Across Pennsylvania, hundreds of local government elected positions are vacant, and it's too easy to dismiss the problem as simple apathy. The root problem is too much local government rather than too few civic-minded residents.
Pennsylvania has far more units of local government than any state, other than Illinois. There are 67 counties, 56 cities, 964 boroughs, one incorporated town, 1,548 townships (91 first class, 1,457 second class), 500 school districts and 2,198 boards, authorities and commissions of just about every description.
Boroughs have seven-member councils, and second class townships have three supervisors. That's a lot of people for small communities. In some municipalities, it has become increasingly difficult to attract enough people willing to serve so that these governing bodies always have full complements.
Compensation for these positions is slight or nonexistent, and, at the times, the workload is equivalent to that of a second full-time job. Civic-minded residents can't be blamed, therefore, for coming to the conclusion that the level of satisfaction arising from public service doesn't come close to equaling the time, work, frustration and aggravation that go along with the office.
In addition, the talent pool is stretched thin when small populations must generate members of the borough council, school board and hosts of specialized boards, commissions and authorities that serve each elected unit of government.
The fragmentation does not produce enough governing talent, but it contributes mightily to wasted tax money.
A new state law that reduces the number of local wage tax collectors statewide from more than 500 to just 69, for example, will save an estimated $237 million a year in the cost of tax collection alone.
All of Pennsylvania's local government structure needs the same kind of overhaul. Efficient governance would be served by far fewer units of local government, which would have the ancillary benefit of increasing the talent pool for public office within each jurisdiction. Rather than scraping for candidates, local governments suddenly would have contested elections that air competing ideas, zoning that encourages rather than inhibits development and consistently priced services.
Vacancies within small government bodies are a symptom of the larger problem. The state government should get to work on the sweeping reforms that are necessary to diminish fragmentation and improve local governance.
- Shamokin News-Item