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Council debates Chambersburg as a city

August 12, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - At this point, any talk about the Borough of Chambersburg becoming the City of Chambersburg will remain just that.

On Tuesday night, Councilman Thomas Newcomer suggested holding a workshop to hear the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a third-class city.

A third-class city must have a population of at least 10,000 people, according to "City Government in Pennsylvania," a state publication. Chambersburg's population is about 17,000.

Councilman William Mc-Laughlin said state Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, told him experts from Harrisburg, Pa., could detail the pros and cons of making the switch.

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The issue surfaced last month after some council members returned from the convention of the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities.

"As we prepare to enter the 21st century, there may be some advantages in not being tied to a municipal code originally written in 1774," McLaughlin said.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Councilman John Redding, summing up the feelings of most council members.

"I'd be in favor of it if and when tax reform becomes a reality," Redding said. Otherwise, he said he saw no advantage in becoming a city.

A change in government would lower the maximum general tax from 30 mills to 25 mills, according to Council President Bernard Washabaugh. He said that could cost up to $300,000 in real estate tax revenues.

While becoming a city could make Chambersburg eligible for more federal grants, Wash-abaugh said it would mean having to pay more in local matching funds.

McLaughlin said Chambersburg could more than make up for that if it was allowed to charge a municipal services tax to the 12,000 nonresidents who work in the borough.

Redding said that would require the Pennsylvania General Assembly to approve such a tax for cities.

If the borough opted to become a city, it could mean fundamental changes in local government, according to state law. Instead of a 10-member council, it would have a commission form of government with a mayor and four council members.

Instead of electing council members by wards, they would be elected at-large, according to the law. In 1992, 21 of 53 third-class cities operated under the commission form of government.

Then there's home rule options, including the strong mayor-council and council-manager options.

Under the first, the mayor is the chief executive, a considerable expansion of the powers. The council-manager system would more closely resemble the existing government, with all power vested in the council.

To adopt home rule, voters would have to elect a government study commission to draft a charter, which would have to be adopted in a referendum.

The consensus of the council was to get written information from the state before hearing an oral presentation.

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