DuBOIS — If the majority of voters in both the City of DuBois and Sandy Township approve a consolidation between the two entities in the Nov. 2 general election, the Pennsylvania Economy League, at this week’s public meeting, explained the various steps that are required in the joining of the two governments into one.
“Consolidation after the vote, assuming it’s a successful vote, does take time,” said PEL Chief Executive Officer LeeAnne Clayberger. “It’s a very deliberate process. It is planned. It is nothing is just automatic. They’re steps that the two governing bodies must take in order to provide for a smooth transition into the consolidated government. The law does provide those steps and those guide rails, if you will, but the decisions remain those in the community as decided by the governing bodies of the two communities that are consolidating.”
In the case of a positive vote, PEL Senior Research Fellow Gerry Cross said state law puts the responsibility for what is called the consolidation agreement, or the actual framework for the new municipality, in the hands of the current governing bodies in both the city and the township.
“Within one year after the certification of the election, there will have to be an agreement developed between the two municipalities to outline and to specify, and define the condition of the municipality,” said Cross, citing PA Boundary Change Law Section 741.
“I’m sure there’ll be negotiations in the event of the positive vote between the two municipalities of solicitors, and all that have a process and a framework put together, to decide these things, but it will be decided among the two governing bodies,” said Cross.
Number one in the law, it says, “It has to have financial arrangements,” he said.
“You have to know when a new municipality is created, what will be disposition of the assets, therefore, the joint agreement or the consolidation agreement will use either consolidation or joint changes here,” said Cross. “You’ll know what happens to the assets. There will be a liquidation of existing indebtedness of constituent municipalities, if necessary. If this is advantageous for the consolidated municipality to eliminate some of the debts, given the combined financial situation, you’ll have combined fund balances and things, that will be spelled out in advance.”
Cross said there also has to be an assumption of existing liabilities.
“Those liabilities can be considered from pensions, from healthcare for retirees, for other post-employment benefits,” said Cross. “Those things that are existing liabilities, including indebtedness, would be spelled out in the agreement and what would happen to those. Often times, debt that’s owed is simply transferred as part of the debt documents, the assignment to the success organization is pretty straightforward, but you may decide to refinance some, and if there are favorable interest rates and the joint agreement would spell that out. Essentially, you wouldn’t have a lot less to imagination that the two elected bodies would have agreed to beforehand on the consolidation.”
Cross said there has to be a transition plan for the new elected officials of the consolidated municipality.
“Albeit, the question implies a continuation of the current form of DuBois,” said Cross. “There will be new municipal elections, not necessarily new elected officials. Current officials can run for those positions, but the structure will be different because it’s now a much larger area.”
Cross said the transition plan will spell out how the consolidated municipal election will take place.
“Will it occur on the year following the election in 2023? Will it occur the year following the municipal election of 2025? The transition plan, the law requires this new government to start the Jan. 1st following municipal elections,” said Cross. “Municipal elections are odd-numbered years. The transition agreement will have the consideration of what seats are up and how can we roll things into the existing government, so that the new government starts with a fresh slate of elected officials.”
Cross said ordinances for the two municipalities will have to be reviewed. The joint agreement will define those areas of common control by ordinances, and those areas that are in the new municipality that were formally covered ordinances pertaining to Sandy, or ordinances specific to the urban area of DuBois.
“At some point, you will have an adoption of a new codification,” said Cross. “You’ll probably hire a firm that specializes in codifications of ordinances, and that would have to occur within two years after the new municipality is started. So within two years, there’s a clarity on all organizations. There’s a clarity on what is allowed, but more importantly, the joint agreement is going to spell out under the control of the existing elected officials, how this new municipality is going to be governed.”
Lastly, Cross said there’s going to be a uniform tax system.
The Pennsylvania Economy League DuBois-Sandy Township consolidation study estimates about a 17.1 mill tax rate.
“That’s really an estimate. The joint agreement committee, the consolidation agreement drafters will have current budgets,” said Cross. “They’ll know what the savings are from any attrition, retirees, any changes in financial condition. They’ll set a uniform tax rate for the entire municipality because in Pennsylvania, property taxes and other classes of taxes must be uniform against the same subjects. There’s not a higher income tax rate for a certain levels. There’s not a lower property tax for certain kinds of homes. That uniform rate will come out of that consolidation agreement.”
Very importantly, Cross said the agreement will set the timetable, but the law says the consolidation plan must be adopted within four years.
“January of 2024 would be the earliest that new municipal officials could take office,” said Clayberger. “These things are dependent upon the negotiated agreement between the two consolidating communities. So these are subject to change, but these provide some potential milestones as you’re thinking about what this process might look like. And then November 2025, (is when) the full implementation of the consolidation plan must take place within four years of the certification of the election. So there is flexibility and again, time for that deliberate process to occur within the two communities.”
If for some reason there is some kind of “glitch” in the transitional plan and the process to adopt the consolidation plan within four years doesn’t get done, any resident of the municipality can go to the Clearfield County Court of Common Pleas and require the court to enforce an action to have this work done.
“If it is a positive vote, both those schedules are in the law and residents will retain the ability to require the two municipalities to effectuate the will of the voters for the consolidation,” said Cross.
The full PEL consolidation study can be viewed online at: https://pro.sandytownship.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Final-Report-Sandy-Dubois-03.31.21-1.pdf