CLEARFIELD – A large crowd gathered last night at the Florian Banquet Hall on Mill Road in Lawrence Township, as the supervisors intended to vote on whether or not to put the matter of consolidating with Clearfield Borough on the May ballot.
The supervisors were not to decide on consolidation itself, only whether or not it would be voted on by the residents.
After hearing from residents who expressed concerns, either encouraged the supervisors to put it on the ballot or asked them to delay or not do so at all, Supervisor Bill Lawhead made the motion.
However, the motion died for lack of a second from either Supervisor Randy Powell or Dan Mitchell.
Some of the concerns raised were that taxes for the residents would go up. Other people were concerned that they didn’t have enough information about what would happen if the municipalities did consolidate.
Residents were also concerned that sub-committees of the joint committee only met once and then gave reports. Some noted the borough and township should be working on bringing jobs in for people.
One resident asked about what Act 47 was and why they should be concerned. Solicitor James Naddeo took a moment to explain Act 47.
He said the state has red flagged both Lawrence Township and Clearfield Borough as having the potential of being in financial distress soon.
If the state determines either is in financial distress, the state government, under the Department of Community and Economic Development, will step in and take control.
Taxes and spending will no longer be under control of the residents, the state will decide how much taxes residents must pay, and what services they will receive and what will be cut. “You would lose local control,” he explained.
Some of the information from people who support putting the matter on the ballot included continued deficits made up from a diminishing fund balance in the township budget and a police pension underfunded by about $650,000.
One resident noted that what affects the borough affects the township, and vice versa. Some people pointed out that if the issue is placed on the ballot, then the responsibility of the outcome rests on the people of the municipalities.
“Until we get answers, I cannot do this,” Powell stated, noting he has many concerns, some of which were outlined in a letter presented to everyone at the meeting.
Some of those concerns were whether there is adequate room in any of the buildings for equipment, vehicles, etc. He said decals on equipment would need replaced.
There is concern about what would happen with the fire companies. And, during the meeting, he said if the municipality was to be a third-class township, all the street signs would need replaced. He is also concerned that the consolidation is moving too fast.
According to previous articles on GANT News, the new municipality would legally not have been a third-class township, but the designation was discussed as a way for the municipality to interact with the state Department of Transportation, which does not recognize home rule.
Regarding buildings, the joint committee has stated that the new council was going to survey the buildings and equipment and decide what would be kept and what could be sold and the changes would be made gradually.
Also, according to information reported during committee meetings, the fire company representatives, when questioned by committee members, said they would prefer that the fire companies continue to operate as they have been.
The proposed charter for home rule did provide for someone to act as a coordinator or liaison between the municipality and fire companies.
One resident stated that she understood that under home rule, the council would be made of four appointed representatives and four elected officials. According to previous articles and information provided by the joint committee, all council seats would have been elected, four by district and four at large, and also the position of mayor.
A resident asked if the township is close to Act 47 status. Powell said no. When more questions about it were expressed, Naddeo stated that the township is being watched closely by Harrisburg (the state government) and reminded the audience that Lawrence Township and Clearfield Borough are not the only municipalities facing falling revenues and rising expenses.
As the meeting drew to a close, a resident pointed out that the matter of consolidation has been discussed by the joint committee and asked the supervisors if they would make a commitment to find the answers to their questions.
The supervisors stated they would, though Powell said he has been sidestepped when asking questions of committee members.
After the meeting GANT News spoke with Gerald Cross, representative of the Pennsylvania Economy League, who explained how the tax rates would have been calculated under a new municipality.
The total assessed value of property in Lawrence Township is $60,833,970. One mill represents $1 in tax per $1,000 in tax assessed value. Therefore, one mill should generate $60,833 in real estate taxes (assuming 100 percent of the tax is collected).
In the borough, the total assessed value of property is $39,722,117 and one mill of tax generates $39, 722. The township has over 80 square miles of land while the borough has about two square miles.
“In a consolidated municipality, the assessed value of property would be combined,” he explained in a memo to the joint committee. The combined assessed value would be $100,556,087. One mill of real estate tax would generate about $100,556 (the sum of $60,833 plus $39,722).
Borough President Brian Lytle noted the matter is not dead, only delayed and Cross agreed, saying it will have to be revisited by the borough again and then by the township.
Clearfield Borough voted to put consolidation on the ballot at a meeting held Jan. 19.
Lytle added that information from the meetings is online from media outlets and is also available from any committee member and representatives of PEL.
He added that when committee members attended Lawrence Township meetings and asked the supervisors if they had questions and concerns, none were raised.
Anyone with questions or concerns can contact committee members, the borough or township offices or even Cross at the Pennsylvania Economy League.