CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield Borough/Lawrence Township Joint Committee spent nearly two hours at last night’s meeting discussing details of a proposed Home Rule Charter.
In the event of a consolidation of Clearfield Borough and Lawrence Township, the charter document would delineate the form of government for the new municipality – the structure, function and responsibilities of its board as well as its limits.
A working draft document was provided by the staff of the Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL) for discussion by the committee.
PEL is the independent organization hired with funds from a state Department of Community & Economic Development Early Intervention grant to do a feasibility study on the municipal consolidation, and to guide the joint committee in the study process.
Items discussed that would be in the Home Rule Charter included the make-up of the board or council for the new municipality. It was agreed that a nine-member council would be the best option, and should be made up of four members elected from designated districts of the municipality, four elected at large, and the city mayor would fill the ninth position with full voting privileges.
With a good deal of discussion, members also agreed that terms for council should be two years, with term limits of 12 years. The mayor would, however, be a four-year term, but also with term limits.
Other items considered were qualifications. The committee agreed that setting the requirement of being a registered voter with the default minimum age of 18 was acceptable. The consensus was for minimum one-year residency to be elected to the council, and maintaining residency through the term to remain on council.
Compensation for council members was discussed. Co-Chairman Bill Lawhead noted that the Lawrence Township Supervisors receive $50 per meeting, not to exceed $2,400 per year, with mandatory attendance for compensation.
Committee member Leslie Stott, also Clearfield Borough operations manager, said the borough pays its council members $900 per year for meetings, but attendance is not mandatory. The mayor, she added, receives $150 per meeting.
Members agreed that compensation should be limited and be based on meeting attendance. It was also the consensus that any approved increases would be effective after the following election.
Discussion on “revolving door prohibition” policies evoked some feedback from the audience. Gerry Cross, executive director for PEL, said the policy is instituted by federal, state and local governments to prevent elected officials from benefiting from municipal employment or contractors during and for a period after their term in office.
Borough resident Todd Kling said that it did not seem fair to limit a person’s job opportunities while or because of serving in an elected position. He said it is especially limiting in the Clearfield area, where jobs have been at times difficult to keep and even more difficult to find.
Co-chairman Brian Lytle said he understood Kling’s concerns, and while they all recognized the spirit and the purpose of the “revolving door” limitations in respect to larger governments and populations, the policy is extreme for a small community.
Cross pointed out that the sample charter is not set in stone, and the purpose of the discussion was to determine the best solutions for the proposed consolidation of government. Cross also noted there were some limits to a charter’s flexibility in that it cannot include changes that will violate state of federal laws.
Another point of discussion was how the municipal “districts” would be determined. Joseph Boyle, senior research associate for PEL, said districts are to be established as nearly equal in population as possible, and composed of contiguous territory. In other words, not segmented or shaped in a way that would target exclusive populations. He and Cross also described how redistricting is conducted after each 10-year census, as required by law.
Cross said the main purpose of the charter is to make the elected officials the most responsible for their actions and decisions, so that they can’t hide behind their workers or push the responsibility onto others.
The charter discussion was ended at a point not even half-way through the presented draft, so other business could be addressed.
The committee set a date of April 6 to tour the Lawrence Township facilities, including the township office/garage, the Bayer Building, the Power Avenue and Hyde sites.
During the public comment period, Lawrence Township Roadmaster Ronald Woodling raised a concern that with the consolidation, many of the state roads that will be included in the new municipality will come under the partial maintenance of the local road crews. He and others are worried that there will not be enough staff to cover the road work without several additional crewmembers.
Stott said the committee and the public works sub-committee determined the combined crews, totaling 17, would be sufficient, with the possibility of increasing to 19.
Another resident expressed concern over the issue of taxes, referring to previous news articles that stated Home Rule Charters do not have a tax cap. He wanted to know what would keep the new government from raising taxes when they are already too high.
Cross pointed out that the news article is correct, that home Rule does not have a tax cap, but it does have a cap on spending. He said the committee needs to decide how the home rule charter will deal with budgets and revenues. It can require a balanced budget and the board will decide on the growth of that budget from year to year.
Lytle said these were all good suggestions that would certainly require more study, and again stressed the importance of input from the community to be sure that the committee includes as many options and issues as possible during the study.
The next meeting of the committee was set for 6 pm, April 25, at the borough building.