulting in savings, and more “bang for the buck” in use of tax money. He said the two will benefit from each other’s strengths, there are things the borough can offer and things the township can offer: land, a well-developed downtown, etc. Both, he said, have advantages to offer each other.
Any disadvantages, he said, would be early and short term. “Nobody likes change,” Lytle said, noting this will take people out of their comfort zone. “This is new, and the unknown is uncomfortable to everyone.” He said it will help if everyone can keep in mind the long-term goals and reason for consolidating, and they’ll find the growing pains will pass.
All full-time jobs will remain, the fire departments will remain as they are and police coverage will remain as well. Lytle said in a perfect world no one will even notice the differences.
It is a marriage of equals, Lytle said. He added that both municipalities are remarkably similar in finances, demographics and employees. “It makes sense to come together. Realistically, this is the best time to come together on this, before we get into hard times, we can work together to join together.”
So, what happens next? The committee members will be involved in outreach to the community to explain the process and the results. On Jan. 19, the two municipal boards will vote on the matter, and if it passes, it will go to the voters of the municipalities. If it is turned down by either of the municipal governments or the people, it cannot be brought up again for a few years, Lytle said.
If the referendum passes, there will be a period of preparation. He said the committee will help with the transition. The new government will go into effect on Jan. 6, 2020.
Before this, the eight members of council and mayor will be elected. Four council members and the mayor will be elected at large and four council members will be elected from four wards that will extend out from the center of the City of Clearfield; each ward will be very similar population wise.
Many decisions will need to be made by the elected officials. The committee can make recommendations, but the final decisions are up to the new council.
“The members have worked a year and a half with the best interests of the community at heart,” Lytle said, “We all live and work here, we want a viable and stable community for the future.” He said the volunteer members of the committee have put in lots of time on this all for the long-term benefit of the community. He said they all have a vested interest in doing it well.