The Ligonier Township Board of Supervisors on Monday held a special workshop to hear presentations about two related undertakings that could shape the future of the municipality for years to come.
The workshop was a continuation and expansion of previous presentations regarding the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED)’s Strategic Management Planning Program (STMP) as well as the process for establishing a government study commission by referendum vote that could explore a home rule charter for Ligonier Township.
DCED local government policy specialist Michael Foreman on Monday further detailed the process the township would need to take if interested in seeking grant funds through the STMP program to cover the cost of having a consulting firm assist in shaping solutions to the township’s areas of concern.
“It’s what I would call an intermediate technical assistance program that we offer to municipalities that are either being proactive in addressing financial, managerial or other related issues that you see coming down the road in the next few years... or for communities that are currently in financial distress or financial challenges,” Foreman said of the STMP.
The first step for the township to pursue the program, Foreman said, is to draft and distribute a request for proposals to a list of consulting firms identified by DCED
Under the STMP, the consulting firm would then review the township’s current and past finances, then use that information to create financial trend projections for the next five years. If needed, the third step of the STMP process would be the development of an emergency fiscal plan for the current year, Foreman said.
Following those steps, the consulting firm would present a report to the public and supervisors before moving on to undertake a management audit looking at the municipal service delivery system of all of the township’s departments — police, public works, code enforcement, tax collection, government, recreation, etc. — and compare the township’s current system to best practices, looking for ways to improve.
Once the firm’s study and recommendations are finalized and presented to the supervisors and the public, the township would embark on a multi-year process of adopting and implementing the various recommendations in the STMP report, as well as requesting funding from the DCED or other sources to help the township implement the STMP recommendations.
“There’s really no downside to trying to go forward in applying for this program,” township manager Terry Carcella said. “There’s much more upside to the future of the community if we can identify where we need to be in the next five to 10 years and where we are now as a community with our budgets.”
Foreman confirmed to the supervisors that the local match requirement of 50% for the STMP could be reduced to as little as 10% if the township demonstrates financial hardships in its application, and that third-party funding can be used as the local match rather than township funds.
The supervisors directed Carcella to work on customizing a request for proposals to be distributed to consulting firms, focusing on items of specific importance to the township — the expansion of sewage, water and broadband internet services, developing the tax base through business growth and other concerns.
Foreman said having an STMP report prepared by a third-party consulting firm that identifies a need for projects within the township could help bolster the township’s odds when applying for competitive grant funding for those projects.
With the supervisors also ready to hear a presentation from Alan Kugler, principal and director of PA Futures, regarding the process for adopting a home rule charter, Foreman noted that STMP funds can be used to help facilitate that process.
“Beaver Falls recently got a STMP grant approved for multiple projects, one of which is consulting services to work with the government study commission in the drafting of a home rule charter.”
Kugler told the supervisors that changes to alternative forms of local government would require a voter referendum put on the ballot through either governmental ordinance or citizens’ petition to establish a government study commission to assess the existing structure of government in the municipality and to consider adopting an alternative form of government or home rule charter.
Solicitor Michael Korns said Ligonier Township has already implemented many changes that are possible under a home rule charter, like eliminating the practice of elected supervisors serving as township employees (roadmasters) and expanding the board of supervisors from three members to five.
“Because those are all just policies of this board, they could all be changed at any time,” Korns noted. “If three supervisors got elected and decided to undo everything you’ve done, they could do so because the second class township code still permits all the things you got rid of. If you went to a home rule charter that includes those things, you wouldn’t be able to undo them.”
Kugler said the only way to revert to those practices under a home rule charter would be a subsequent voter referendum amending the home rule charter.
He also mentioned to the supervisors that other municipalities in the state have merged or consolidated under home rule charters, and suggested such an arrangement involving Ligonier Township and Ligonier Borough could be a possibility for both municipalities to consider in the future since they already share a police department.