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Johnson Motors - 877-816-0659
Clearfield Borough looks to work with Lawrence Township
Thursday, September 27, 2007
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
The Clearfield Borough Business Planning Committee wants the borough and Lawrence Township to consolidate services with the long-term goal of a complete consolidation between the two municipalities. 

The business planning committee was formed by the borough and is made up of private citizens, business and community leaders from both the township and the borough as well as members of the borough council to help the borough plan for the future.

Michael Weir, the consultant hired by the borough to conduct the Early Intervention Program study on the borough, recommended the formation of the committee to make recommendations on business planning for the borough.

The Early Intervention Program is a state funded grant that paid for a consultant (Mr. Weir) to conduct an in-depth study of the borough's operations.

Attending the planning session were Rick Sloppy, senior vice president of CNB Bank; Kevin Wallace, vice principal of the Clearfield Area High School; Carol Belin; Pat Bishop of the Clearfield Area School District; Dr. Keely Casteel; Mr. Weir; and borough council members Jim Leitzinger, John Naddeo, Susan Reed and Mike Errigo

In the short term, the committee recommended the borough and the township consolidate their police and fire departments with the eventual goal of complete consolidation between the two.

Everyone on the committee appeared to favor complete consolidation between the two municipalities, and Mr. Sloppy said the two municipalities have to consolidate eventually or they will not be able to afford to provide the same level of services because of rising costs.

Mr. Weir said consolidations are a lengthy process because it usually takes three referendums before voters finally approve them. He said a more realistic goal would be for the two municipalities to look for ways to consolidate many of their services first with the eventual goal of complete consolidation.

Mr. Weir said a complete consolidation would benefit both municipalities because it would allow them to offer better services at a lower cost, promote economic development and allow them to receive more federal and state grant funds.

Mr. Weir said the two would save money on services because the per-capita cost per resident of a municipality goes down the larger it gets until it reaches a population of 20,000 or so then it levels off until it reaches a population of 250,000, when the per-capita cost begins to go up.

Per-capita costs for municipalities go down as their population increases up to 20,000 residents because of economies of scale, said Mr. Weir.

According to Mr. Weir, the borough and the township have a combined population of approximately 16,000 people so the two would benefit by consolidating.

However, Mr. Errigo said for consolidation to be possible, it must benefit the residents of both municipalities, not just the borough.

Mr. Weir said both would benefit from consolidation; the borough would benefit from additional growth because much of its current land is already developed. And the township would benefit because of greater economic development and lower costs of police protection and road maintenance.

And because of its larger population, Lawrence Township residents would have a greater say in the new consolidated government.

A consolidation differs from a merger of two municipalities because a consolidation is the joining of two municipalities to form a new municipality; a merger is when one municipality absorbs another.

To consolidate two municipalities, both municipal governments must vote to put the question on the ballot and at least 50 percent of the people in each municipality voting in the election must approve the consolidation.

If approved by the voters, a commission is formed to determine how the consolidation will occur. The state also provides grant funding to pay for consultants to help with the process.

If the two decide to consolidate, Mr. Weir said it probably would be better for the new government to be a borough rather than a third-class city. Mr. Weir said third-class cities have more elected officials, such as an elected treasurer, and the borough form of government allows for greater flexibility of operation.

However, the state townships association would likely oppose this, because it does not like to see a township become a borough, Mr. Weir said.

Mr. Weir said the state is promoting the consolidation/merger of local governments because Pennsylvania has the second highest number of municipalities in the nation. Only Illinois has more, but in that state they count all taxing authorities such as water authorities, sewer authorities, park authorities, etc., so Pennsylvania actually has more local governments than Illinois does.

However, because consolidation is likely to be a lengthy process, Mr. Weir said the two municipalities should look for ways to save money in the short term by consolidating some services while keeping complete consolidation as a long-term goal.

Mr. Errigo said this is probably the opportune time to have the fire and police departments consolidated. According to Mr. Errigo, the Clearfield Borough and Lawrence Township fire departments are already working on a plan for consolidation. Mr. Errigo said in the plan, the combined fire department would have three fire stations, one at the current location of Lawrence Township Fire Co. No. 1, one at the Glen Richey Fire Co. and a new fire station to be built in the southern section of town in the area of the Hyde Bridge.

The borough's centralized fire station currently shares a building on Cherry Street with the police department, and moving the fire department out of that building into a new one would free up space for a consolidated police department, Mr. Errigo said.

Mr. Weir said the borough and the township could apply for a Shared Municipal Services grant from the state to have a consultant study the police departments and make recommendations on how they can be consolidated.

The Clearfield Borough Council and the Lawrence Township Board of Supervisors are holding a joint meeting tonight to discuss ways the two municipalities can work together to save money, and it is likely that the topic of consolidation will be discussed. The meeting is being held at 7 p.m. at the Borough Administration Building on Front Street.

One of the groups at the planning session also suggested the possibility of the borough taking over the management of the Clearfield Driving Park from the Fair and Park Board and instead give the board a three-week lease to hold the fair. The borough could then hire a park manager who would run the park for the remainder of the year.

Mr. Weir said he has reviewed the Fair and Park Board's financial records and said the it is slowly losing money and is financing the losses with the sale of land at the Clearfield Firemen's Industrial Park.

Fair and Park Board officials have made similar statements in the past and said although the fair makes money, the cost of operating the park throughout the year causes it to lose money.

However, Fair Manager Greg Hallstrom recently told The Progress that the Fair and Park Board is hoping to make a considerable investment in the park and is waiting until a new lease agreement can be reached.

Clearfield Borough owns the land that the Clearfield Driving Park sits on and leases it to the Fair and Park Board. The current lease expires in 2009, Mr. Weir said.

The next steps in the borough's Early Intervention Program are an energy audit conducted by a state Department of Environmental Protection engineer on borough operations to see how it can save on energy costs and a computer and software audit in which a consultant from the state will study the borough's computers to see how they can be optimized.

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