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St. Thomas Township voters to decide on home-rule issue

November 30, 1999|By DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, Pa. ? The 3,274 registered voters in St. Thomas Township will need to remember to turn their paper ballots over Tuesday if they intend to vote on a referendum to form a local government study commission and pick from the list of candidates seeking to serve on that panel.

Voters first must decide whether they want a seven-member commission to study home rule and possibly draft a charter. If that is defeated Tuesday, the election of the candidates is irrelevant.

Eleven people, seven of them members of St. Thomas Alliance for a New Direction (STAND), are running to serve on the commission, which would, if approved, study the township government and "consider the advisability of the adoption of a home-rule charter."

The other four are from a group of nine people, most of them opponents of home rule, who filed to appear on the Nov. 7 ballot. STAND challenged their nominating papers in Franklin County Court, but Judge John Walker ruled they should be allowed on the ballot.

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STAND subsequently appealed Walker's order to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which struck five of the names from the ballot.

A number of the STAND members on the ballot also are members of Friends and Residents of St. Thomas (FROST), a group formed three years ago in opposition to a proposed quarry in the township, which was issued a permit earlier this year to begin operations.

The seven STAND candidates are Michael Urban, Fred Walls, Audrey Tozer, Robert Pismeny, Larry R. Tinberg, Cheryl Stearn and John Tiedemann, chairman of the township's municipal authority.

Former township supervisors Edmund G. Herald and David C. Ramer also are on the ballot, along with John S. Smith and Thomas M. Hull Jr.

A flier put out by home-rule opponents advises residents to vote "no" on the ballot question, but still vote for seven candidates from among Herald, Ramer, Smith and Hull and the five people removed from the ballot ? Supervisor Jim Faith Jr., Jim Light, Mark Lynch, Clara May and Wanda Walls ? who are write-in candidates.

A second community forum by STAND on Thursday night drew about 30 people to hear from its candidates why they should consider studying home rule.

Stearn, the wife of township Supervisor Frank Stearn, said approving the ballot question "doesn't commit us to do anything." If the commission does decide to draft a home-rule charter, that still must be approved by voters within 18 months, she said.

"It really turns some of the power-making ability back to residents," Stearn said of home rule. It could allow more issues to be decided by referendums, such as taxation or the repeal or amendment of ordinances.

STAND members have pledged that if they place any taxation powers in a charter, it will recommend that tax increases require approval of two-thirds of voters in a referendum. Light took issue with that pledge, saying he doubted two-thirds of township residents ever would vote to raise taxes.

Light said home rule also could remove caps on taxes and other limits now placed on the township, and questioned the cost of a home-rule study, which Tinberg estimated at about $15,000.

A home-rule charter could recommend increasing the number of township supervisors from three to five, to better address the issues the municipality faces with increased development, Tiedemann said.

"No one should be afraid of an exploratory study if it can show us how we can make our community better," township resident Shawn Myers said.

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