CLEARFIELD – The question of consolidating Lawrence Township and Clearfield Borough has been a hot topic recently, and last night residents and committee members alike expected the Lawrence Township Supervisors to vote on whether to put it on the ballot for voters to decide.
However, there was considerable confusion regarding the meeting and vote, and ultimately the question is going to have to wait a little longer.
It was standing room only last night when more than 20 citizens from the township, and a few borough residents who are also on the consolidation committee gathered for the expected vote.
Both Randy Powell and Dan Mitchell, supervisors, said they were unaware that they were to vote that night, that the last they had heard was that the vote was to be tomorrow along with the borough.
Supervisor Bill Lawhead said the joint meeting at the high school had to be abandoned due to rules about where borough meetings can be held.
Powell and Mitchell noted that the matter was not on the agenda, and Secretary Barbara Shaffner pointed out that other matters can be brought up that aren’t on the agenda.
After considerable discussion by the supervisors and the public, Solicitor James Naddeo spoke up. He said that a vote on whether to put the question on the ballot couldn’t take place anyhow because the ordinance in question had to be advertised first. After seven days of being advertised, the supervisors could then vote on whether to proceed.
“Keep in mind,” Naddeo said, “the vote is not to do it (consolidate), the vote is to put it on the ballot for the people to decide.”
Borough Operations Manager Leslie Stott informed the supervisors that the borough had already advertised the ordinance and were ready to vote on it at Thursday’s meeting.
The supervisors did vote to advertise the ordinance, and will vote at the next regular meeting Feb. 7. The meeting will also be held in one of the fire halls so that members of the public will have room to sit and also have opportunity to speak.
During public comment, the opinions varied. Committee member Randy Lemmo began by noting that a democracy is where the people decide the course of government while a dictatorship is where one or a handful of people decide.
He asked the supervisors to allow democracy to prevail and give the people the chance to vote. Other committee members and residents expressed the same sentiment, stating that the people of the township and the borough need to be the ones who decide on the matter.
Alan Walker, who is a township resident and also a committee member, explained that the state Department of Community and Economic Development has a list of communities that are reaching a point of financial distress, a point where, under Act 47, the state can step in and take over, setting the tax rate and telling the community how to spend money.
Four years ago, both Clearfield and Lawrence Township were on a list of communities to watch and the state stepped in with early intervention measures, including a grant of $100,000 to explore options, including consolidation. If the matter is put on the ballot in May and the people vote no, then that settles the matter for several years.
Another resident spoke up and said that he looked into Act 47 and only cities and boroughs are on the list, and the township has nothing to gain from consolidation.
However, two townships have been under Act 47, Westfall Township in Pike County and Plymouth Township in Luzerne County. The first was rescinded in 2014 and the other in 2016.
A full list of municipalities that have been under, or are currently under, Act 47 can be found at dced.pa.gov, hover over Local Government and then on the far right, click on Act 47.
Other residents expressed concern that there would be no advantage to the township and that the new government could raise taxes even higher.
Residents will have more time to weigh the issues and voice their opinions. On Thursday the borough will vote on whether to put the issue on the ballot, and on Feb. 7 the township will do the same.
If both municipalities vote in the affirmative, then the voters of both municipalities will have their final say at the May election.