Have you heard the story about how to boil a frog? According to the anecdote, if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. However, if you put it in cold water and slowly increase the heat, it won’t notice the change and will eventually be cooked without knowing what happened.
The same could happen to local democracy if we’re not vigilant. Little by little, unwelcome changes are thrust upon municipalities. In the beginning, we barely notice the minor modifications. Some try to offer warnings, but they are often dismissed as doomsaying “Chicken Littles” proclaiming, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”
Then, one day we wake up and it becomes a little more obvious. As time passes, we begin to long for the “good old days.” Soon we start asking, “How did THAT happen?”
Does it feel like we are losing our independence?
With all the unfunded mandates and bigger-is-better thinking, it should be easy to answer this question with a resounding “YES!” The consolidation crowd calls these changes “improvements” in the name of efficiency and streamlining. Thinking outside the boundaries of our individual municipalities and sharing services make sense as long as we remember that local decision making is the foundation of democracy.
Our communities thrive by balancing needs with affordability. Unfunded mandates raise operation costs and, before you know it, some start talking mergers and consolidations to bring down those costs. It’s already happening with tax collections and public safety ventures, such as volunteer fire departments.
Some even say there is a “secret plan” to collapse local government right in front of our eyes. “There are so many of them, they won’t even notice!” the consolidation crowd says, or, “We can make the costs of operations so unaffordable that they will have to go away!”
As the foot soldiers of democracy, you are the guardians of local government. Local democracy is the foundation of the way of life defined by our Founding Fathers. You have heard me say before that these were pretty smart guys. They developed a framework that has lasted nearly 240 years … and counting!
I know none of you wants this grand experiment to fail on your watch. You work hard to serve your community and preserve the quality of life for future generations. It is often a thankless job because the silent majority is, well, silent. Doing the right thing is your goal, sometimes made more difficult by a vocal minority that wants to drive the bus.
Unfunded mandates are more than just a phrase to rally around. They are the underpinnings of the plan to collapse local democracy. Nobody will admit it or take credit for it, but the signs are all around us. It’s not intended to be one, big, fatal collapse, but rather death by a thousand paper cuts.
Have you seen it? Do you feel it? Someone once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Are you willing to let local democracy “bleed out” in the next generation?
Take a pause and determine your course of action. The decisions we make now will set the course for future generations. Will you give in or is local democracy worth fighting for? Let’s band together, educate residents and state and federal officials, and send a clear message that we want to continue to celebrate our independence as local governments. Happy Independence Day!
A Season for Patriotism
As I reflect on Gov. Tom Wolf’s comment at PSATS’ 93rd Annual Educational Conference about the importance of local government to democracy, I can’t help but connect it to the Founding Fathers’ assertion that government closest to the people governs best. This being a municipal election year, and having just completed primary election season, we are fresh off a reminder of the importance of serving in township government.
There are many events that help connect the dots of why democracy survives and thrives in Pennsylvania. Think about it: May 19 was primary election day, when one-third of all our township boards faced a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” by the citizens. Running for local office is often a thankless job, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. You know I don’t mean financially, but rather the knowledge and positive feeling we get from helping people and leaving our community better than we found it.
A few days after the primary came Memorial Day on May 25. That is when we all pause and remember, as a nation, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can not only practice democracy but also enjoy it. Often considered the unofficial start of summer or even the first big picnic weekend, Memorial Day means so much more.
As we enter June, we will soon celebrate Flag Day on the 14th. Sometimes, it is only remembered by veterans and Scout troops, but everyone should reflect on why we celebrate Flag Day. It is not only the anniversary of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as our national banner, but also the birthday of the U.S. Army. While not a national holiday, Pennsylvanians still celebrate by proudly displaying our country’s flag.
Moving through the summer, we will next encounter Independence Day on July 4. Grand fireworks celebrations coupled with parades and other special events remind us of the birth of our great country with the joining of the 13 original colonies. This, too, was a moment of Pennsylvania pride as the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania has rightly been called the cradle of liberty, for this is where it all began. We have marked milestones over the decades as a leader in the agricultural, industrial, and technological revolutions. Big coal, big oil, and big steel from our past are joined today by big gas, with our commonwealth sitting on a gas field larger than Saudi Arabia. Energy independence for the United States will occur thanks to Pennsylvania’s contributions.
We have much to be proud of looking back, but looking forward, it falls to you, as local officials, to ensure that future generations have even more to be proud of — if we get it right! There is nothing more important than growing safe communities with good jobs, good schools, and good people. Patriotic pride has gotten us this far, and I know it will continue to lead us to even greater heights.
As local officials, you must plan accordingly and act wisely. Use the summer months to recharge your red, white, and blue spirit. The pride and success of future generations rest in your hands!
Democracy in Bloom!
Remember the old schoolyard question, “If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?” And the answer was pilgrims?
Well, in our modern life, May flowers mean not only that spring has come but also primary election season is here, and different “pilgrims” are appearing.
Of course, I am talking about those candidates who have chosen to serve in public office at the township level. Those elected or re-elected this year will become the newest additions to the “Guardians of Local Democracy.” Serving in local office can be challenging, yet rewarding. It can be frustrating, yet fulfilling. It is time-consuming, and while only part-time, it often feels like you are serving 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Nobody I know does it for the power, glory, or money. Everyone I know does it because they care about their community and what that community will look like for future generations. Some in the media will make light of the importance of local service, yet the decisions made in township halls have a greater impact on the daily lives of your neighbors than most decisions made in Washington or Harrisburg.
In April, we observed Local Government Week in Pennsylvania with a variety of celebrations, recognitions, and demonstrations of why and how local democracy works. Through all of it, it became clearer than ever just how important local democracy is — to our past, our present, and our future. There will always be people who want to eliminate local control and move toward a larger, more centralized government that will inevitably lose touch with its citizenry. We can’t let that happen!
Last month, PSATS also held our 93rd Annual Educational Conference, where the preservation of local democracy was highlighted over and over by our speakers, our classes, and even our exhibitors. You could not turn a corner or have a conversation without experiencing the positive impacts and outcomes of local government. We saw it in our workshops and hallways with information-sharing and collaboration to find the best and most affordable ways of serving your residents.
We even heard from Gov. Wolf that one of his key platform planks is to provide government that works. While that is a great goal for Washington and Harrisburg, at the local level it is a given, and I hope that all state and federal officials who want to make government work better at their level take a look at, and a page from, the local government experience.
Smaller government, more efficient and affordable, based on citizens’ needs rather than wants, should be everyone’s goal. Anyone wanting to see how it works best need only visit a township meeting to learn that bigger isn’t better, and while cooperation and shared services make sense, forced consolidation in the name of streamlining simply doesn’t work — never has, never will!
Thank you for your service, past, present, and future. If we truly want to make sure that future generations have the opportunity to have an even better quality of life than prior generations, it is our solemn duty and collective job to make sure that there is still common-sense local government as a foundation. Don’t forget to vote!
Pennsylvania Proud…One Township at a Time!
We live in a great state with lots to be proud of, and I don’t just mean our natural resources. Sure, we have great landscapes with scenic mountains and rolling farmlands, plus more rivers and streams than most states, which give us some flooding challenges. Coal, oil, timber, and natural gas are but a few of our assets in demand.
But perhaps our most precious resources are human ones — our people. Steeped in a strong work ethic and tolerance balanced with an abundance of common sense, Pennsylvanians led the American Revolution as well as the agricultural, industrial, and technological revolutions.
Penn’s Woods initially attracted settlers for its natural beauty; now it attracts people because of the quality of life we have grown here, and that is due to all of you. Building strong, safe, vibrant communities is job No. 1 for township officials.
When I travel around Pennsylvania, I often ask local leaders what they are most proud of in their community. The list is long. It ranges from good parks and schools to a strong and safe system of roads and bridges that gets people to work and school, the doctor’s office, grocery stores, churches, and post offices. It includes a good public safety network and a clean environment.
But the comment I hear most, the achievement that brings the most pride, is when township supervisors say they have not raised taxes in 10, 20, 30, and in one case, 37 years. Wow! What an accomplishment. You do your best, you build safe communities with good jobs, schools, parks, water and sewer systems where needed, and roads that move people and products — and you do it affordably!
Communities with a high quality of life are most desirable. Knowing what your neighbors expect and need is no easy task. Being able to say no to the “frilly” extras isn’t easy. As Gov. Wolf has said, “Government should not do everything, but government should not do nothing, either!” You have found the balance, but even more important, you have found the secret to maintaining that balance. The tipping point is affordability!
Being able to separate the “need-to-haves” from the “nice-to-haves” makes the difference. Staying in touch with your residents is critical to understanding this balance. Local government thrives when it does this. When government gets too big and loses this capability, it begins to flounder as it tries to provide more services than it can afford and begins a death spiral of over-spending and debt.
Our job at PSATS is to help you maintain this balance by giving you the tools and training to build high-quality, affordable communities and preserve the platform of local democracy so common sense can flourish in your township.
Our commonwealth is properly called the Keystone State because it sat at the crossroads of commercial activities in the early American period. Thomas Jefferson said townships were the “wisest invention of mankind” because they afford maximum citizen participation. Local government provides the foundation that we can be proud of. Let’s not let others take it away in the name of convenience. Let’s continue to build Pennsylvania pride, one township at a time!
Building for Tomorrow
Our cover story in the March issue of the Pa. Township News is about building codes and safety. In a way, we are all builders. We may not construct houses, but we all have a hand in forming families, communities, and future generations. Just as in the construction code industry, there are guidelines to follow no matter what you build.
There is no building task greater than developing the capacity to preserve democracy. We do that every day by serving our community. We fight to deliver excellent services at affordable prices, provide a good quality of life, and make sure that future generations have more opportunities than we had.
This is a municipal election year — easily the most important type of election our neighbors will face. While the campaigns won’t get national media attention — or cost anywhere near as much! — this year’s elections most certainly will have a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of our neighbors, friends, and families than most statewide or national elections do.
As local officials, you make tough choices every day: between wants and needs, “have-to-haves” and “nice-to-haves,” and right and wrong. You also know the difference between doing what is right and doing what is easy and always strive to do the first. That’s why your neighbors have entrusted you with guiding the community.
Our job at PSATS is to make sure you have the information and factual resources, as well as the training, tools, and technologies, to meet these challenges moving forward. We are approaching our largest learning and networking opportunity of the year with our Annual Educational Conference and Trade Show next month. If you have already registered, we look forward to seeing you in Hershey. If you haven’t yet registered, there is still time. Go to conference.psats.org to lock in your spot before they are all filled.
At this year’s conference, we are offering new opportunities for PSATS Municipal Government Academy members to earn credits toward certification. We have a boatload of great workshops and the most comprehensive collection of vendors and exhibitors for your needs under one roof. We are also finalizing the details on delivering the latest information from Harrisburg, which should be particularly interesting with a new administration running the agencies.
We will continue to provide you with multiple opportunities throughout the year for training, networking, and information-gathering. From classes to recorded webinars and this magazine to regular issus of the Bulletin and Week in Review, we are here to provide you with the best information to help you do your job better. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the multitude of phone calls, emails, letters, and visits!
On the home front, the deadline for petition circulation will pass on March 10, and the ballot lineups for this year will begin to take shape. For those of you running for another term, thank you for your commitment. For those who have chosen not to seek another term, thank you for your service.
For those who are not up for re-election this year, remember that everyone continues to rely on you. Your collective leadership and community teams are what have made local government the most trusted level of government in Pennsylvania. Thank you and keep up the good work!
What's in the Pipeline?
Pennsylvania is helping lead the United States toward energy independence, resulting in lower prices at the pumps along the way, but there is a missing link in the critical infrastructure needed for us to maximize our capabilities. Be sure to read this month’s cover story in the Pennsylvania Township News about pipelines in Pennsylvania and how they affect municipalities.
As local officials tasked with protecting your community’s quality of life, you have a greater responsibility than to “just say no.” You are leaders who seek compromise and partnerships with a variety of interests every day; this is but another balancing act coming onto your stage.
We also have a number of items in our figurative pipeline. Conference preparations are wrapping up, so prepare yourself for the best PSATS Educational Conference and Trade Show yet! Last month, we launched an incredibly successful, improved online registration experience. One review summarized it as “fast and easy to use, as promised!” The online experience has given you more control and also allowed for efficiencies at our end that will yield cost savings and help us avoid future cost increases.
The PSATS staff is dedicated to giving you an ever-increasing, beneficial learning experience at the conference for an affordable cost. The value of conference attendance is summarized here. Check it out!
This month, we will launch our online housing registration system, which will allow you to choose your hotel based on availability and arrival/departure dates, instantly know what is available, and book it. No more waiting — you will receive immediate confirmation from the system, with a follow-up from the hotel at a later date.
We will also have an outstanding array of educational opportunities at the conference and are working on some “firsts” that we hope to announce in the coming month. Our trade show prep is off and running, with many returning exhibitors and some new ones, too.
Lest we think the Annual Conference is the only thing in the pipeline, we have a new governor and cabinet to help bring up to speed on issues important to townships and local government. Add them to the new legislative session that kicked off in January, and we all have our work cut out for us!
Resolutions continue to come in to the Association, and the policy-setting on Tuesday morning of the conference is sure to have some new issues of importance for you to decide: pipelines, protecting the impact fee revenue, and medical marijuana as an agricultural crop, to name a few.
This is also the month to circulate petitions for municipal elections. Some in the media are anxious to report on the demise of local government due to lack of interest and people willing to serve, and say it is time to eliminate it. You know the dangers and hazards of that!
Our pipeline is chock-full of important things that will determine the future of local democracy. I know you will do your part to guarantee its survival. As always, PSATS stands ready to be your advocate, member service provider, and partner in this effort. Tell us what you need!
Happy New Year! 2015 is here and will bring many new things.
At the state level, we will have a new governor and General Assembly. There are half a dozen new state senators and 25 new representatives, the largest freshman class in modern history, and five of them most recently were township supervisors! We look forward to working with Gov. Tom Wolf and all the members of the legislature as we go about the business of protecting and preserving local democracy.
The challenges at the state level are not new but will require new solutions. From pension reform to dealing with a $2 billion budget deficit, many items will be on the table, and we will need to safeguard local government and its funding streams.
There will be attempts to divert transportation funding and impact fees away from local governments to fill the state budget holes. We fought too hard to win those battles to let them slip away.
It is important for local government to be a partner with state government. We represent the same constituents and have a duty to protect the taxpayers while giving them the vital public services and quality government they deserve at an affordable cost.
At the township level, there may be changes in board officers or appointees after the organizational meetings. Looking farther down the road in this municipal election year, some may decide to retire while others will continue to carry the banner for local democracy. There may be new candidates and possibly new board members by the end of the year.
For the PSATS Annual Conference and Trade Show, there is a new two-step registration process: one for conference registration that will open January 8 and a second for a new and improved room reservation system that will give you more control over your lodging options — and save money, too!
There will be new issues to wrestle with and people to partner with this year, but some things won’t change. You can count on PSATS’ continued commitment to being the best member service organization. We will continue to provide high-quality services at affordable costs and the best educational opportunities to officials and municipal employees. Whether you take advantage of training at the conference, in the classroom, in your community, or online, it is our goal to give you the “tools in your toolbox” to help you do your job better.
