If you've been to the Lehigh Valley Mall lately, you know how fast suburban Whitehall Township is growing. Now, the mayor says it's time to look at becoming a full-fledged city. But will it cost taxpayers extra?
Mayor Ed Hozza says Whitehall is no longer a sleepy suburb, and has growing needs.
"We are a very urbanized, first-class township," he said.
That's why Hozza thinks it might be time to become a city -- just like Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and Reading. The head of Pennsylvania's Municipal League said it can attract new companies.
"A city is a recognized core, in many cases, in counties," said PML executive director Rick Schuettler. "They're the core communities of counties."
Hozza believes the move could open Whitehall up to additional state and federal grant money, especially for economic development. Certain state money, like City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) dollars, are only available to cities. Hozza also said Whitehall could keep greater control of its Community Development Block Grant money, currently doled out by Lehigh County.
There are other benefits too, according to the mayor.
"We currently do not have a housing authority," he said, "ensuring that we have adequate housing stock that's up to code."
But could the move mean bigger -- and more expensive -- government? It would likely require changing some job titles in local government and adding others, like an elected comptroller to oversee city finances. Hozza said his administration plans a thorough cost-benefit analysis to present to township supervisors before holding community meetings.
"Knowing the frugality of this township, we would closely monitor and examine if there would be any additional cost," said Hozza.
Hozza added that merging some community services with neighboring communities could streamline costs. But PML's Schuettler warned that, depending on many factors, employee pension costs could rise if Whitehall becomes a city.
"Whitehall will probably, no doubt, go through a process and examine what they have now in terms of pension benefits and whether that would need to change," he said.
The mayor may be interested in this idea, but the head of the township supervisors told 69 News that she didn't even know they were looking into it.
Hozza said it's an idea in its infancy.
"It's a long, long term project," he said. "It's not something that the voters are going to be voting on in November or next year."
If supervisors eventually move forward, voters would have to approve converting the township into a city, as well as changes to Whitehall's home-rule charter.