29 September 2009

Some thoughts on little empires

The Daily Record ran a story recently about Newberry Township's offer to merge with three small neighboring boroughs. The township sent letters to Lewisberry, Goldsboro and York Haven to see if any of them would be interested in talking about merging.

Newberry Township supervisor Stephen Pancoe said he thought a merger made sense because you gain economies of scale and reduce duplication of services. Those are the reasons most often cited to justify a merger or a regional consolidation. We would certainly agree with that position, and we applaud Newberry Township for its thinking.

Unfortunately, all three boroughs said no. As Lewisberry Council President William Thompson said, "I guess we like our little empire."

The only problem is that many of these little empires are falling apart all around the state. This structure of government, around since the 1700s, doesn't seem to work anymore in many places, regardless of which political party is in power.

Many small boroughs and older suburban townships don't have the money to upgrade deteriorating water and sewer lines or take care of their roads. Many have dropped their police departments and turned police service over to the state. Their tax bases continue to shrink, as homeowners keep moving out to the newest suburban developments. This cycle of build-and-abandon has decimated cities and these older suburbs, eats up farmland and contributes to sprawl.

In York County, we have a patchwork of municipalities, and all of them have council members or township supervisors, managers and secretaries, their own zoning ordinances, as well as their own water and sewer rates.

Is a system of 72 separate municipal governments, many created more than 200 years ago, the best way to go in the 21st century?

What do you think?

- Dan Fink


Joel Sears said...

The same folks who refuse to budge from thier little empires are the first to complain about the taxes needed to keep them running. Whether it's one of the 72 municipalities or 16 school districts in the county, we just can't let go of the very thing that pushes our taxes higher and higher, all in the name of the little signs that mark the boundaries of our territories.

At some point, resources simply won't be available to finance all of our fiefdoms. When that day comes, we'll have only to look in the mirror to see who was responsible.

Steve said...

I'm in favor of municipal consolidation. The economies of scale and a greater possibility of solutions across current lines strike me as excellent reasons to at least look into it.

Another reason is that very few municipalities seem to be democratically chosen anymore. How many borough mayors, councils or township supervisors are running unopposed? It is never a good idea to establish the "little empires" too permanently. Folks who cry for term limits in Harrisburg or Washington might consider running for office in their municipality.