We will go on providing you with the best quality information in print, online, and in person. Our website, portal, and communication networks will be expanded to provide even better access and easy-to-find answers to your most pressing problems. We will always make the best staff available to answer your questions and share best practices with you.
PSATS will also continue to advocate on your behalf and in partnership with you in Harrisburg and Washington. Continuing the battle to restore common sense and fight unfunded mandates is not an easy task and may never be complete, but we must remain diligent in this struggle.
We may all face new issues every day, but we are up to the challenge, and our residents deserve our very best.
A Season for Wishes and a Gift
As we approach the end of 2014, we reflect on the year’s changes and accomplishments and prepare for a 2015 ripe with challenges and opportunities.
With the elections in our rearview mirror, I want to congratulate Governor-elect Tom Wolf and his running mate, Sen. Mike Stack, as well as all those preparing to serve in the U.S. Congress and Pennsylvania House and Senate. I also want to acknowledge those who are finishing their terms in public service and thank them for their participation, support for local government, and dedication to democracy.
Elections bring change, and change, in turn, brings opportunity — the opportunity to present fresh ideas balanced by the experience of what makes sense and works in order to improve local governments and the communities they serve. It also offers local leaders the chance to foster improved relationships with state and federal elected officials and agency representatives to work collectively because we all serve the same residents.
As the holiday season approaches, I thought it a good time to share a holiday wish list and even a gift or two.
To those about to take office in Harrisburg and Washington, I wish you good luck and a healthy commitment to common-sense solutions. Resist the urge to engage in paralyzing gridlock and take seriously your pledge to conduct the people’s business. Protect Pennsylvanians’ quality of life and provide for their fiscal stability. Help local officials build competitive and economically vibrant communities where people encourage future generations to live, work, and raise a family.
I wish for people to better understand the value of local government as the most responsive, efficient, and affordable form — the Founding Fathers got it right! I wish for the recognition that while unfunded mandates on local government may make state and federal policymakers feel like they fixed something, the burdens are greater than the rewards and force local tax increases on an already stressed population. As a result, unfunded mandates should be avoided at all costs!
I wish for a healthy dose of common sense along with a shot of fiscal sanity to be on everyone’s holiday menu. And how about this for dessert? Do you want to share your vision and these wishes? Consider giving a very special gift.
PSATS produces this award-winning magazine every month with the goal of informing readers about best practices, new policies and laws, and timely information to help provide high-quality services at affordable prices. We all know someone who doesn’t get the Township News — maybe they borrow yours and forget to return it or just go to the local library to read it. Perhaps it’s a colleague, friend, family member, or someone who wants to be involved in local government in the future. Wouldn’t it be nice to give them their own copy to read at their leisure? The regular annual subscription rate is $36 for members and $40 for nonmembers.
BUT WAIT! Call or write to me before December 24 and I will give you a coupon code for new subscriptions only that will cut the cost by $10 for 2015! It’s our holiday gift to you. A Township News subscription is a great way to spread the message and help make your community better. Don’t miss out on this great savings!
On behalf of the PSATS Executive Board and staff, I wish you the very best this holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a very Happy New Year to all!
A Time to Reflect
For me, November is always a time to reflect and be grateful. We begin the month with the culmination of the annual election season, and while we may grow frustrated with all the political advertising, we still have to be thankful that we live in a free and democratic society where we have the opportunity to participate in elections.
A few days later, we pause to remember our veterans, past and present, for without them, we likely would not have the opportunities and choices that we enjoy in this great land. As we move toward the end of the month, we encounter the Thanksgiving holiday.
While most know the story of the original Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in the 1600s, many do not realize that it was President Abraham Lincoln who issued the first government proclamation that led to it becoming an annual national event. And he did it in 1863 when the “United States” was divided, with the North and South engaged in the bloody Civil War. I imagine that many today wonder what he thought was worthy of thanks. However, this glimpse of Lincoln’s wisdom helps us understand that America’s greatest leaders were not all Founding Fathers. While George Washington and his colleagues were pretty smart guys, we have been blessed over the decades with other great leaders who have helped ensure a strong and vibrant democracy.
Today, we still have much to be thankful for...but nothing more important than our families and friends. Isn't that why we do what we do? From work to hobbies, from school to play, we all strive to do our best to make a good quality of life around us for our friends and families and for future generations. That’s why local democracy works, and that’s why township service is so critically important. And it makes clear that the future of our neighborhoods and communities is in our hands.
As we close the door on this year’s elections, it will soon be time to open the door on an even more important election process. 2015 is a municipal election year and can be said to be the most important election of all! While it will likely not attract the money or media attention of presidential or even statewide governors’ races, those elected at the municipal level have the greatest impact on EVERYONE’s daily life. Local officials determine quality-of-life issues, local traffic control, land use, recreation, health and safety, and public infrastructure, from roads and bridges to clean water and sewage plans, just to name a few.
So as you give thanks for all your blessings, remember that others are giving thanks for you and your service. I am sure you don’t hear that enough because we often don’t say the things we should until reminded or until it is simply too late. Every resident of the commonwealth has every reason to be grateful for the public service of local officials, for in you, they have entrusted their quality of life.
The terms of some local government officials are about to expire, and that means it’s time to decide whether to continue to serve or pass the baton to a new leader. Whatever choice is made, it is vital to the foundation of democracy that candidates be found and positions filled to maintain local governance. As the “foot soldiers of democracy,” much rests on your shoulders. Future generations are counting on you — as they did yesterday, as they do today, and as they will tomorrow. Don’t let them down!
The Beginning or the End?
Many people see October as the beginning of the end of the year. Leaves on the trees have run their course and are exploding into a rainbow of color, crops are being harvested, and we are in the final quarter of the year. All things seem to be pointing to an end.
Growing up, I was a little different. October was my favorite time of year, and I always thought of it as a beginning, rather than an end. In the “old days,” when school started after Labor Day, October was the first full month of the school year. It also marked the beginning of preparations for the holiday season and the first sign of the Christmas retail extravaganza.
In later years, it became the time when you got serious about finalizing your budget for the new calendar year. It also marked the important final 30 days before an election, when you really had to pay attention to separate fact from fiction in campaign ads.
At PSATS, October touches many of these same mileposts. We, like you, are finalizing our budget and planning process for the new year. We have already begun preparing for the Annual Conference next April 19-22 in Hershey. Don’t forget to budget for it and plan to attend! We are also preparing to host our standing committee meetings, which are an integral part of the PSATS operations, and we thank all who serve on them.
However, the most important thing for all of us to do in October is pay attention to the rapidly unfolding election process. Please take time to read the in-depth articles in this issue on our statewide candidates. With local government always facing the threat of consolidation or elimination, it is critical that we do our best to ensure that those elected in November share our concern to preserve local government and demonstrate a willingness to partner with us.
It means more than just opposing consolidation, though. Our partners must also share our steadfast commitment to opposing unfunded mandates and preserving common-sense budgeting principles. If costs are permitted — or required, in the case of unfunded mandates — to escalate out of control, there is little hope for the future of local government. The bigger-is-better consolidation crew will have all the ingredients necessary to begin the process of eliminating local democracy.
So, take the time to study the views of the candidates — not just the statewide ones in this magazine but also the representatives and senators on the ballot for both Harrisburg and Washington. The choices made this year have the potential to determine what the commonwealth will look like in the future.
Our Founding Fathers developed the finest model of self-governance in the world, but it only works if we participate. Choose wisely, share your research with your friends and family, and don’t forget to vote!
It's Time to Prepare
September is National Preparedness Month, and it’s a great reminder of the need to plan for many different things.
Preparing kids to return to the classroom is already behind us now that school is back in session, but there are other things to plan for this month. Some celebrate the return of football, while others see it as the traditional kickoff of the fall election campaigns (although those seem like they have been going on forever). Others will reflect on the attacks of September 11, 2001, when we were reminded that safety at home is not something to be taken lightly.
On that beautiful late-summer morning, it became quite clear that all disasters are local. While the national media spotlight was on the president’s response, it was New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the supervisors in Stoneycreek Township, Somerset County, who were on the “front lines.”
As local officials, township supervisors play a huge role in coordinating response and recovery efforts in a community. We all know that the state and federal government can help when an event becomes overwhelming, but they will never be the first responders. In fact, your township should be prepared to be on its own for the first 48 hours. That brings huge responsibilities to local officials as decision makers and first responders in the community where the voters entrusted them to be ready for anything.
But there are additional things on the minds of township officials. First, the state legislature will return to Harrisburg for an abbreviated fall session. Lawmakers, who have just 11 session days on the calendar through the end of the year, still have a few items of importance on the agenda for local government. If these matters do not get addressed now, we will have to start all over again in January with a new legislature.
That said, there have been some spectacular successes in recent years for local government, from bidding reforms and natural gas local impact fees to long-awaited transportation funding. Harrisburg has provided more new funding options to local government than any other time in recent history.
In the coming weeks, we hope to see action on the option of electronic advertising, get help to prevent more distressed communities, and move forward with pension reforms that don’t harm local governments (because most local pensions are in good shape!). With a little luck, lawmakers may even address common-sense arbitration reform to level that playing field.
September also marks the kickoff of budget preparation season for township officials. As you continue to do your best to provide high-quality services at an affordable cost to taxpayers, I know that you have many tough decisions to make. I want to remind you how PSATS can help.
As you are planning your expenses for 2015, I encourage you to include funding for the Association’s 2015 Annual Educational Conference and Trade Show. This investment will yield considerable returns. From collecting information and best practices at nearly 100 different educational sessions to seeing equipment, services, and vendors all in one location, the PSATS Conference is geared toward maximizing your time efficiently and getting you the best value for your taxpayers.
This important, once-a-year event will take place April 19-22 at the Hershey Lodge. While the registration material will not arrive until early December, I want you to know that your Executive Board has approved the 2015 conference registration rates to be held at the 2014 levels. That’s right: no increase in cost. With the help of private-sector sponsorships, we are able to “hold the line” on costs for this tremendously valuable service, so start making your plans now. The conference is already in the planning stages and sure to be the best one yet!
Post or Tweet? Call or Write?
So many choices! Whether your township chooses some of the newer communication tools or prefers tried and true methods, there is no question that communication is important. There are benefits to each, yet each also comes with pitfalls. How do you take advantage of the positives while avoiding the negatives?
Like most things in life, effective communication calls for striking a balance. Until we find the balance point, we likely will need to “over communicate.” That means using more of everything until we figure out what really works.
Often we confuse the true definition of communication. It’s about more than sending a message. Real communication exists when a message is received and acknowledged. For decades, we have been sending electronic signals into deep space, but that doesn't equate to communicating until we receive a return message.
Our goals in communicating at the local government level are no different. Whether we are sending messages between local governments or to vendors, residents, or each other, I think we can all agree that nothing counts unless the message is received, understood, and acted on.
Just as NASA and other scientists have struggled for more than half a century using different technologies to establish communication with other planets, we too are engaged in finding how to best communicate with an ever-changing population. And the choices are many. It is not simply a matter of choosing between electronic or paper/print. Each of those choices has multiple subsets. Does “electronic” mean computer, radio, or TV, or does it include Internet-based options like chat, text, or email? Does print mean a magazine, newspaper, brochure, or letter? And let’s not forget face-to-face or personal interaction. Truly, the answer may be all of them.
Successful communication is not unlike making a good stew. Many ingredients are required to find the best flavor and consistency and leave the customer — or target audience — wanting more. Also, knowing your audience is more than half the battle. It’s important to survey them to find out how best to communicate with them. The survey itself might even require using multiple methods (online, mail, etc.) to get the highest and most accurate response.
Here at PSATS, we want to be your partner and a leader in defining the next-generation communication tools that work best. Over the coming months, we will be initiating a member survey to help chart a course for the future. We urge you to help by responding. The survey will include questions about which current services are valuable or could be improved or eliminated and what future services would be the most helpful moving forward.
Perhaps the most important part of the survey will help PSATS determine what format to use when providing these services that makes sense for you. We need to communicate in the ways that are most valuable to our members and that encourage you to participate. Whether we are talking about information sharing, training classes, or our annual conference, our education mission is only successful if people choose to learn from it.
I may feel better now that I have written this column, but it only counts as communication if I hear back from you! Write to me at 4855 Woodland Drive, Enola, PA 17025, call (717) 763-0930, text (717) 756-5751, or email email@example.com with your thoughts or simply to say, “Message received!”
Worth the Risk?
Nearly 250 years ago, an experiment was launched right here in Pennsylvania. An exercise in freedom gave birth to a new nation. Much has happened over the past 25 decades, and most of it has been for the better, but it has not been without challenges. Our nation’s birthday is this month, and it is especially fitting that we pause, reflect, and celebrate the precious gifts and freedoms that some seem to take for granted.
They called it an exercise in self-governance. There were great debates about the perils and pitfalls of a powerful central government. A handful of pretty smart guys, our Founding Fathers, put a framework in place that has stood the test of time. Ideas like common sense, faith, and local democracy have been the bedrock of this “grand experiment” of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Certainly, over time, we have seen transitions, modifications, and outright necessary corrections. We have seen good things and bad things, but as long as we did not lose sight of our founding principles and ideas, we not only survived, we prospered!
As we look around the world, people still try to replicate what we have here. Whether it be students staring down the barrel of a tank cannon or people standing in line for as many as eight hours to dip their finger in ink to prove they voted, citizens of other countries still see democracy as a worthwhile goal. It allows for everything, even dissent. The right to protest and disagree has been guaranteed by the blood, sweat, and tears of our predecessors, and that is what makes it worth fighting to preserve.
Our bedrock principles and values have been under attack since the republic’s inception, so a gradual slippage of common sense, faith, and local democracy should not come as a surprise to any of us. Surely change can be good, but not all change is productive. Success is found in striking the balance.
This month’s cover story about managing risk provides good practices for finding the balancing point between caution and action. It is important to note that managing risk is not the same thing as avoiding it. As someone once said, ships are safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for. Some of our greatest accomplishments have come from taking risks. In fact, it is often said that the greatest risk is taking no risk at all.
PSATS is here to help you find that balance. Resources such as our training classes and webinars, this magazine, and our annual conference all help you develop the skills to make good judgments and balance needs and costs for your residents. If you have not taken advantage of these great tools, what are you waiting for?
We are entrusted with the precious gift of local democracy and must continually nurture it. It is our job to move the ball forward, make tomorrow better than yesterday, and strike the balance to know which risks are worth taking. Our Founding Fathers gave us a great foundation, and PSATS is here to help you chart a brighter future for your residents.
Do well by learning new things and not being afraid to take the right risks, even when the outcome seems uncertain. As Clint Eastwood once said, “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster!”
PSATS' Annual Conference: Better Than Ever!
The 2014 PSATS Annual Conference is now behind us, and what an event it was! See the July issue of the Pennsylvania Township News magazine and reflect on your memories of this event, or if you were not there, see what you missed.
