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Chambersburg Council hears pitch on changing form

June 18, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Borough Council Tuesday night heard a presentation about what it would take to change to a home-rule form of government.

"I think all communities need to pause from time to time and consider the direction in which they are heading," said Fred Reddig, the deputy director of the Governor's Center for Local Government Services and the former borough manager of Shippensburg, Pa.

Reddig outlined what the borough would need to do to change to a home-rule form of government, something 71 municipalities have done since the state constitution was amended to allow such changes in 1972.

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The borough currently has what Reddig called a "weak mayor-council" system of government where the council is the policy-making body and the mayor has relatively few powers. It also is bound by the state's borough code, which Council President William McLaughlin said last was amended in 1969.

"I have advocated ... and still strongly lean toward changing to a home-rule form of government with a charter," McLaughlin said before the meeting.

"Home rule takes us out of the situation where we have to be subservient to a particular municipal code," McLaughlin said.

"Under the borough code, we're still responsible for putting out water troughs for horses," he said of the state code, which dates to the late 19th century. At the same time, he said the state code for boroughs does not allow Chambersburg to use "more modern forms of taxation."

Home rule, McLaughlin said, could allow the borough to get rid of the occupational privilege tax and other nuisance taxes. It also could use higher earned income taxes as a way to roll back the borough's real estate tax rate.

If the council ever contemplated going to home rule, the change would be neither simple nor fast, according to Reddig.

It is a two-step referendum process that could be initiated either by a vote by council or a petition of the electorate, Reddig said. The number of signatures required on a petition would have to equal or exceed 5 percent of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Voters then would have to approve a referendum to establish a government study commission to conduct a nine-month review of the municipal government. If the commission recommended the home-rule option, it would have another nine months to draft a charter and issue a final report, according to Reddig.

"Then there would be a second referendum, this time on the charter question, whether to approve the charter," Reddig said.

Reddig described boroughs as "a creature of the commonwealth ... you need to have expressed authority to undertake any kind of action," Reddig said. The range of a borough's authority is limited by what is allowed in the borough code.

The council took no action on the presentation.

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