MOUNT PENN, Pa - Monday night's citizen input meeting was the last before the Mount Penn Borough and Lower Alsace Township Consolidation Committee meets next week to cast its final vote.
Over the course of several weeks, the committee has met to discuss the details for a proposed new joint community, the Municipality of Antietam Valley.
Residents expressed three main concerns with the merger: tax rates, trash and recycling collections and maintenance of municipal staff.
The Consolidation Committee has recommended giving the new elected body the ability to proportionally increase Earned Income Tax (EIT) and decrease property taxes in order to raise revenue.
While the committee has recommended not including a ceiling for the EIT, they have done so with the understanding that there must be a bona fide reason for increasing taxes, and that property taxes will also be decreased proportionally if the EIT is raised.
There are concerns over the effect the potential tax changes may have on the large renter population in the area, but overall the committee believes there will be a widespread reduction in annual taxes for most residents.
Currently, only property taxes can be raised in order to earn additional revenue.
Under the proposed home rule charter, the municipality would have the option to change the two taxes proportionally in order to find the right balance for the community.
Committee leaders do not foresee the current 1% EIT rising even as high as 2%.
The Committee has also determined that the municipality could be divided into separate divisions with separate services for trash and recycling collection.
The newly elected board would be able to divide the municipalities into different divisions so that residents could maintain their current collection services.
The only change would come in approximately 2022, when by state law and due to the population, the community will be required to provide curbside recycling.
The municipal staff will also be maintained.
Paul Janssen, director emeritus for the Center for Excellence in Local Government at Albright College, assured residents that the committee is "committed to maintaining the current staffing levels for both municipalities," and that he believes that while there may be some reallocation of duties, there will be no layoffs.
The rest of the recommendations of the consolidation committee are as follows:
- A Home Rule form of government will be adopted. This structure allows for the formation of a more flexible government that can be amended over time.
- A five-person governing body will be elected. In 2015 three people will run for four-year terms and two people will run for two-year terms to allow for staggered elections for the members of the body.
- A professional Municipal Manager will be hired to function as a CEO for the municipality. This person will be accountable to the elected officials for the effective and efficient operation of all municipal departments and for carrying out the policies set by the elected board.
- A CPA firm will appointed to complete an annual audit of the municipality. Elected auditors would no longer be used.
- A standardized benefit package will be offered all municipal employees. The existing staff will continue to receive their current retirement plans, and any new employees will either receive the same package or a new package as determined by the new elected body.
- A Charter Review Commission will be created in order to review the Home Rule structure every 5 to 10 years. Unlike other forms of local government, a home rule government can be amended to suit the needs of the residents.
- Elected officials will be eligible to work for the municipality in emergency situations as requested by the Municipal Manager.
- There will be a single tax collector, the elected board will have the option to choose either an appointed or elected collector.
- There will be a ten year moratorium on any option to lease or sell both the water and sewer authorities.
- The Central Berks Regional Police Department will once again become a municipal operation, although it will retain its name. Contracts with St. Lawrence will remain intact and it there is the option to reorganize as a regional department again should any other local municipalities wish to join.
Next Monday the committee will cast its final vote whether to adopt a Joint Agreement and ordinance that would allow the merger to go to public vote in November.
Both Mount Penn and Lower Alsace must agree to the adoption separately.
If either community does not approve putting the merger to a vote, the process will end.
If the merger makes it to a vote in November, the merger must be approved by majority vote from both communities separately in order to be adopted.
If the residents vote against the merger, it cannot be brought for reconsideration for another five years.
The final meeting of the Consolidation Committee will be held on Monday, July 28th at the Mount Penn Primary Center.
Allentown, PA 18102