From the time people arrived until they left the Hershey Lodge parking lot on Wednesday, the conference was jam-packed with super speakers, wonderful workshops, and a terrific trade show, capped by nice networking opportunities and lots of learning. It was truly a great experience for all who attended!
Every person I ran into thought it was well worth the investment to attend. The value, whether measured in time, energy, or cost, was exceptional.
Hearing from Gov. Corbett and multiple members of his administration who are committed to local government partnerships was a refreshing reminder of the value of good relationships between the state and local government.
Remarks from Judge Marjorie Rendell reminded us all of the value of educating future generations in basic civics, not to mention civility. The inspiring words and stories from Air Force One pilot Col. Mark Tillman reinforced the importance of all the people behind the scenes who make everything work well as a result of a continuous commitment to planning.
Our Wednesday morning Open Records Forum was thought-provoking, enlightening, and at times, entertaining. Special thanks to our participants and moderator Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who even rounded out the event like every good talk show host by promoting a book on sale: PSATS’ own Sunshine and Right-to-Know Law Guide.
On the educational front, we saw that spreading out 120-plus workshops over several days and repeating some to allow greater attendance really cut down on overcrowded rooms — although some classes were still filled to capacity. The variety of topics and sessions covered the gamut in terms of issues, but the sessions were also balanced to benefit communities of all sizes.
The extended hours at the trade show resulted in a steadier distribution of visitors, which allowed for more quality interaction with members. The great weather also enhanced the outdoor traffic Sunday and Monday, and our welcome reception with a circus midway theme on Sunday evening was fun for all.
Special thanks to everyone who made our first-timers’ experience a great one. The networking opportunities are perhaps the best feature of the conference. Having the chance to share problems and solutions with colleagues from across the state helps everyone who has a tough issue realize that they are not alone in facing it, and sometimes learn solutions they didn’t even consider.
All of this could not have been possible without the year-long dedication and commitment of the PSATS staff, Executive Board, and Conference Planning Committee, who work tirelessly to ensure that every conference is better than the year before. Raising the bar every year is a challenge but one that is well worth it, according to attendees.
If you have attended the conference, you already know that. If you have not attended, you should make the time next year and see what you have been missing.
I reserve the biggest thanks for you, our members, for supporting and taking advantage of the huge menu of services PSATS provides to make your job easier. At the end of the day, our job as a member service organization is to give you the tools to provide the best local government to your citizens. That is what keeps local democracy alive — now, and for generations to come.
Thank You to Our Fallen Heroes
Sometimes we lose sight of the true meaning of certain holidays. Usually when that is said, it is referring to Christmas being about shopping or Thanksgiving being about football.
But in May, some have come to liken Memorial Day to picnics and furniture sales. I encourage everyone to reflect on the true reason for the holiday and tip your hats to the fallen soldiers and veterans who gave their lives to guarantee that we can enjoy the freedoms we have and sometimes take for granted.
Enjoy the holiday weekend, spend some time with family and friends, remember our fallen heroes, and thank a veteran that you can do all the previously listed things!
On behalf of the PSATS Executive Board and staff, happy Memorial Day!
Temporary Inconvenience, Permanent Improvement
Wow! As we close the chapter on another successful conference, it would be easy to fill this month’s column with memories and highlights of the 92nd Annual PSATS gathering recently concluded in Hershey. However, because May is often dominated by talk of transportation as we begin another construction season, I want to share some thoughts about one of the core functions of local government.
Did you know that Pennsylvania has 117,000 miles of roads and that PennDOT maintains 40,000 of those miles while the other 77,000 are the responsibility of local government? Interstates, airports, rail, and mass transit are all part of Pennsylvania’s transportation system, but there are very few places you go without using locally owned and maintained roads and bridges.
Speaking of bridges, did you know that Pennsylvania has more structurally deficient bridges than any other state in the nation? That’s certainly a byproduct of years of under-investing in maintenance, but it is also because we have more bodies of water to cross than anywhere else in the country. Thus, some of our challenge is simply geography, and some is simply not having the funds to make the investments.
We can’t fix geography. Mountains and valleys form rivers and streams that need bridges. We are in an area that experiences more freeze-thaw cycles than most states. Yet, with the passage of Act 89, we are on the road to recovery.
Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Tom Corbett and Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch, coupled with the courage of every House and Senate member who voted in support of Act 89, we can say hello to safety, more jobs, and an improved quality of life for all Pennsylvanians. At the same time, we can say goodbye to rough roads, broken bridges, and unfinished projects that have been delayed too long.
We are seeing the results already. The first phase of a five-year, 60 percent increase in liquid fuels funding will go a long way toward helping deal with the costs of the worst winter in recent memory. Whether used to cover the costs of extra salt, antiskid, and overtime hours or to fill the post-winter potholes, these new dollars will surely help townships avoid the difficult choice of cutting summer maintenance projects or raising property taxes.
New funding for dirt and gravel roads and low-volume paved roads is also on the way, as well as funding for traffic signals to cut down on congestion and save fuel. Add to that the completion of long-delayed construction projects and an innovative bridge-bundling program that saves money and may eliminate the local cost share, and it all spells good news for Pennsylvania. Safer roads and bridges mean not only construction jobs but also more businesses locating in Pennsylvania because the commonwealth is investing in a first-class transportation system.
Let’s not forget that Act 89 also increased the threshold for the prevailing wage for the first time in 50 years, even if it was only for transportation projects. That means lower project costs, which translates into more work that can get done. And that is proving to be good news for taxpayers and workers alike.
All of these elements combined will improve the quality of life for Pennsylvanians as we provide a road system to safely and efficiently move families to work or school, doctors’ offices, churches, and grocery stores. It won’t happen overnight; it’s going to take time and require some patience during the construction season, but it will be worth it in the end. We will have done our part to make a better future, and isn’t that what really counts?
Ready or Not, It's Here!
What, you ask? Take your best guess:
A. Baseball opening day
C. PSATS Conference month
D. All of the above
The correct answer is D, and all the answers are related. Bear with me as I play a word association game. Match “great American pastime” to baseball, “new beginnings” to spring, and “education” to PSATS Conference. We now have “American,” “new beginnings,” and “education,” and we are back to my favorite topic: preserving local democracy.
It has been said that democracy isn't inherited, but must be reborn every generation. Democracy is spiritually engendered in the hearts of our individual citizens. It depends on the qualities of personal character, the responsible use of freedom, the willingness to hear and weigh contrary opinions, and an inner devotion to the public good. Unless the inner spiritual factors that created democracy in the first place are constantly renewed, it eventually will fail.
A healthy democracy requires the informed and active participation of its citizens. Gaining civic knowledge and skills doesn’t just happen, however. People must be taught how their government and the political system work, as well as their rights, roles, and responsibilities.
Sounds a lot like why we got involved in local government, doesn’t it? We live it and learn it every day, but we also have an obligation to teach it so it can survive.
Some say that much of the cynicism about government and those who serve in it is a result of not teaching civics in our schools for a generation or more. That’s why it is so exciting to know that civics education will be a graduation requirement after 2016. However, we can’t just expect our schools and teachers to take care of it.
Recently, I was struck by a comment from an Education Department employee who said there really wasn't any developed curriculum for local government’s inclusion in the civics discussion. There is plenty of federal and state information, and we all know that the media continually focus on big government.
So, we in local government must step up to the plate. In addition to learning and participating and demonstrating how effective local government is, we also have an obligation to teach about it. We need to make opportunities to go into the classrooms and talk about local government. We need to make opportunities for students to see it, touch it, and feel it. We should invite them to our meetings, provide opportunities for input, and encourage special projects for class credit.
As we all struggle to find volunteers for everything from local government to community and church groups to firefighting, perhaps the solution is to create opportunities for a new generation to make a difference and contribute. Sometimes the answer is as simple as asking; sometimes it’s as simple as showing what is involved and how one person can make a difference. Everyone has a role to play.
Education should not be just about math and science. While they are important technical skills, civic participation should also be encouraged and supported in our schools and workplaces. From serving on a jury to working at a polling place to volunteering, there are countless opportunities to “recharge the well” of civic awareness. If we don’t begin now, democracy as we know it will not survive. I, for one, don’t want my grandchildren or their children to think that democracy’s slow death began on our watch as a result of benign neglect.
Before you can teach local government, however, you must learn it, and the upcoming PSATS Educational Conference is an excellent way to do that. I hope to see you in Hershey in a couple of weeks, where together, we will discover how we can make a difference for future generations.
Good News...And More Good News
As we all know, the groundhog saw his shadow and foretold six more weeks of winter. Like it or not, that little critter affects our daily lives in township government. If he is correct, road maintenance challenges will be extended. Whether you’re dealing with additional snow removal or the freeze-thaw cycle, it’s going to take more time and cost more money.
So where is the good news? To begin with, this is the first year that townships will receive their liquid fuels money on March 1, rather than the old date of April 1, provided you filed the paperwork. That should help with the costs of a longer-than-normal winter.
But that’s not all! After years of declining annual liquid fuels dollars, you will see an 8 percent increase over your 2013 allocation. This is the beginning of a five-year progression that, in the end, will result in a 60 percent increase. It’s all thanks to the courage of the legislature and governor for passing the transportation funding plan.
The repair and maintenance of roads and bridges are the No. 1 job for local government because they directly relate to public safety. This investment will make all of our residents safer. Recently, we learned that PennDOT opened bids for $222 million in projects for this construction season — a ten-fold increase over last year. And yet, the price of gasoline is still 20 cents per gallon lower than it was last summer. Not only did the sky not fall, despite some predictions, but soon the concrete will also stop falling off the bridges.
Good news from Washington included the passage of the first Farm Bill in many years, and Harrisburg is making even more positive moves affecting local government. First, the proposed budget has no negative impact on townships. Second, we remain optimistic that meaningful reform on the Open Records Law, as well as common-sense adjustments allowing for electronic advertising options, are within our grasp in 2014.
Lest you think that all the good news is coming from the Capitol buildings in Washington and Harrisburg, there has also been progress at PSATS. Yesterday, I consulted with “Enola Emily,” our resident groundhog, and she told me there are only six more weeks until the best PSATS Conference yet. That’s right! We are only six weeks away from kicking off the 92nd Annual Educational Conference and Trade Show in Hershey. If you are among the more than 2,000 who have already registered, congratulations! If you have not yet registered, now is the time to finalize your plans.
In addition to the largest municipal trade show, we will host more than 100 training seminars over four days. Because the legislature will not be in session due to various religious holidays, we will not be holding the Legislative Reception this year. In lieu of that event, we have extended the hours of the trade show and scheduled additional training classes Monday afternoon. Conference evaluations asked for more time with vendors and more classes, and we are delivering!
We have great programs on timely topics and will again offer the best general session programming of any municipal conference in Pennsylvania. With spring just around the corner, now is the time to finalize your Hershey plans for this opportunity that you will not find anywhere else. You simply can’t afford not to go!
How Can We Help You?
As a member service organization, customer service is our No. 1 job. I am incredibly proud of the PSATS staff, our training instructors, members who share best practices, guest contributors who share real-life experiences in our publications and sessions, and our Executive Board for their leadership and support that help all of us serve you better.
We work hard to keep you informed about the latest laws and regulations, mandates, best practices, and statewide and national trends affecting local governance. Recently, a senior state government leader told me, “I was just reading a national magazine about township governments across the country, and while some are critical of the Pennsylvania model, you guys are really pretty far ahead of most places across America.” (If only he read the Township News more often!)
This points out the need for repetition and continuous improvement. There are always new people forming opinions, and learning is a lifelong venture in today’s society. As your member service organization, PSATS plays a huge role in helping to keep you well-informed so you can serve your residents effectively and affordably.
One of the ways we are doing that is through our website and social media efforts. Please check out the changes and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn so that you can get important updates as soon as they are posted. Stay tuned for upgrades in 2014 for our email discussion group and be on the lookout for more video. Also, our new Web-hosting service will help you stay in touch with your community.
As we offer more “high-tech” means of communication, don’t expect the Township News magazine and other print publications to go away. We will be adding new features to our already jam-packed, detail-oriented, award-winning magazine. Many liken the shelves of back issues of this magazine to having an encyclopedia at their fingertips. And remember, electronic and searchable archives are also available for subscribers.
Many of you call our office to seek advice and guidance on how to address issues in your internal operations and community. The ability to reach out and talk to someone who will help you solve a unique problem in your township saves time and money for your residents. Whether you call about registrations, legislative updates, or simply best practices, we have the team here to serve you.
As your statewide membership organization, we provide a myriad of services, none more valuable than our training programs. Our Annual Educational Conference and Trade Show in Hershey is the keystone of this platform, with more than 100 educational opportunities. This year, we are also rolling out the PSATS Municipal Government Academy, a “college” for township officials to get the best training and certification with an emphasis on communications and leadership development.
We are also in the midst of our Boot Camp program for newly elected township officials. This two-day “basic training” is being held in 12 locations around the state and is well worth the time and investment for new and experienced officials alike. At members’ request, we are offering more video training and shorter webinars to alleviate travel constraints for some classes. Check out our website at www.psats.org for details on these opportunities and more.
We are constantly serving as the voice of township government in Harrisburg and Washington to make sure that you have a seat at the table. Given the choices outlined in our cover story about the Grassroots Lobbying Network, it is far better to be “at the table” than to be “on the menu!”
And let’s not forget the best service of all: our willingness to listen to requests for new services and ideas on how we can better serve you moving forward. Please call or email me with ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us again in 2014!
What's Old Is New Again
Happy New Year 2014! And welcome back to the future!
You know, they say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As everyone in local government prepares for a new year of providing quality services to our residents at an affordable cost, we know that we have not heard the last from the “great consolidators.” Media outlets will be covering municipal reorganization meetings all across Pennsylvania. Some, no doubt, will observe that there are too many local governments and speculate how grand life would be if only we had fewer, bigger governments. They will hide behind false promises of savings that rarely come true but almost certainly create new bureaucracies that are more distant and out of touch with our residents.
We know that as government gets farther away from the people it serves, it becomes less responsive, less efficient, and more costly … and it can because it is insulated by distance and layers of bureaucracies. It’s no wonder that people continue to have more faith and trust in local government than in the state and federal governments combined.
But that doesn’t stop the “bigger is better” crowd! And it’s not just government either. Let’s take a retail example. We all recall small community-based shops that were first displaced by medium-sized shopping malls and later, “big box” stores promising lower prices and better service — but they didn’t talk about job loss, shipping delays, or warehouse back orders. Now we have the World Wide Web, Internet purchasing, and mega-sized fulfillment centers to provide even better customer service.
Recently, I read about the next generation of order fulfillment for the retail industry. Perhaps you saw it, too. Amazon and others are exploring the ultimate in customer service … same-day delivery with robotic drones making the drops. The small airborne delivery devices have some technology glitches to be worked out, and the key to making this ultimate customer service a reality hinges on the fact that the drones are limited to a 10-mile delivery zone due to weight and fuel restrictions.
Doesn’t this sound like a back-to-basics approach for responding to citizen demand? Does it strike anyone besides me that this is a newfangled spin on a bygone model of customer service? Large regional fulfillment centers will need to be replaced by smaller local facilities to accommodate the drones’ limited range.
