As participants in the Reimagining Our Westmoreland Alle-Kiski Planning District have experienced so far, Alan R. Kugler, Principal of PA Futures and noted expert on intergovernmental initiatives in Pennsylvania, has been participating as part of the facilitation team. We asked Alan to give some context and advice on intergovernmental initiatives related to Alle-Kiski . Read on to learn more in this informative article:
All across Pennsylvania the boundaries of our local municipal governments often do not encompass complete communities. More often than not our communities span several municipalities. The boundaries of the local municipal governments divide interdependent, geographic, social, and economic communities. As a result, especially when citizens and their elected officials fail to recognize the interconnections, there often exists throughout much of the Commonwealth profound lack of intergovernmental communication, duplication of services, needless inefficiencies, lack of cross-boundary visioning and planning, and cumbersome coordination and decision-making.
Unfortunately, there is a definite connection between this type of governmental interdependence and economic performance. Across Pennsylvania, our cities and older urban areas are under siege from interconnected patterns of aging and declining populations, falling median incomes after adjusting for inflation, unnecessarily costly services, and eroding tax bases, while the areas immediately surrounding them may appear relatively prosperous. This prosperity however is often only in the eyes of the beholder. Most of even the wealthiest suburbs in Pennsylvania are not keeping pace with the economic performance of the rest of the nation.
Stymied economic performance in our cities and suburbs can be traced directly to the inability to “act as a team” and “get along within the family.” For example, for decades “intergovernmental wars” in places such as Erie revolved around the provision and expansion of City services to neighboring localities. For example, beginning with the post WWII population boom, many people and businesses wanted to come to the Erie region but were hindered because the host city refused to make its water services available much beyond its boundaries. The result was years of litigation, and the limitation of economic performance.
At the same time, the inability to coordinate and cooperate in our communities across Pennsylvania has unnecessarily driven urban land consumption, thereby, in many cases, undermining the very values many cherish in the more traditionally rural and open areas of our townships.
The good news is that this adverse trend can be reversed. Active cooperation and coordinated service provision among local governments through vehicles such as Councils of Governments (COGs) and other intergovernmental organizations can go a long way to support economic vibrancy and fiscally healthy regions. Additionally, through locally approved citizen-based processes, combining of governments by structural consolidation or merger is another alternative that can lead to substantial and meaningful differences in the economic competitiveness and quality of life of our communities.
The PA Intergovernmental Cooperation Law (53 Pa. C.S.A. § 2301) is the enabling statute for intergovernmental cooperation among counties and municipalities in Pennsylvania. This law permits all local governments to cooperate with one another in any action or service that the governments have the power to do alone. The term “local government” is defined as “a county, city of the second class, second class A and third class, borough, incorporated town, township, school district or any other similar general purpose unit of government….”
This law gives far-reaching authority, stating “two of more local governments may jointly cooperate in the exercise of or in the performance of their respective governmental functions, powers or responsibilities.” It further states that a “local government may enter into intergovernmental cooperation with or delegate any functions, powers, or responsibilities to another governmental unit or local government upon the passage of an ordinance by its governing body.”
There are two general methods of intergovernmental cooperation. These include: (1) formal agreements and (2) councils of governments (COGs). In addition, there are many “handshake agreements.” Handshake agreements include unwritten arrangements between local governments and any written agreements not formally adopted.
Action steps for the Westmorland County Alle-Kiski Planning District