By NANCY WHYTE
The meeting room of the Kilbuck Township Municipal Building building was crowded with about 25 individuals comprising elected officials of both Kilbuck Township and Ohio Township and residents attending the March 22 meeting to discuss the procedures that would be involved in the possible joining of the two communities.
Several factors might ease a merger or consolidation. Both townships are in the Avonworth School District. Both use the Ohio Township Police department. Residents regularly drive through each other's communities.
Michael Foreman of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development provided a wealth of information and outlined the steps involved with consolidation. He emphasized that a change could only occur after an election in which the majority of individuals in both townships voted in favor of it. The question would have to be presented on a ballot during either a primary or general election. If a majority of votes – which he defined as 50.1 percent – was not achieved in both townships, then the issue was dead. The same question could not be asked again on a ballot for a minimum of five years.
Township officials plan to convene a joint committee to gather the information that needs to be considered in order for voters to make an informed decision. They plan on constructing a 10-member committee, five people from each township, comprised of elected officials, business people, non-profit representatives and residents. In other words, Foreman suggested, “a cross-section of each community.” He suggested that volunteers selectd for the committee should be open-minded and willing to make a long-term commitment to attend meetings. Foreman said that preparing for such a decision was a “deliberative process that takes time, effort, perseverance” and would involve looking at such factors as demographics, audits, tax rates, fee structures, assets, debts, pension plans, relationships with municipal authorities, etc., of each township. If requested by both Kilbuck and Ohio townships, Foreman said, he could provide technical assistance based on his experience, at no cost. He could not, however, provide legal advice and recommended that solicitors from both communities be involved.
Foreman explained that there are two different manners in which the two communities could be united: merger and consolidation. In a merger scenario, one municipality is absorbed into the other with the first ceasing to exist and the surviving municipality retains its name and assumes jurisdiction of the other. According to Foreman, usually the smaller community blends into the larger. As Kilbuck Township has about 700 residents and Ohio Township has around 6,000 residents, Kilbuck Township most likely would be merged into Ohio Township, and Kilbuck would cease to exist as an entity. In the second option, consolidation, both municipalities would be terminated and a new municipality with a new name would assume jurisdiction over the entire area.
When considering a merger or consolidation, according to Foreman, most citizens are concerned with two things: how their pocketbooks will be affected and if their their services will change. The committee with be tasked with determining the answers to those questions. Other decisions that would need to made, should a merger or consolidation occur, concern the make-up of the new governing body. Would it remain a three-person board of supervisors or change to five members? Which ordinances would prevail? What would the tax rates, fees, etc., be? Whatever is determined, they would have to be the same for all residents. One Kilbuck Township resident in attendance stated that his millage rate is currently considerably higher than Ohio Township's millage, and a uniform rate might benefit him financially.
Foreman said that public outreach is vital and suggested that the public should be encouraged to attend meetings.
Foreman stressed that a merger or consolidation can only occur after receiving a majority of votes by voters in both townships. The question must appear on a ballot. There is an unwieldly-mechanism for a petition with signatures to be collected and presented to the governing body (board of supervisors) to submit to the election office. But Foreman said that a joint agreement by the two municipalities is the easier way to get the question before the voters. He suggested that the primary or general election in 2018 would be the earliest such a question could appear on the ballot.