And that’s how it goes: We start with small, local entities that are consolidated into a medium-sized whole. Then the medium-sized entities are grouped into a larger whole and finally, a mega-sized monster, all in the name of savings and improvement. But at the end of the day, the ultimate improvement is going back to a smaller, local solution. This economic model has been replicated over and over again, and it always ends the same way: “Too big” doesn’t work, and success is found in reverting to smaller, more manageable units to survive.
I often quote our Founding Fathers because I think they were pretty smart guys. Today I will quote Albert Einstein — another smart guy — who made the following observation: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is INSANITY. Why do some insist that local government go through the same cycle? Can’t we learn from history? Local democracy is in your hands … protect it and nourish it! It’s not easy work, but nothing is more important to future generations.
A Farewell and a Welcome!
The votes have all been counted, and the 2013 municipal elections are in the rearview mirror. Preparations for the new term of office have begun, and the organizational meeting is just around the corner. I am certain that the recent elections brought changes. Some may have been voluntary due to retirement, while others may have been due to losing the election. Whatever the reasons, the voters decided they wanted change.
To those of you who will no longer be in office after the end of the year, thank you for your service! You have made a wonderful contribution to your community. It takes a special kind of person to serve in local government. I know you don’t do it for the money, the fame, or all the thank-you calls. You do it because you care about your community, your kids, and your grandkids, and you want to make sure there is a great quality of life for future generations in your township. It isn’t always easy working for or dealing with the public, but you did it and should be congratulated for your service.
Township government has changed dramatically over the years, as those who have served a long time can attest to. For those retiring, it is time to turn over the responsibilities to someone new and perhaps return to a slower pace and spend more time with your family without worrying about some township issue.
For some, it might be tough to “let go” because of your dedication to your community. Remember that the torch has been passed to someone new, who now has the responsibility of governing in your township. All who take on the responsibility of serving in local government deserve respect because it is not an easy job these days. Having been previously involved in public service, I know the demands and have the utmost respect for those who make the commitment to serve.
For those leaving township service, farewell and thank you for a job well-done. For those who have won re-election and continue to serve, thank you. For those who are joining township service, welcome and thank you for taking up the mantle of caring for your community. All three groups are equally dedicated to proving that our form of government works and have a passionate commitment to making their township a better place to live, work, and raise a family. You are all part of township and Pennsylvania history.
Collectively, we have our work cut out for us. Unfunded mandates from Harrisburg and Washington continue to burden local governments with challenges that can only be met with common sense, good judgment, and continuous learning. You bring the common sense and good judgment, and your State Association will provide the learning and education. First, please check out our NEO (newly elected official) training early next year. These classes, held in 12 locations throughout the state, will give you a fundamental understanding of rules and best practices from around the commonwealth to help your community prosper.
It's Harvest Time!
Earlier in the year, I wrote about planting seeds. Well, after nine months of hard work and cultivating, harvest time is upon us.
While the frost is on the pumpkins and the apples are headed for the pies, I am more directly referring to our municipal election process. Beginning with the petition process to get on the ballot in February, followed by the primary election in May, the November election brings closure to this important season.
Much will be made of federal and state elections in the media, but the local elections are the most important, yet often the least publicized. You know that decisions made in the township building have a greater impact on your neighbors’ daily life than those made in Washington or Harrisburg. Your neighbors know you and how to find you — and that’s why they trust local government more than any other level of government.
The duties and responsibilities of local elected officials are not easy, and the struggles and challenges seem greater every year, but the triumphs and rewards of making your community a safe and healthy place to live, work, and raise a family are what drive every local official to do what you do. Thank you!
There will undoubtedly be some changes on local boards when the new year begins. Newly elected and re-elected officials will take office in January, joining the balance of the board of supervisors. New partnerships will be formed to make your community even better. That’s essential because there is much change to be had in our world, the country, and the commonwealth. We must collectively harness our new-found energy to make things better in our communities, but let’s not forget that some of the same old problems are still around: We still have to fight unfunded mandates from Washington and Harrisburg. We still have to fight the forces of “big government” and all those who think bigger is better — all those who will try to eliminate local government through consolidation.
Surely there are new lessons to be learned, but we have old lessons to share. As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Your Association is here to help with that education process. In addition to the recently announced PSATS Municipal Government Academy, the Association will be rolling out a special training series designed for both newly elected officials and those currently in office to learn about the latest and greatest in best practices and new laws. This focused, two-day program will take place in the new year in 12 different sites around the state. The courses will be on two consecutive Saturdays and are eligible for PMGA credits.
We will also be offering our Pre-NEO (newly elected officials) session, which is a quick evening course to be held on December 10, 11, and 12 to prepare soon-to-be-serving officials for their first public meetings. Watch your mail for more information on each of these training opportunities or visit www.psats.org.
For township officials, harvest time only marks the end of the election process. Now the really hard work begins, and PSATS’ staff is available to guide and help you as we all face the challenges ahead.
I would be remiss if I did not also recognize November as a time to pause and give thanks for all the blessings we enjoy and especially for our veterans, who make our way of life possible.
Pa. at Critical Intersection: Pass Road Funding Now or Risk Greater Costs, Danger, and Detours
Pennsylvania’s road and bridge infrastructure finds itself at a critical intersection on the eve of what could be a historic vote by the state legislature to finally pass badly needed transportation funding. With road and bridge funding stagnating and labor, material, and construction costs rising, the major caretakers of the state’s transportation network — PennDOT and townships — have reached the breaking point. They can no longer continue to fix and maintain the state’s roads and bridges without an additional infusion of dollars.
It may cost all of us a couple more dollars per year, but it will cost even more to do nothing. And Harrisburg can no longer afford to put off this decision that is so vital to the state’s economy and public safety. The moment of truth has arrived, and our General Assembly must step up to the plate to do what is right and necessary before our transportation network suffers even more.
Without additional funding, roads will continue to deteriorate, more bridges will be weight-restricted, time-consuming detours will delay emergency response and school buses, roadways will be more congested, commerce will be stifled, and Pennsylvanians will be less safe in trying to get from Point A to Point B. This all translates into a noticeable decrease in our quality of life.
On the other hand, additional funding will enable the caretakers of our roads and bridges to address long overdue maintenance needs and safety issues. It will also create thousands of Pennsylvania construction jobs.
Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and citizens are paying the price — both literally and figuratively.
Literally, because a lack of adequate funding for road maintenance and repairs means taxpayers either live with the deteriorating infrastructure or they must fight for stable funding. The proposed creative solution before the legislature now puts the bulk of the burden on the prosperous oil companies by lifting the artificial cap on the oil franchise tax. Inaction by the legislature, however, will likely result in increased local property taxes.
And figuratively, because the aging infrastructure causes inconvenience (at best) and endangers lives (at worst) through long, costly, and sometimes dangerous detours.
In many of the state’s townships of the second class, road projects account for the majority of the annual budget. Municipalities are responsible for maintaining 77,000 miles of the 117,000 miles of roads in the state. They must find the funds to build, pave, and repair roads; maintain bridges; remove snow and ice; maintain traffic signs and signals on local and state roads; and minimize dust on dirt and gravel roads.
That means paying a road crew, purchasing and maintaining equipment, and covering the skyrocketing cost of materials such as salt, antiskid, steel, concrete, and oil-based products, such as asphalt.
It all adds up quickly, and when residents don’t want to pay higher taxes, the budget can only be stretched so far. There’s no magic to it: Townships either have to cut services or raise property taxes.
Clearly, this current shortfall in funding is a no-win situation for anyone who has to take care of the commonwealth’s roads and bridges. The dollars don’t go as far as they once did, and when you’ve got less, what choice do you have? You have to do less, and Pennsylvanians are starting to see the negative consequences of that: closed bridges, long detours, patch-worked roads, and in some cases, higher property taxes.
A township supervisor from Lancaster County recently put it all in perspective when sharing a story about two weight-restricted bridges in his township: “What’s happening is that truckers are weaving through a maze of structurally deficient bridges. That costs money, and you know what’s going to happen next? Those costs are going to be passed on to consumers. And guess what? You’ve still got a structurally deficient bridge.”
Deteriorating roads and bridges are putting the public in danger, wasting time and money with detours and delays, and eroding the commonwealth’s ability to attract and retain businesses.
Pennsylvania’s legislature has reached a critical intersection: Pass this road and bridge funding now or wait another couple of years and see our infrastructure deteriorate even more, requiring even greater amounts of money to fix it.
We call on our state legislators to do the right thing. Don’t stall out at this intersection. Move forward and pass comprehensive transportation funding now!
Note: PSATS Executive Director David Sanko submitted this op-ed to newspapers statewide on Oct. 16. Townships are encouraged to contact their local media as well and urge our state legislators to pass transportation funding legislation now!
When Tragedy Strikes
“Sometimes bad things happen…before good things can.” That statement sounds philosophical, but it’s true. No one likes when something bad happens. But how you respond to it and the decisions you make afterward are the real story.
Whether we are talking about the recent anniversary of the horrific events of 9/11 or the tragedies highlighted in this issue of the Township News, we know that some good came out of these very bad circumstances. Often in these situations, neighbors and communities pull together and support each other in ways previously unknown. We see it time and again when tragedy strikes a person, family, community, or country: First shock and outrage set in, but soon these emotions are replaced with good memories and a pledge to focus on moving forward, be more positive, and not take things for granted. Sound familiar?
No community gets broken because bad things happen. It gets broken if it doesn’t pull together and keep going after those things happen. Whether we look to faith or family or simply a “gut” sense to make the best of it, we all know that pain is eased by the healing help of others. We use existing support networks and new ones that often bloom out of the sense that good people should help those who are in need, hurting, or less fortunate. This is the very fabric of our communities and nation. It is truly the American spirit.
Good and bad experiences are part of life. The bad ones help us build character, which is what gets us through the difficult times and what our friends, family, and neighbors come to rely on. Leadership in the face of adversity is what township government is all about. Making tough choices and using common sense to protect your community is what you do every day. Not because someone told you to do it, but because you know it is the right thing to do.
Responding to adversity, whether a flood or fire, a random act of violence, or a business closure, requires courage and common sense. It is important to plan for such events. It’s like having an insurance policy. The best thing that can happen is that you never need it, but if you do, you are ready and your community will be better served. That’s one of the reasons that PSATS is committed to providing necessary training and best practices, whether in a classroom or through webinars or our Annual Conference.
Bad things can happen and sometimes do, but as someone once said, they only take up a few pages in your story; anyone can survive a few pages.
The rest of the story is filled with many positive chapters that illustrate the value of township life — a high quality of life at an affordable price. Thank you for your efforts to be prepared and your courage and commitment to serving your community.
Governor Nominates Township Supervisor Chris Abruzzo as DEP Secretary
Gov. Tom Corbett has nominated E. Christopher Abruzzo, a supervisor for Derry Township in Dauphin County, as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The information below is from a press release issued by the governor's office:
Abruzzo, a supervisor for Derry Township in Dauphin County, served as Corbett's deputy chief of staff until he was appointed acting secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection in April.
"Township supervisors are known for their common sense and pragmatic and balanced approach to problem solving and Chris Abruzzo, chairman of the Derry Township Board of Supervisors, will bring these important skills with him as the permanent head of the state Department of Environmental Protection,'' PSATS Executive Director David Sanko said.
"We applaud Chris' nomination as DEP secretary because he not only understands what Pennsylvania's local governments need from DEP, like stormwater and wastewater issues, but he also understands what Pennsylvania needs from its leaders: reliability, honesty and integrity. Chris Abruzzo brings all of this and more to the table,'' he added.
As deputy chief of staff, Abruzzo, 46, was responsible for overseeing the activities of nearly 20 state agencies and commissions, including DEP and DCNR. He brings 20 years of public service experience to DEP. He previously served in the state Attorney General's office prosecuting and supervising cases involving white collar crime, drug investigation and Medicaid fraud.
"Chris has served the citizens of Pennsylvania with distinction, both as a prosecuting attorney and as a member of my executive staff," Corbett said. "As deputy chief of staff, Chris played instrumental roles in many of my environmental initiatives, including enhanced protective standards for oil and gas development, implementing the permit decision guarantee, and refocusing the agency on job number one: protecting the environment. The citizens of Pennsylvania will continue to benefit from his pragmatic, balanced approach to problem solving.''
In addition to his role in state government, Abruzzo has served for six years with the Derry Township Board of Supervisors and the Derry Township Municipal Authority, which oversees the township's wastewater systems, interceptor lines, sewage treatment plant, and the treatment and disposal of industrial waste.
While chairman of the authority in 2010 and 2011, Abruzzo was instrumental in directing the township's response to flooding caused by catastrophic storm events Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
Abruzzo's local government experience gives him a unique understanding of the many issues and challenges that municipalities encounter as they strive to implement best practices and meet environmental standards and regulations. A graduate of St. Joseph's University, Abruzzo earned his law degree from the Widener University School of Law.
The nomination now goes to the state Senate for its consideration.
Do the Right Thing: Be Ready for Any Emergency
Someone once said that if you STAY ready, you don’t have to get ready! September has been National Preparedness Month for 10 years now. Some people don’t even know why. Do you remember? How many have forgotten? Why is it important?
It is much easier to react to tragedy or disaster if you have planned for it. Once just a project of military planners from civil defense days, preparedness bursts onto the evening news and front pages far more often now.
But why do we need a disaster or senseless act of violence or stupidity to remind us of the need to prepare?
Sure, everyone is busy, and it takes time to educate people, but it makes sense and is worth it! Planning and practice make a difference. We teach children about the importance of fire drills and staying out of harm’s way. We hope they remember as they grow older, but often we forget to update our “threat matrix” in our daily lives and practice such routine things as what to do in an emergency ... how to be safe and to have a plan for where to go, plus contact information to let others know we are OK. In the face of horrific events, communications systems are sometimes jammed or out of service. How do you help others if that happens?
Whether due to a flash flood, a careless spark, a senseless shooting at a township meeting, a plane crashing into a building, or looking away from the road for a second to answer a cellphone call or text message, lives can be changed in an instant. We can easily see how threats to our safety have changed over the years. Have you taken the time to update your plan on how to react and respond?
Sometimes good planning helps to prevent disaster or tragedy, but it always helps us respond to it better. Either way, it is worth the investment of time. You serve as township leaders because you care. You care about your community and what it will be like for your kids and grandkids. You are on the front line every day. Sometimes the front line can be dangerous, but that doesn’t stop you from caring or planning and preparing. You do it because you are leaders in a free society, but our society is growing less civil and more dangerous. Together, we all have the opportunity to make a difference by planning and preparing.
Thankfully, every day, there are people preparing ... our military, first responders, elected officials, scouts, teachers, community leaders, and others. It’s sad that we have to designate a month of recognition to remind people of the importance of preparing to be safe, but in a busy world, people need reminders, and it’s our job to get the word out.
Heroes don’t wear capes and masks. Some wear dog tags, while others wear badges, firefighting turnout gear, T-shirts and baseball caps, or business suits and dresses. Heroes are alive and well and living in every community.
Thank you to all the heroes: those we know about and especially those we don’t. Nobody plans on being a hero. It just happens when you do the right thing because you were ready.
