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Local Pa. lawmakers blast proposal to eliminate municipalities

May 15, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Although a Pennsylvania legislator has submitted a proposal to eliminate the state's municipalities and convert to a system of counties, Franklin County's state representatives are calling the idea dead on arrival.

"There isn't a snowball's chance this thing moves forward," said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland.

State Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin, agreed.

The plan, which was presented as House Bill 2431, would need to pass two consecutive sessions of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, then go before the voters as a referendum, he said.

State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, the lawmaker who introduced the bill, said he's trying to start a discussion. He wants to see studies detailing how much the initiative would cost at the county level and what it would do to the tax structure.

"Let's deal in facts," said Caltagirone, D-Berks.

Caltagirone predicted consolidating into a county structure could eliminate property taxes or come close to eliminating them.

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The first two pages of the legislation say counties would have jurisdiction over personnel, law enforcement, land use, sanitation, and health and safety. The bill was referred to the local government committee on April 20.

Kauffman and Rock said they expect it will die in committee.

"I would not support that. I could not figure out how that would ever work," Rock said, saying he sees firsthand the myriad infrastructure problems handled daily by municipalities.

"There are many people who like their local control," said Kauffman, who said he could better understand if voters in a particular region wanted to merge a couple of municipalities.

The Franklin County Commissioners said they recognize municipal governments as "stewards of the people on the most local of levels." They identified the county's role as serving as a facilitator when municipalities are trying to plan together and share services.

"To comment on the impact of a bill that has no chance of passing is speculative and nonproductive," said David Keller, chairman of the commissioners.

Caltagirone said he questions why systems of counties works for southern states, but opponents say it wouldn't work in Pennsylvania. He said his proposal would eliminate borough and township managers, facilities and extra vehicles such as snowplows, as well as allow for the purchase of items such as gasoline and paving materials at bulk prices.

"What is so wrong with looking at some cost savings? ... The cost of running government is spiraling out of control," he said.

Kauffman said consideration of changing to a system of counties would be best discussed during a constitutional convention, the last of which was held in the 1960s. That is an appropriate time for citizens to talk about government reform, he said.

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