What's on Your Mind?
As we wind down the summer and begin to plan back-to-school activities, fall cleanup projects, and budget drafts that possibly allow for new initiatives in 2014, August is a great time to take stock of what works and what doesn’t. We all have limited resources and great demands for them. We may find that things we like to do may not be as valuable as we once thought. Sometimes new priorities demand different spending decisions.
We all need to balance our “wants” with our “needs.” As you begin planning for 2014 and assessing your own needs, as well as those of your township, I want you to know we are doing the same thing here at PSATS. We are examining the services we provide to make sure they are meeting our members’ needs.
What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? Are there things you like? Are there things you wish were different? Organizations grow successfully only when they remain aligned with their members’ needs. We should all be in a constant state of improvement. It is the only way we can remain effective as we move into the future.
I need to hear from you! Please write, email, or call me directly with confidential feedback about the organization and its future. Consider any and all aspects of PSATS’ services. For example, is this column a good use of web space or would you prefer something else here? Does this Pa. Township News magazine meet your needs? Would you prefer to view it online or continue to get it in the mail?
Is our training accessible? Is our annual conference too long or too short? How would you make it better? Would you prefer to make your own housing reservations directly with the hotels for the conference? What workshop topics would you like to see? Which ones are not useful?
Is the Township Video News an important communications tool? Is our social media presence satisfactory? Would you prefer more electronic communication or do you like to receive hard copies?
Is the PSATS presentation at county conventions useful? How would you improve it? Would you like to be able to do more online, such as order products, register, pay bills, and update records? Are our products sufficient? Is there anything you think PSATS should be doing that we are not doing? Is the Grassroots Lobbying Network working well?
Lots of questions, to be sure! But more important are your answers. I need to hear your comments and your responses. Only with your feedback can we make concrete plans for the Association’s future direction. Our ability to grow and meet your needs is based on our success at being good stewards of our revenue. We need to know what services you value and what is most useful to you, as members, moving into the future. I can’t stress enough the importance of taking a few minutes to write, email me at email@example.com, or call me at (717) 763-0930.
Some have told me not to expect much of a response, but I know you care about PSATS and its future. I hope to hear from you soon!
We Are a Battleground State! Are You Ready?
July is a perfect time to reflect on patriotism. Pennsylvania has a long and proud tradition of being “in the thick of things” when it comes to big, historic battles. From the American Revolution that birthed the Declaration of Independence and our nation as we knew it to the modern-day war on terror that began in the skies over Somerset County on September 11, 2001, Pennsylvania has always been in the forefront of fighting for democracy.
Historic markers denote the locations of some significant events, such as the Whiskey Rebellion, the Battle of Lake Erie, or the Battle of Gettysburg. Other Pennsylvania contributions have no markers but are no less important to history. These include the steel mills that fed the success of World War II and our nation’s first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge.
To make absolutely certain that no one disputes Pennsylvania’s role in history, let me tick off some other “firsts.” The commonwealth had the first fire company, first successful oil well, first turnpike, first electronic computer, first radio and television broadcasts, and the first zoo, hospital, library, and model school. It also leads the nation in licensed hunters, mushroom and potato chip production, and the number of local governments that provide common-sense quality service at an affordable cost.
And that is where the battle begins again. Last month, I wrote of storm clouds on the horizon. I am sure I am not the first person to suggest that life as we know it is changing every day, and not always for the better. Fortunately, those in local government are doing their part to ensure that the quality of life our neighbors expect is protected. We must constantly fight to preserve safe communities where people can live, work, and raise a family.
Our task is not an easy one, and there are those who seek to undermine our efforts. Talk of consolidation is surfacing more and more every day. Just recently, someone was explaining that all the public pensions in the state would be better if there was just one large system. Others already think things would be better with just one large government.
We know they are wrong, but they have a plan. Think about it…what happens when all the unfunded mandates and “unintended side-effects” of costly regulations cause every government to become fiscally distressed? The “great consolidators” will say, “See, we told you! They can’t perform their basic functions! We need to combine them into a bigger unit to save them and absorb the revenue for the greater good!”
You know how that story ends: Government gets more costly and less responsive because of the bureaucracy. It is our job to fight consolidation and protect local governance and democracy just as other Pennsylvania patriots have for the last 300 years.
We must be constantly vigilant and watch for sneak attacks. This trend toward consolidation is cropping up all over the country. Sometimes they call it boundary changing and sometimes they just nibble around the corners and it doesn’t seem so bad — kind of like a mouse eating a cookie. But after a while, the cookie is gone and then the mouse wants a glass of milk.
Are you ready to fight to protect local democracy?
Storm Clouds on the Horizon
You have heard all the catch phrases: “But, you will save money … But, it’s more efficient … But, there are economies of scale.” There are always people lurking around the corner who have a secret plan to force consolidation of local governments into larger units and change life as we know it. We have seen example after example of how bigger government doesn’t work. It costs more and is less efficient and usually less responsive.
We’ve just come off our annual conference in Hershey, where I ran into lots of people who share these concerns. They all want to be more efficient and provide high-quality services at affordable prices. They all cooperate and communicate with their neighbors, but THAT clearly should NOT lead to forced consolidation.
If anyone needs evidence about what happens when you put lots of small communities into one large government, I urge you to take a look at the experiment of the 1850s — they call it Philadelphia. Thirteen townships, six boroughs, and nine districts were combined into one county-level government. At the time, proponents said the compelling reasons were to combat lawlessness and generate much-needed revenue for the larger central government.
Wow! The pages turn on the calendar and the clock moves forward, but the story stays the same. More than 100 years later, in the 1960s, that same city-county government was again needing to be fed and launched a plan to annex surrounding townships and boroughs to capture more revenue. Does any of this sound familiar? They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it!
The master planners tell us to revitalize and create urban centers, but time and again, we see how the story ends. Out-of-control spending leads to financial distress, which leads to talk of regionalization to “feed the beast.” Funny how some think that more money is always the solution, rather than fiscal constraint and common sense. We can and should engage in intergovernmental cooperation, but we must never lose sight of the autonomy that keeps us grounded in these two practices.
Unfunded mandates are the new “secret plan” to force communities into fiscal distress and consolidation. There was much talk of “storm clouds on the horizon” before the Civil War. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but it seems as though storm clouds are gathering again. This time, it’s not about North and South, but rather, large and small.
There are people who should know better but continue to look past history and reality into some theory-based utopia that is unaffordable and unworkable. From academics to urban planners to the Internal Revenue Service, some people are casting about trying to find ways to feed the government’s appetite to spend.
Now rumors from Washington have the IRS interpreting the Affordable Care Act to say that the hours served by volunteer firefighters should count toward full-time equivalent employees for purposes of mandatory national health care. This will undoubtedly deliver the crushing blow to the spirit of volunteer firefighting, which originated in Pennsylvania. Experts estimate that a paid firefighting force would cost more than $5 billion in this state alone. Have any ideas on how to pay for THAT?
There is no time like the present to stand up and fight unfunded mandates at every level. We can’t let the little fights go, because after a while, the ball starts rolling too fast and becomes impossible to stop.
The Seeds Are Planted...Now What?
The Annual conference is behind us, and April showers are done. The primary election season is just around the corner, to be followed by the historic legislative discussions in Harrisburg before the summer break. We have planted the seeds for the future … seeds of common sense and hope for a brighter tomorrow and seeds of opportunity for another generation of township elected leaders who share our values.
At our conference, we heard how we have planted the seeds that will yield more transportation funding and common-sense reforms and begin to stamp out unfunded mandates. We heard about a recent Pennsylvania survey that once again proves that our citizens have more faith and confidence in local government than Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., combined!
Yes, it looks like there are bright days ahead for local government. With lots of hard work, it seems as if things are going well and the train is on the right track. New funding is soon on its way for roads and bridges, and there is even movement on prevailing wage reform and electronic advertising options.
But all is not well. You see, just as we have prepared the fields for our crop of common sense, others are sowing seeds of discontent. The bigger-is-better crowd is at it again. From discussions about fast-tracking municipal consolidations and mergers to plans for consolidating local pensions in the name of “reform and savings,” our local governments are about to face their toughest challenge ever.
Proposals to disproportionately shift financial aid to distressed communities are soon to be unveiled. On top of that, state Rep. Mike Sturla’s proposal to make some Pennsylvanians pay twice for the constitutionally guaranteed public safety platform we know as the State Police has been introduced again.
When will they learn that concentrating power into the hands of a few is not good government? When will they learn that government closest to the people governs best? When will they learn that local determination and community standards of affordability trump the academic exercises of social engineering?
On behalf of our citizens who expect us to protect them, we cannot — and must not — let down our guard on this latest multi-pronged attack on local government. Township governments must continue to communicate, cooperate, and coordinate, but we must fight the “urge to merge” movement. Stay tuned and be on alert.
From activating our Grassroots Lobbying Network in Harrisburg to making sure residents remember to vote in important local elections this month, your plate for the month of May is full! We will keep you posted and enlist you as foot soldiers in the fight to preserve local democracy as soon as we uncover new threats.
It's Almost Here!
April is known for many special calendar days, some more famous than others. April Fools’ Day, Tax Day, and Earth Day are three that come to mind immediately. Some lesser-known events include National Walk to Work Day on April 5 and World Penguin Day on the 25th. They are balanced by Tell a Lie Day and National Honesty Day on the 4th and 30th, respectively.
April also plays host to some important food remembrances, including National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day on the 2nd, Caramel Popcorn Day on the 7th, Eggs Benedict Day on the 16th, Cheese Ball Day on the 17th, Jelly Bean Day on the 22nd, Pretzel Day on the 26th, Prime Rib Day on the 27th, and Shrimp Scampi Day on the 29th.
Now that I have made you hungry, let me take a few minutes to talk about another important April event and how PSATS is prepared to help satisfy your hunger. Of course, I am talking about our Annual Educational Conference and Trade Show in Hershey, and the hunger of which I speak is a hunger for learning.
Sure, there will be lots of food at our Welcome Reception, Legislative Reception, Grassroots Reception, and Donuts with Dave, and I heard there might even be some chocolate lying around somewhere — but the real reason you should trek to Hershey is to devour the learning opportunities. The many offerings, whether in the form of attending classes or seminars, listening to the general session speakers, or learning best practices from each other and the trade show vendors, all combine to give you a four-day smorgasbord of education that helps you serve your residents.
You will leave Hershey full of ideas and experiences that will enable you to make your community an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.
Our program is shaping up nicely around the important issue of transportation funding. From the remarks of invited guests, including the governor, lieutenant governor, state secretary of transportation, the U.S. House Transportation Committee chair (Pennsylvania’s own Bill Shuster), and the majority and minority chairs of the state Senate and House Transportation committees to Grassroots Lobbying Network visits with legislators at the Legislative Reception, this is sure to be a “bridge-building” experience!
If you have not yet made plans to attend, it’s not too late. You can get all the details and register at www.psats.org. If you are already packing, we look forward to seeing you there.
At the end of the conference, we will all be able to celebrate “Reach as High as You Can Day.” While normally observed on April 14, we can — and should — strive for this goal every day of the year.
Is March the Month of Listening in Harrisburg? Let the Hearings Begin!
A wise woman once told me that people HAVE TWO ears and one mouth because they are supposed to listen twice as much as they speak. Let’s hope that holds true for our leaders in Harrisburg as the legislative Appropriations Committee hearings are about to kick off. Just as baseball players begin spring training in March, township officials must begin to “warm up” in the bullpen of grassroots activity with our new legislature.
Gov. Corbett has unveiled his budget proposal, which framed key issues that will undoubtedly take center stage in the Harrisburg discussions about Pennsylvania’s future in the coming months. Two issues in the forefront are transportation funding and state pension reform.
While most local pension funds are doing just fine because of common-sense guidance driven by local communities, they are still under the threat of forced consolidation to bail out the large unfunded liabilities in the big cities and statewide systems. We must join together to resist this effort. There is no doubt that the large one-size-fits-all pension systems are in trouble, but they should not be fixed on the backs of the smaller, successfully funded plans. Make your voices heard and tell Harrisburg to fix the $41 billion state pension problem without raiding our local funds!
On the larger topic, there can be no discussion of a multibillion-dollar transportation system underfunding without local government input. There are more than 117,000 miles of roads in Pennsylvania, and the state maintains only 44,000. That leaves 73,000 miles in local government hands. With school buses and fire trucks crossing over thousands of state, county, and local structurally deficient bridges in the commonwealth every day, public safety alone demands action be taken now!
Your PSATS resolutions on transportation funding call for three things: 1) the establishment of a stable funding base, 2) the deposit of the money in a dedicated fund that can’t be raided, and 3) the restoration of local government’s historic fair share of 20 percent. The 20 percent allocation has not been reached for many years but remains a solid target given that local governments are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the road miles in Pennsylvania.
There are some exciting modernizations coming from PennDOT that will save money, as well as some proposals on traffic lights and bridges that will reduce the local share to near zero, allowing us to focus efforts on road maintenance. This, combined with prevailing wage reform that takes another look at what constitutes “maintenance,” just may let us meet the demands of a $3 billion-plus program more efficiently and affordably.
It’s time to make our voices heard while Harrisburg is listening through the Appropriations Committee hearing process. Check our website for a calendar of hearings and committee members so you can write, call, or visit your representatives and senators at the right time.
And before you know it, April will be here and township officials from across the commonwealth will descend on the Harrisburg area to drive the message home. See you at the PSATS Conference, where transportation funding is sure to be center stage!
Too Early to Plant?
While we are in the heart of winter and the groundhog offers an opinion on how long that will last, we don’t usually think of February as a time to plant seeds.
Yet, for those engaged in public service, it is often the exact time to plant a seed. I am talking, of course, about one of the fundamentals of democracy: the beginning of the electoral process. You see, February is usually the time of year to circulate nominating petitions to get on the ballot to serve in public office.
We have just completed a long, high-profile presidential election, when the eyes of the world were on America, but this year presents an even more important election for Pennsylvanians. It is far more likely that the decisions made and the people elected this year will have a much greater impact on the daily lives of your family, friends, and neighbors.
And yet, the first time we will likely see any news coverage of this important event will be when the news media writes a story about the “off-year” election and the number of local offices that go uncontested — or worse, have no candidate. And they will point to that as yet another reason to eliminate and consolidate local governments.
They will suggest that the lack of candidates for local office somehow indicates a lack of interest in local government. We know that’s just not true! Sure, it takes time to serve, and it is not a job that comes with a lot of “thank you” calls, but that isn’t why you do it. Our children and grandchildren are counting on us to make sure local democracy remains alive and well.
We know from surveys that people trust local government more than any other level of government because they can see it and touch it and influence it — on a daily basis. You can find local leaders at the grocery store, church, post office, or ball fields. You don’t have to travel to some big official building or another town to touch local government. As much as it is our mission to serve in local government, it also is our mission to preserve it.
I’m not talking about protecting turf or the status quo. Critics say local officials run for the power and the money; they say it is for ego and glory. Ha!
Nothing could be further from the truth. All the local officials I know serve because they care about their neighbors, their kids, and their grandkids, and they want to make sure that they preserve the quality of life in their community for future generations.
What could be more noble or important than that? So as we move through February, remember to plant the seeds to save local democracy for future generations. Don’t forget to file the petitions for election and re-election to local office. The first day to circulate and file petitions at your county board of elections is February 19, and the last day to file is March 12.
Never forget that the proponents of consolidation and “bigger-is-better” government would love to drive a stake into the heart of local government. Let’s show them how partnerships with neighbors, within communities and between communities, are as alive today as when the Founding Fathers made them a bedrock principle of democracy. Future generations are counting on you to preserve, protect, and defend local government.
2013: A Time to Build Bridges
If you are reading this, the Mayans were wrong!
The world did not end on December 21, 2012. In reality, none of us knows the day or hour when the world, as we know it, will end, so we should live every day as though it may be our last. As this is going to print, it is unclear whether the folks in Washington have avoided the “fiscal cliff” or if we have plunged over it!
There is a lot of doom-and-gloom talk, but there is also much reason for optimism. As we start a new year, we have a new legislative session and many new lawmakers in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. There are serious financial problems facing all levels of government, from pension reform to transportation funding to unfunded mandates. I am optimistic that our efforts to keep municipal pensions separate from the morass of state pension debt will prevail this spring.
We have further reason to be encouraged by the bipartisan chorus of commitment to address transportation funding coming from Gov. Corbett and leaders in the House and Senate. This spring truly looks to be exciting times for townships and local government, as long as we remain vigilant in making our views clear to the leaders in Harrisburg and Washington.
There are more than 30 new state House and Senate members as a result of retirements and electoral changes. We need to make sure that they, as well as our more experienced legislators, know what is important to townships and local governments as they approach a new legislative session. This is a good time to reach out to your House and Senate members and talk about issues that are important to your township, from transportation funding to unfunded mandates.
In this ever increasingly divided world, bridge building is in danger of becoming a lost art. Whether we are talking about literally building bridges as part of our transportation infrastructure or figuratively building bridges with fellow elected officials and staff to solve problems, we must always remember the importance of respecting others’ opinions and working together for the good of the people we serve.
Here’s to a successful bridge building program in 2013!
We Only Have to Wait Four More Years!
It seems so far away, but it really isn’t. In January 2017, the fight to rebuild democracy will get a boost. No, I am NOT talking about after the next presidential election. We just had one, and we ALL need to pray for our national and state leaders for strength, courage, wisdom, and bipartisanship in these difficult times. We want — and need them — to work together for all our futures.
Instead, I am talking about a new standard for Pennsylvania schools that will begin that year. When I was a high school senior, a required course was “Problems of Democracy.” It was a civics class about government at all levels, and it sparked an interest in me for government service.
With the current emphasis on math and science, which is necessary to compete economically in today’s world, some bad decisions have been made. The delivery of civics courses is no longer a priority, and we are paying the price. The importance of serving our community has waned.
You know how hard it is to find volunteers to serve in local government, much less run for office. As local officials, you have been the guardians of democracy and the local determination that our Founding Fathers thought so important. We are fighting the good fight, and our residents recognize the value of local government…as long as someone else does it!
People have different reasons for not engaging in government service. These range from “someone else will do it” to legitimate concerns about the general lack of civility we see at higher levels of office. Some even suggest that a media bias is making it difficult for elected officials to do the right thing without being castigated by the uninformed.
I would argue, however, that one of the reasons we struggle to find people to serve in local government is that it isn’t taught anymore. Not in our schools, and certainly not in enough homes, but this about to change. Beginning in 2017, all Pennsylvania schools will require a 12th-grade civics course for graduation.
To be sure, there will be opponents of this restoration of common sense. There are those who think there is nothing wrong. They actually believe that if they can discourage civics and create a culture of disinterest in local government service, it will be easier to eliminate local government.
You’ve heard them before, and you will hear them again next year when they see vacancies on the ballot. They will call for the consolidation or elimination of municipalities. That’s right, the “bigger-is-better” crowd will be ready to strike again.
I know some of you think I see conspiracies everywhere, but there is no doubt that a significant sector of our society thinks that big government works best and the little guy’s participation in local determination just “gets in the way.”
Over the coming months, you’re going to hear a lot more about this issue and how to recruit the “next generation” of local government leaders and prepare them for public service. Currently, we rely on friends and family, but we have other tools at our disposal as well. We have an obligation to reach out to our schools, strike up a partnership, and ignite a fire in the hearts and minds of future local government leaders.
Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders, and we need to involve them sooner rather than later.
As we end another year and pause to reflect on accomplishments, as well as unfinished business that will become next year’s agenda, I want to wish you and your family a happy and healthy holiday season. Take time to reflect on the important things in life and know that help is on the way!
A Time to Give Thanks
Welcome to the season of Thanksgiving! While We have many reasons to be thankful every day of every year, November actually has a day on the calendar to help us reflect on the things for which we are grateful. Although the origins of Thanksgiving cause many to think of a bountiful harvest, I think the true meaning may be much deeper, and our thanks should go far beyond an abundant crop.
First, let me start by thanking you — for your commitment, your dedication, your support, and most important, your service! Your commitment to making your community a better place to live, work, and raise a family will truly be appreciated by your children, grandchildren, and indeed, all the residents of your community.
Your efforts may seem to go unnoticed by your residents, but national surveys tell us that residents are aware of local government and they trust it more than any other level of government. Congratulations!
We live in a great country that is rich in blessings; perhaps the greatest are freedom and self-governance. Many of you know I am fond of quoting our Founding Fathers. I often focus on Thomas Jefferson and his wisdom about the creation of townships as the most perfect invention for self-governance. But there is another Founding Father who was equally filled with wisdom and invention, and he was a Pennsylvanian. Of course, I speak of Benjamin Franklin, the discoverer of electricity, among other things, and the author of many fine tidbits of wisdom.
When you Google “Ben Franklin inventions,” you will find lightning rod, bifocals, and odometers — all things I am personally thankful for, having various degrees of use for each. But I also turn to some of his famous quotes as daily proof that common sense and integrity are wonderful guidelines for our daily life.
I am reminded of the story that at the close of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Franklin what type of government this Constitution was bringing into existence. Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” And indeed, he was right.
While this adage has been tested successfully time and again, we may be on the verge of yet another test, perhaps our greatest one yet. There are those who want to change our way of life and our government structure.
Of course, I speak of those who want to create a government of centralized power and control by forcing consolidations and mergers. Township officials represent “the last stand” in this attack on local democracy. Our electoral process will determine our future. While we must get through the important national and state elections, now is the time to start thinking about our municipal elections next year and finding candidates who are committed to the fight.
Common sense, while not so common anymore, is still alive and well in township halls across Pennsylvania. The battle to protect local democracy must be fought every day, and it is our job to preserve it for future generations. We can take inspiration from some other Franklin quotes to help guide our actions in this battle:
- By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
- Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain — and most fools do.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.
Join me in giving thanks for our many blessings in this season of Thanksgiving!
Bracing for Battle: There's Still Time to Fight Unfunded Mandates
Autumn is officially here, and there is a crisp chill in the morning air. Football rivalries are in full bloom, and some other battles are on the horizon, too.
The National League versus the American League in the World Series.
Republicans versus Democrats in election campaigns.
Both happen every October, but that isn’t what I am talking about.
I am talking about the battle in Harrisburg — the fight between common-sense reforms and the bureaucracy — and the final days of the session for the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
There are fewer than 10 days remaining in the term of the current General Assembly and much to be done. Bills that don’t get passed will die and have to be reintroduced in a new session in January. We have come too far in several major battles to stop now. I urge you to encourage your House and Senate members to finish some important business that will benefit taxpayers and local government before they go home to run for re-election.
There are big issues facing state and local government. Money is always a problem. Some say there isn’t enough to go around; others say the dollars are being spent on the wrong priorities. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for big-ticket issues like transportation funding or pension reform. But surely we can ask legislators to institute some reforms that won’t cost the state a single dime!
I am referring, of course, to relief from unfunded mandates, which will go a long way toward unshackling the hands and creativity of local government leaders.
For example, simply updating the Prevailing Wage Law for the first time in 50 years would allow more projects to get done and create more jobs. Allowing electronic advertising of meeting notices would save millions. Amending the Open Records Law to fix some oversights would preserve transparency without making taxpayers underwrite exorbitant costs for research and data collection that drives the marketing efforts of profit-making entities.
These are just a few of the common-sense reforms that are very close to the finish line. Soon, the Local Government Commission will release its long-awaited report on unfunded mandates. While many legislators will want to wait until next year, there is no time like the present to start helping taxpayers and local government. We all need to pick up the phone, write a letter, send an email, or visit members of the legislature and tell them it’s time to get the job done!
Speaking of common-sense reforms, we all remember the terrible flooding that struck Pennsylvania in September 2011. Some of that could have been prevented and future flooding and property damage avoided if streams were allowed to be cleaned out. The gravel bar removal bill has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate over objections from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
There are only a few days left. The time for talking is over. It’s time for action! Remind your House and Senate members of your expectations for common sense and assistance for taxpayers … before they go home to ask everyone to vote for them again. Only your efforts and citizen engagement at the grassroots level can prompt the important actions we need in Harrisburg. Local government remains the most trusted level of government, and we can be a partner in rebuilding Pennsylvania’s economy, but Harrisburg must remove the handcuffs.
September Morn … More Than a Neil Diamond Song
As we approach Labor Day, people see September in a variety of ways. For some, it is the start of a new school year. Others celebrate the return of football, while others look forward to crisp mornings and crackling leaves under their feet. Some see it as the traditional kickoff of the fall election campaigns — although they seem like they have been going on forever! Others will reflect on the memory of the attacks of September 11, 2001, when we were reminded that safety at home is not something to be taken lightly.
But there are additional things on the minds of township officials. First, we will see the return of the state legislature to Harrisburg for an abbreviated fall session. House and Senate members are planning to work for about eight to 10 days. There are many important items on the agenda for local government and if they don’t finish them now, we will have to start all over again in January with a new legislature.
Transportation funding and pension reform are the two most talked about issues in the media, but an even more important issue for Harrisburg to address is unfunded mandates. A long-awaited report on Senate Resolution 323 of 2010 is finally due to be released by the Local Government Commission. In it, we hope and expect the commission to finally state what we have known for a long time: Costly unfunded mandates from Harrisburg and Washington are handcuffing local officials and costing taxpayers untold millions of dollars.
PSATS members didn’t need a two-year study to learn what we already know, and which has kept us fighting for such changes as the option of electronic advertising and the overhaul of the 50-year-old prevailing wage law. Hopefully, this report will give us the burst of momentum we need to push these important measures across the finish line. Remember, these common-sense reforms don’t cost the state a single dime and yet can provide relief to local government and create jobs in our communities.
I encourage each of you to urge your House and Senate members to support these common-sense reforms in this short fall work session before they leave to run the final leg of their fall election race. Remind them of the importance of these issues to local government and taxpayers — and then remember their answers and actions as you decide who you will support at the polls.
September also marks the kickoff of budget preparation season for township officials. As you are planning your expenses for 2013, I encourage you to include funding for PSATS’ 91st Annual Educational Conference and Trade Show. This investment will yield considerable returns. From collecting information and best practices at nearly 100 educational sessions to seeing equipment, services, and vendors all in one location, this event is geared toward maximizing your time efficiently and getting you the best value for your taxpayers.
The Annual Conference will take place April 21-24 at the Hershey Lodge. Although you will not receive your registration materials until December, I want you to know that the PSATS Executive Board has approved the 2013 conference registration fees to remain at the 2012 levels. That’s right — no increase. With the help of private sector sponsorships, we are able to hold the line on costs for this tremendously valuable service. Start making your plans now; the conference is already in the planning stages and is sure to be the best one yet!
3...2...1...On Air! PSATS Launches TVN as a New Information Source
After months of planning, TVN has launched! The first edition of “Township Video News” is on the air, and we could not be more proud. Acting in response to your demand for more timely information without lots of additional reading, we are pleased to provide this new member service. This local government association news channel is the first of its kind, not only in Pennsylvania but in the nation! Designed to provide mid-month updates between issues of our award-winning magazine, the Pennsylvania Township News, TVN is the latest weapon in our arsenal to help you become better leaders.
Doing your job well and making good decisions is dependent on having the best information available in a timely fashion. It is what defines success and separates the best from the rest. One of our main responsibilities as your state association is to help provide that information.
It is no mistake that townships are growing faster than any other type of local government in Pennsylvania, according to the latest census figures. And THAT, my friends, is because township leaders have made their communities attractive places to live, work, and raise a family. That doesn’t happen by accident. It occurs when local leaders make good decisions to provide a high quality of life at an affordable price.
I suspect it is even one of the reasons why the public continues to have more trust in local government than in the state or federal government. This was confirmed again in a Rassmussen Reports poll taken one week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the national health care law. Local government works because of you!
Which brings us back to TVN. As you know, PSATS is constantly trying to improve as a member service association, giving you the tools you need to do your job. Providing education and quality, well-researched information to our members is not only one of the best services we can provide, it is the one that you ask for most. Historically, we have done this through our annual conferences, training programs, and road trips to your county association meetings, not to mention the piles of printed information, from the News Bulletin to newsletters and this magazine. There are countless opportunities for sharing quality information, not only from us, but also among us.
Our email discussion group, website, and social media pages have all enhanced our ability to communicate quickly with each other. In a world with 24-hour news channels and the ability for anyone to post information on the Internet, it is getting tougher every day to distinguish good information from bad, to sort fact from fiction.
We know that you will find “Township Video News” to be current, reliable, and informative. A well-known central Pennsylvania TV news personality will serve as anchor initially. We will have segments on current events, legislative and training updates, feature stories, interviews with government leaders and colleagues from all levels, and even a commentary from me on occasion.
You can find TVN on the home page of our website, or we can send a DVD to members who don’t have high-speed Internet. You can air it on your own township access channel or even link it to your township website. It will not only help our members do their jobs better but also help educate the public about the importance and value of township government so they continue to trust us the most. We welcome your comments on TVN, and happy viewing!
Another Fourth of July is upon us as we pause to celebrate America’s birthday.
This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, what many call the Second American Revolution. While the United States had gained independence from Great Britain slightly more than 25 years earlier, the British navy thought nothing of stopping American ships on the high seas and drafting new U.S. citizens into the Royal Navy.
This led to the United States declaring war on Great Britain, the White House being burned by British troops, and Francis Scott Key penning the “Star Spangled Banner” during a battle at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. National patriotism was greatly enhanced after this encounter and has been on a roller coaster ride ever since! We have had our ups and downs, but our country still stands as a beacon to democracy for the world, so far ….
Thomas Jefferson had completed his presidency when the War of 1812 broke out. He, like most of our Founding Fathers, understood the importance and value of local democracy. Jefferson specifically wrote of the importance and value of townships, and his thoughts remain as accurate today as they were then.
At the same time, great emphasis was placed on limiting the powers and size of the federal government. Smaller, local government was deemed more responsive, and big centralized government was to be feared. After all, it was controlled by a privileged few, rather than “the people.” Over the last 236 years, the federal government has grown in size, scope, and cost, while local government has remained far more efficient, effective, and responsive to citizens.
Recent and proposed legislation is once again making smaller, local, responsive government a target for the forces of consolidation. They say fewer local governments will save money and be more efficient. No study supports this, and, in fact, the opposite is true.
While intermunicipal cooperation is good, we must not lose sight of the value of the local community decision-making process. Larger centralized governments, districts, and even clubs all share the same thing: the dilution of the individual and loss of local decision making with a personal touch. Virtually all citizens say they oppose too much government, but I think what they really oppose is too much intervention, over-regulation, excessive requirements, and out-of-control costs.
There are those who want to undo our proud system of local democracy by trying to confuse people into thinking that bigger is better. They want to consolidate communities into larger regions or districts. Some even want to change the Constitution to do it! They call it less government by eliminating units of government, but they really make more government bureaucracy, larger than ever, and THAT is what our Founding Fathers cautioned against.
There is an old saying that states, “It’s good to be king … if YOU’RE the king!” More power into the hands of fewer people will spell the doom of democracy as we know it. Remember the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the German Empire, the Soviet Empire … need I go on?
The forces of consolidation are at work all across America and are targeting local government structures in places like New York, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and let’s not forget, Pennsylvania. We have to stand together and rally our residents to oppose forced consolidation no matter what name it takes and make sure that our star-spangled banner continues to wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Happy birthday, America!
Taking Aim at Unfunded Mandates
The “new normal.” Is it really just a restoration of common sense? We may not all agree on the cause, and some may not like all the outcomes, but clearly there are a couple of good things coming from our current economic situation.
First among them is the start down the road toward the reduction of unfunded mandates. Could it be that Harrisburg and Washington are finally starting to pay attention? Could it be that they have been “infected” by an outbreak of common sense? Whatever the cause, our marching orders are clear — press on and continue the fight!
After decades, we finally won the fight on reforming the bidding process and permanently fixing it for the future by indexing it to the Consumer Price Index. Competitive bidding is designed to protect taxpayers and save money, and now the costly paperwork process has been put on a leash, too!
The Open Records Law was well-intended but has come with some costly side effects that also amount to unfunded mandates. We learned at our recent conference that Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is working to help fix this situation, and we expect another win soon.
And speaking of the 90th Annual Educational Conference and Trade Show, that is where we launched a new “Take Aim at Unfunded Mandates” effort. Our efforts are beginning to yield results. In addition to the state relief on bidding and soon, open records, we recently received word from Washington about a federal unfunded mandate being shot down!
After extensive lobbying by the National Association of Towns and Townships and efforts from the PSATS Grassroots Lobbying Network, the Federal Highway Administration has announced that it is dropping 46 costly sign retroreflectivity regulations, which will result in millions of dollars saved in avoided costs. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “We spoke to state and local officials across the country, and we heard them loud and clear.” Now, townships will have to comply with the new standards and replace signs only when they are damaged or faded.
We are on a roll! We’ve seen movement from Harrisburg and Washington, and we are only halfway through the year! At the federal level, we must continue to focus on the multibillion-dollar burdens arising from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s revised stormwater rules.
And in Harrisburg, we must not lose sight of the option for electronic advertising or that we are within striking distance of meaningful reforms to the 50-year-old Prevailing Wage Law. Raising the threshold at which prevailing wage kicks in, defining job descriptions, and including surface repaving in the definition of maintenance are just three examples of money-saving reforms. As was said at the Annual Conference in Hershey, this “savings” will allow more projects to get done. This is not an anti-union position; it is a pro-jobs and pro-taxpayer position.
If Harrisburg and Washington have become infected with common sense, let’s hope it becomes an epidemic. That’s the kind of outbreak we can live with!
Gov. Corbett Names Former Township Supervisor as Chief of Staff
Effective Tuesday, May 29, Gov. Corbett's new chief of staff will be Steve Aichele, a former township supervisor from Tredyffrin Township in Chester County.
Steve served more than a decade at the township level, with six years on the planning commission and eight years as a supervisor. During his time on the board of supervisors, he served two years as vice chairman and two years as chairman.
Steve began his work with the Corbett Administration as the governor's general counsel. Other key administration players from township service include Secretary of Agriculture George Greig, Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Abruzzo, and Deputy Secretary of DCED Champ Holman.
Is it any wonder that local government’s voice is being heard louder in Harrisburg these days!?
Do Your Best!
Have you heard the story about the little boy who had a big birthday party and got lots of gifts from his friends and family, but at the end of the party said he was disappointed about not getting the one gift he really wanted?
Have you ever closed a road to repair a damaged bridge, only to have people complain that the detour takes too much time or diverts them too far out of their way?
Or perhaps you’ve held a community event that finished off with a nice fireworks display, and as people were departing, you heard, “Is that all? That was a pretty short fireworks show!” At the same time, another person remarked, “I can’t believe they spent that much money just for fireworks,” while a third said, “What a wonderful and perfect day!”
What can we learn from these stories? Trying to please everyone is a daunting and nearly impossible task. We cannot be everything to everyone nor can we do everything. What we can be and do, however, is our best. The truth is that everyone may not be happy with us 100 percent of the time, but we must still do our best.
This is a rule to live by — at home, at work, and even in the organizations we join and support. As I have traveled around Pennsylvania since January for newly elected officials training sessions, I have heard lots of views on what PSATS should and should not do, what we should and should not support, and where we are going as an organization.
Pennsylvania is a huge and diverse commonwealth. Nearly 1,500 townships, ranging in population from under 200 to nearly 60,000 and covering 95 percent of the state’s land mass, make for a lot of opinions!
Over the past months, I have heard some members say we didn’t need bidding reform and that everything should be bid no matter the cost. Some members say that communities should have to pay for State Police coverage. Some say that we should not make any change to the prevailing wage law. Some say the natural gas impact fee bill should not have been passed into law. However, as most of you know, PSATS is guided by its grassroots-driven resolutions process, and its policies are set by a member vote at the Annual Conference.
While we may disagree on an issue here and there, we can all agree on one thing: the importance of local government because it is closest to the people. We can all agree on the need to provide high-quality services at affordable costs for our communities. And we can all agree on fiscal principles that guide us to live within our means. Common sense isn’t as common as it used to be, but it is alive and well in township buildings all across this state.
At the end of the day, democracy thrives on different opinions and majority rule. Pennsylvania local government will be under intense attack from the forces of consolidation and mandatory mergers in the coming years, just as we are seeing in other states. We must all stand united and collectively fight the good fight while resisting the temptation to be divided and conquered.
Everyone likes to win all the time, but I suspect there are votes every day that are not unanimous. These differences of opinion can occur at your kitchen table, your workplace, your church, or even your township meeting. As always, it is important to keep things in perspective and remember — to use a baseball analogy — that the batter who hits .400 goes to the Hall of Fame.
We do our best, for the most and the greater good, but we just can’t please everyone all the time!
April Means New Beginnings
As a child, I remember April meaning April Fools’ Day, Arbor Day, and lots of rain showers. From pulling practical jokes on the first of the month to planting a new seedling on Arbor Day to watching April showers bring lots of new flowers in May, April has always been about new beginnings.
Although Earth Day was added to the calendar in the 1970s, April is more likely to remind adults of Tax Day, April 15. (This year, Tax Day is April 17 because the 15th falls on a Sunday.) For Pennsylvania township officials, April is also usually the month for the Annual PSATS Conference in Hershey, another event that captures the “new beginnings” theme. Our conference is a great time to meet new people, learn new things in our 100-plus seminars, and see new products at our trade show that help township officials do their job better.
This year is different, though. Every four years, due to the presidential election, the state’s primary election is moved from May to April. Consequently, the PSATS conference is sometimes moved to May to avoid a conflict with the primary. Many ask why, since Pennsylvania has not had a prominent role in the presidential nominating process for years. I’d like to offer an alternative reason why our conference should avoid conflicting with the primary election.
While reapportionment is completed for the congressional level, our representatives and senators in Harrisburg will run once again in their existing districts. We have 203 state representatives and 25 senators being elected this year who will have a HUGE say about the future of local government. Through our Grassroots Lobbying Network, you, as township leaders, have a localized and powerful political organization that is loyal to you. That loyalty is a bargaining chip at your disposal when you talk to your candidates for these Harrisburg positions. While we need them to support our issues, they need you this year to get elected.
Although the petition circulating process is done, there is still plenty of time to use your political clout. Before deciding which candidate to help or support, interview them and see which ones share your views about local government. Get to know them so that you can have their ear when township government needs friends in the General Assembly. Make sure they oppose the elimination of local government but support the elimination of unfunded mandates. They can’t get elected without your help, so choose wisely.
Local government has had some great successes recently, from purchasing code reform for the first time in 20 years to a new source of local revenue in the form of a natural gas impact fee. And we are again “knocking at the door” on prevailing wage reform. We stopped the mandatory merger and forced consolidation efforts last year, but you never know when local government will come under attack again. Therefore, it is critical that you do your part. Don’t be afraid to flesh out your candidates and impress on them the value of township government. Your actions and correct choices will have long-lasting results that can benefit local government and the citizens you serve.
So while we pay our taxes, plant some seedlings, and water new flowers, let’s all take time to care for the grassroots of democracy and make sure our new beginnings in Harrisburg continue to bear fruit. See you in Hershey next month, where we can share success stories!
Now’s Your Chance: Weigh in on the PUC’s Plans to Implement Act 13
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has issued its initial plans for implementing Act 13 of 2012, the Unconventional Gas Well Impact Fee Act, in a document called a Tentative Implementation Order.
This 39-page file is well worth a read, because it affects every township that is or could be host to natural gas drilling activity. It addresses the areas of the new law that fall under the purview of the PUC, including draft forms and local impact fee distribution processes.
PSATS is now preparing comments on the Tentative Implementation Order, which it will share with members soon, and townships are welcome to do the same.
See our “Latest News” posting for more on the process and a link to the PUC’s Tentative Implementation Order.
'If You Stay Ready, You Ain't Gotta Get Ready'
I know that title is not grammatically correct, but it’s great advice. And according to actor Will Smith, it’s a way of life.
Whether we admit it or not, we live in a society that teaches preparedness from the day we are born. It may seem like we need to learn it, but it is just plain common sense.
We prepare for everything. Whether you are soon to have a child, take a test, get a job, or go to church, you do things to prepare. You can either do it at the last minute and run the risk of running out of time or supplies, or you can stay ready. That just means planning ahead and practicing.
March brings Weather Emergency Preparedness Week, and every year national, state, and local leaders participate in a three-day weather drill. This month’s Township News cover story on flooding is a great reason for you to participate with your township. You will have the chance to show — and practice — what you, as a local government leader, must do to keep your residents safe in a weather emergency. You can demonstrate how the township, schools, county, and private businesses can work together if something bad happens.
Spring is just around the corner, and Pennsylvania is the most flood-prone state in the country. But there are other weather disasters that can occur, from a blizzard to a tornado to a fire-causing drought. While we run little risk of a tsunami, we can — and did — have an earthquake. Regardless of the event, we must maintain the same basic safety and quality-of-life requirements, from food and water to the transportation network to move people safely.
Staying ready is one of the reasons that we recently launched TEMA, the Township Emergency Management Association. This organization will offer training, sharing of best practices, and better coordination, cooperation, and communication. These three C’s are the foundation of doing our jobs better and making safer communities where our neighbors can live, work, and raise a family. Every township must name an emergency coordinator and should join this excellent group.
As a parent, you teach your kids what to do in the event of a fire or if they get lost. It is the same principle: staying ready. Waiting until something happens and then trying to react to it leaves you and your community or family at a disadvantage. It’s like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.
We know better, yet sometimes we are left saying, “If I had only…,” or “I wish I had…,” or “I’ll never let that happen again!” Take heed of this reminder and follow the words of Will Smith, “If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready!”
And while we are talking about planning, don’t forget to plan your trip to Hershey for the Annual PSATS Educational Conference in May. It’s not too late to make your reservations, although many programs are filling fast and will close out soon.
Join your colleagues from around Pennsylvania for the largest event of its kind. From nearly 100 seminars to great speakers to the largest municipal trade show on the East Coast, there is something for everyone. We will also have a few new things this year, including a “Pennsylvania Welcome Reception” on Sunday evening and a special thank-you event for township secretaries and managers. Come and learn how you, your colleagues around the commonwealth, and your association are making Pennsylvania better. See you in Hershey!
Whose Job Is It, Anyway?
As we continue to struggle in the current economy, it's a good time to pause and take stock of how jobs are created and what we, as township leaders, can do to put people back to work. Everyone takes credit for creating jobs in good times, but when times are tough, there is often more finger-pointing and casting blame about what didn’t happen and whose fault it was.
As Washington and Harrisburg traditionally joust for bragging rights for job creation while trying to define local officials as obstacles to economic development, the fact is that the private sector creates jobs and not government. But each level of government has a role in economic development. Sometimes it is to help, and sometimes it is to get out of the way. Unfunded federal and state mandates are not just a financial burden for local governments, but over-regulation from Washington or Harrisburg can crush job growth, too.
While federal fiscal policies involving debt and the value of a dollar have a lot to do with setting the stage in the national and global economy, states play a much greater role in the “cost of doing business” through tax climate, financial aid, and a regulatory environment. But when push comes to shove, what are really the most important factors in job creation? Economic development professionals, site selection consultants, and real estate gurus all agree on the top three: location, location, LOCATION!
And that's where local government comes in. Township officials are tasked with protecting and providing a community that is safe and affordable and has a high quality of life. Census trends of the last decade prove that you are doing it right. There are nearly half a million more people living in townships today than 10 years ago. We all know the reasons why — people choose to live where they can feel safe, secure, and happy with their surroundings.
There is no one-size-fits-all definition of what this community looks like. Some are rural, and others are more developed. Some need a local police force while others are well-served by state police. Some have golf courses, libraries, and shopping centers, while others are quite comfortable with the natural habitat of Penn’s Woods.
But these communities all have something in common that is attractive to job creators. They have a transportation infrastructure, and THAT is a huge role of local government. All enjoy Pennsylvania’s finest natural resource: its people. The talent and work ethic of Pennsylvanians are second to none. And productivity goes up when they enjoy their quality of life. That includes being happy and safe while living in a community that has balanced its need for services with its willingness to pay for them. Our message to job creators is a sound one: “Welcome to townships. We are open for business!”
Want to learn more about unlocking the secrets to creating and holding local jobs? See the February issue of the Pennsylvania Township News. If you're not yet a subscriber, click here for more information.
In 2012, Make a Resolution to Learn!
Many of us make resolutions in our personal lives every January. In our professional lives, these resolutions become business goals and objectives. Here at PSATS, one of our continuing resolutions is to provide high-quality, yet affordable learning opportunities through our training and communications efforts.
Your residents/customers have entrusted you, as a township official, to make their lives better. From ensuring public safety to fostering a climate for job creation, you are expected to preserve the quality of life in your community and do it cost-effectively. That’s where we can help.
Our training programs — whether you travel to a central location, go online, or we bring a class to you — are the first step in helping you do a better job. We bring best practices to you from around the state and make sure you hear from experts in their field. But even more important, we make sure you hear from colleagues and peers, others who do your job in other communities. We don’t have to make the same mistakes if we take the time to learn from each other.
Our Annual Educational Conference in May is a great learning experience, but you also have an extra opportunity this year. Our two-day series for newly elected officials is not only the best way for new supervisors to get up to speed on the many details of local governance but can also be a great refresher course for seasoned township leaders. Ours is the only municipal training course in the state geared exclusively to townships. You will not find a better learning opportunity anywhere — I guarantee it!
Join your fellow officials this year in making a resolution to learn!
A Season for Praise
Thanksgiving is behind us as we move toward a new year. But first, let's take a moment to capture outstanding achievements in 2011!
Nominations for the 2012 Governor's Award for Local Government Excellence will be accepted until December 16. Presented each year during Local Government Week in April, the Governor’s Awards recognize township officials whose achievements serve as a model for other Pennsylvania local governments.
- Building community partnerships
- Responding to adversity
- Promoting community/economic revitalization
- Innovative community/governmental initiatives
- Fiscal accountability and best management practices
- Innovative planning and sound land use practices
- Intergovernmental cooperation
- Information technology
Please note that all nomination forms must be submitted online by December 16. The awards will be presented at a luncheon in Harrisburg during Local Government Week.
Click here for more information about the awards.
Click the graphic to the right to access the application and guidelines directly.
Please take a moment to reflect on townships' many accomplishments throughout 2011 and nominate township best practices for these prestigious awards!
PSATS and Townships Are On a Roll!
When the economy got tough, PSATS asked legislators for common-sense reforms through relief from unfunded mandates. A long-awaited success on raising the bidding limits has started the ball rolling.
Now, we have once-in-a-lifetime opportunities coming before us with prevailing wage reform and maybe even electronic advertising. But first, the table is soon to be set for a natural gas drilling impact fee. The resulting funds would begin to address some of the onerous local costs associated with this economic opportunity and stave off local property tax increases in the affected communities.
On a related front, we must not let our guard down if the “bigger is better” crowd makes a renewed push for one-size-fits-all statewide zoning. Local determination and local government make as much sense now as they did when William Penn brought the concepts to Penn’s Woods. Fair and reasonable common-sense land use controls can preserve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians and balance a community’s interest in job creation, but we must never sacrifice our environment.
Stay tuned and be vigilant. Above all, help make sure your state representatives, senators, and the governor know where you stand on these critical local government issues!
Township Participation Is Critical to Success of Mandate Survey
I want to take a moment to remind all members about the importance of responding to the recent survey request for costs associated with unfunded mandates. The Local Government Commission will use these results in preparing its report to the legislature on the most costly and outrageous unfunded mandates that strangle local governments' budgets, as well as taxpayers' wallets.
If you have already responded, thank you! If you have not, PLEASE take a few minutes to complete the survey. Your responses are critical to determine how much certain mandates cost municipalities and help justify measures for mandate relief.
The deadline is Monday, October 31, 2011. If you need another copy, please contact Melissa Morgan at PSATS (firstname.lastname@example.org; 717-763-0930).
'Back to School' Isn't Just for Kids! Check Out PSATS' Training Options
Now that school is back in session, township officials and staff should consider taking advantage of some great professional development opportunities. There's never been a better time to take a look at PSATS' training courses and sign up for the ones that best suit your needs.
Also, as you begin to plan for 2012, don’t forget to address professional development training in your budget -- including the PSATS Annual Educational Conference and other regional and online opportunities.
By sharing best practices, we can all help each other!
We Can Never Let Our Guard Down
We all remember where we were on September 11, 2001, and as we get ready to commemorate the 10th anniversary of that life-changing chain of events and honor those who died, it’s important that we keep something else in mind, too: We can never let our guard down.
Disasters, manmade and particularly those created by Mother Nature, occur every day.
As it so happens, September is also National Preparedness Month. This year’s slogan, “a time to remember, a time to prepare,” is a solid reminder from FEMA that homeland security starts in our hometowns – in our very own townships.
I encourage all of you to show your commitment to this effort by joining the 2011 National Preparedness Month Coalition. Sign up now by logging onto http://community.fema.gov. Once registered, you will have access to suggestions for activities and events, articles, and customizable materials. You will also be able to share your success stories and participate in online discussions with fellow coalition members and FEMA representatives.
Also be sure to keep your eyes on your mailbox. In the weeks ahead, PSATS will be rolling out a new member service, the Township Emergency Management Association. This one-of-a-kind organization, focused on providing information and training, will help you and your emergency management coordinator prepare for the unexpected.
We're One Step Closer to Eliminating Street Sign Replacement Mandate
Changes to the costly federal regulation requiring municipalities to upgrade their street signs by January 2015 are under consideration in Washington, D.C. The changes are not final, but getting this far is a great victory for townships, PSATS, and the National Association of Towns and Townships.
Yesterday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the administration is proposing the elimination of the requirements to replace regulatory, warning, and ground-mounted guide signs by January 2015 and overhead guide signs and street name signs by January 2018.
The proposal will be published in the Federal Register on Aug. 31. This will be followed by a 60-day comment period. At that time, the Federal Highway Administration will review all comments and make a final rule, which will also be published in the Federal Register.
Safety groups will be opposing this proposed change, so it is not a definite. PSATS will be working with NATaT to submit comments. We have been pushing for this mandate relief for more than a year, and we offer special thanks to Pa. Sen. Pat Toomey for putting the legislative pressure on. We're one step closer to success!
This is a great example of why it's important for Association members to participate in the Grassroots Lobbying Network as well as NATaT. Your actions help get results!
First an Earthquake, Now a Hurricane...
Gov. Tom Corbett has declared a disaster emergency to enable municipalities to respond quickly to Hurricane Irene and avoid time-consuming and costly bidding and advertising requirements.
As I indicated earlier this week, there is no better time than the present to take a second look at your public safety responsibilities. Make sure your municipal emergency management coordinator is in touch with your county emergency management coordinator. Your residents will be looking to local government for first response and safety.
An Earthquake-Driven Reminder: Cover All Hazards in Emergency Management Plans
The surprisingly strong earthquake that affected much of the eastern United States (we felt it here at the PSATS office!) offers a good reminder to township officials: Now is the time to make sure your emergency management plan addresses all hazards.
Also as a precautionary measure in light of the earthquake, townships with critical bridges (bridges with rocker bearings, roller bearings, and/or high, flexible structures) must be inspected for possible damage.
September is National Preparedness Month, and that's a good time for a refresher on what actions to take in various situations. For instance, while tornado planning calls for families to take shelter in basements, do your residents and family know that this is not a good plan in the event of an earthquake?
Stay tuned for some important news on the emergency management front!
How Does the Cost of Borrowing Affect Your Township?
With Standard & Poor's downgrading the U.S. government's credit rating, many in local government are wondering what the impact will be on their cost of business.
Even though the other two major rating agencies have kept the U.S. government at a triple-A rating, which is the highest possible, the stock market responded to the Standard & Poor's downgrade with a wild rollercoaster-like ride for investors.
While interest rates are expected to stay low for another year, there is no doubt that the cost of borrowing does go up as your credit score goes down. Every citizen lives with this reality every day, and government is no different.
Township officials should be sure to consult with their financial advisers as they craft their 2012 budget and consider debt service adjustments.
Hear About Township Topics on the Lincoln Radio Journal
One of PSATS' many responsibilities is to spread the word on how current issues affect both township government AND township residents.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Lowman Henry on the Lincoln Radio Journal. Topics included how municipalities fared in the new state budget, mandates, common-sense reforms, the Marcellus Shale impact fee, and the Marcellus Shale zoning issue.
You're welcome to listen to the show here.
Marcellus Shale: Pennsylvania Gets It Right This Time!
I was proud to have been appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett to represent townships’ and local governments’ perspective on the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.
We were tasked with coming up with a common-sense blueprint for Pennsylvania’s future as it relates to the Marcellus Shale experience — one that demonstrates that we have learned from our past (coal, timber, and steel industrial expansions).
With an eye to the future, we crafted a balanced, smart, and safe plan for Pennsylvania that:
1) protects our precious natural resources (water, air, and land);
2) helps spur economic development opportunities and job creation;
3) makes us a player in an American energy strategy to reduce our national dependence on foreign oil; and
4) most importantly, recognizes the significant role that local government plays in preserving the a community’s quality of life. The embracing of a local impact fee will alleviate potential property tax increases. It will also preserve local common-sense zoning, rather than moving toward a state-mandated, “one-size-fits-all” solution. All of this will ensure that our citizens maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impacts from Marcellus Shale drilling.
Many ideas from all walks of life, including significant input from previously announced legislative proposals, have been incorporated into this “next step” document that sets the stage for a final solution to be crafted by the governor and legislature for the benefit of Pennsylvania’s future.
Now Showing: More Members Only Info Online
If you're a frequent visitor to the PSATS website, you've probably noticed some changes -- namely, more content listed under each of the menu tabs across the middle of the page.
Once upon a time (OK, it was last week), lots of valuable information was housed on a Members Only page on the old PSATS website. This information is now available on the new site, and every visitor can see it listed. These items appear in gold text on the drop-down menus and have a lock symbol after the title.
However, ONLY PSATS MEMBERS have FULL ACCESS to this information.
How it works
If you're a PSATS member, enter your member number and password on the home page. A screen will appear telling you about the Members Only items. From there, simply click on any item in either of the menus -- across the top of the page or on the left -- to view the content.
If you don't know your member ID and password, just email email@example.com with your name, title, township, and county, and we'll get you set up in no time.
Pointing to the past
You will still notice a few areas that take you back to the old Members Only page. For instance, if you want to view our Ordinance Database, you would go to the "Member Resources" tab and choose "Document Search." You'll be redirected to the old site to access the information you're looking for. This redirect remains for one reason: PSATS is working to implement a new internal database structure, and the ordinance database is part of that. To save time and money, we're keeping the ordinance database where it is until that process is complete.
We're here to help!
If you have trouble locating an item, use the Search box on the home page. And as always, PSATS staff will be happy to help you navigate these changes, so you can also call us at (717) 763-0930.
Happy website surfing!
On the Homestretch: Wrapping Up the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission
As we enter the homestretch on the governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, everyone should be assured that, on behalf of townships and local governments, PSATS continues to advocate for the protection of the quality of life for our residents and their wallets.
We continue to fight hard for local control over zoning, a reasonable impact fee to avoid property tax increases on everyone, enhanced public safety measures, and most importantly, superior environmental protection standards that ensure quality water, air, and land stewardship for future generations.
Budget Agreement: No Negative Impact for Local Government
Well, it looks like we have a new state budget agreement that greatly reduces spending without any tax increases or negative impacts to local government! There is no new natural gas revenue going to Harrisburg, and the focus for local impact fees will now point to the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission report, which is due out July 22. Expect special legislative focus on impact fees after the General Assembly's summer recess.
Senate Bill Threatens Local Government Zoning Decisions
Call Your Legislators Now and Ask that SB 1100 Be Amended!
Tuesday was Flag Day. Rather than being free to honor our flag and reflect on the democracy it represents, local government is faced with the most severe attack on local democracy in years: Statewide zoning!
Imagine zoning decisions and rules being made in Harrisburg. Imagine DEP deciding to site a low-level radioactive nuclear waste dump in your neighborhood. Think about DPW choosing your street for a halfway house for drug abusers. How about the PUC deciding where a natural gas drilling rig can be set up?! That is what we are facing! WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW!
Just this week, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee passed a bill out of committee that will give the PUC the power to craft a model zoning ordinance for unconventional natural gas wells (Marcellus Shale).
Local government – zoning hearing boards and township supervisors – are the last line of defense in protecting the quality of life for our residents. You have the judgment, ability, and know-how to protect your community. You know that state law requires you to provide for every use and that overly restrictive zoning can be struck down in court. You were elected by your neighbors to protect them, and you have the common sense to do it smartly.
Please call your senator and representative and tell them that local zoning decisions should be left in the hands of local community leaders and not a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy from Harrisburg!
Take 10 minutes and make some calls to them and ask that statewide zoning be amended out of SB 1100!
On Our Way to a New & Improved Website
You may have noticed that things look a little different here at PSATS.org. We're putting together a whole new website, and we're doing that for one simple reason: to make it easier for you to find what you need, when you need it.
You'll see some changes in the coming weeks and months as we fine-tune the design and migrate information from the old site to the new. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and the transition is taking some time because we want to do it right.
In the meantime, some of our current menu options still link to the old site. You'll see less and less of this as the days go by. For instance, we will soon be migrating all of the information PSATS member townships currently see on the Members Only page of the old site to the new one. I'll be posting more details about that transition soon.
Check the site daily to see the latest news on our home page. And if you're not yet a Twitter user, keep a close watch on the Twitter feed on the home page. This is where you can find daily blurbs about information important to townships -- from media coverage to legislative information to updates on the innovative and interesting things townships are doing to meet their residents' needs.
Stay tuned, visit the site often for updates, and please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to offer your feedback.
Prepping for TV's Smart Talk
I'm looking forward to appearing this evening on Smart Talk, the public television talk show hosted by Nell McCormack Abom on WITF-TV. I will be part of a discussion on the infrastructure funding crisis in PA, and the show will be structured in two segments.
The first part, at 8 p.m., will address water, sewer, and natural gas infrastructure, while the second segment, at 8:30, will focus on transportation infrastructure.
Tune in, call in with your questions to 1-800-729-7532, or submit your questions via Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/witf.org) or Twitter (@witfnews). You can also email your questions to email@example.com.
We'll be posting a link to the show after it's recorded — probably late in the day on Friday. Check back for that under "Latest News" on the home page.
Comments on PSATS' 89th Annual Conference
PSATS' 89th Annual Educational Conference is over and we are moving forward! We had visits from the new governor and lieutenant governor, as well as seven cabinet-level members of the governor's team. Our message about being partners with state government was not only heard, but embraced.
We had more than 100 scheduled educational opportunities and I'll bet an equal number unscheduled. Thanks to all who took advantage of the "Donuts with Dave" opportunity. I know you helped stabilize my cholesterol -- the doc said I was dangerously low -- and I was able to answer a lot of your questions.
The entertainment was exhilarating, the social interactions were scintillating, and the trade show was tremendous. The military tribute Tuesday morning was phenomenal by all accounts!
If you missed any of this, make your plans now to attend next year. Don't forget ... the conference is in May next year to avoid a conflict with the presidential primary.
PSATS Talks Emergency Response with Marcellus Shale Subcommittee
On April 13, we had our first meeting of the Local Impact Subcommittee of the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. PSATS has a seat at the table, making sure every member township has a voice there, and was also one of three presenters at the first session.
The focus was on emergency response and protecting our communities. Public safety is job one, and we got to show how all response is local and how local government is the foundation of the entire safety/response platform.
A future meeting will get out of Harrisburg and go "on the road." What better way to show others the local impact that we are all feeling and living?!
Get the Scoop from the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission Meeting
Check back for an update on my presentation at the Marcellus Shale Advisory Subcommittee meeting...and much more!