John Wheeler, director of Environmental Affairs for the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS), opened the annual meeting of the Warren County Association of Elected Township Officials on Monday morning.
"You are the front line of democracy," he said, noting that local governments enjoy a 70 percent approval rating, whereas Congress received a 31 percent approval rating, "and that was before the shutdown."
He noted that PSATS provided legislative advocacy for members at the state and local levels through a lobbyist, program services to strengthen local governments and help preserve the local governments that are closest to the people.
The state organization also acts as a liaison between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the townships' emergency coordinators, who, he said, are the first ones on the scene of an emergency or disaster.
Wheeler said PSATS is working with the legislature on the transportation bills before the state House and Senate. Raising the level of projects costs from $25,000, which was set in 1965, to $100,000 before paying prevailing wages is also an issue that legislators are wrestling with.
State Rep. Kathy Rapp was represented by Rich Bimber, who noted that transportation and prevailing wage bills were on the agenda this week in Harrisburg, and that Rapp was still studying the bills.
The Warren County Commissioners spoke at the meeting on a variety of issues. Commissioner Chairman Stephen Vanco said there are number of things going on that affect the county and townships, including a inter/intranet communication system for volunteer fire departments, Marcellus Shale Impact Fees and more.
He said the commissioners were looking at changing fees that the county charges for planning and zoning, and added that they were happy with the state funding for sewer and sidewalk projects.
Commissioner John Eggleston added, "We're in our budget season. It's never been easy, but this year is tougher."
He explained that the commissioners are negotiating with the unions for new contracts, and while they can't tell people they can't have pay raises, their primary obligation is to the taxpayers. He also said some state mandates that have included funding in the past now leave the county holding the bill.
On the positive side, he said Pam Matve, chief clerk and human resources director, and Lisa Zuck, voter registrar and director of elections, do the work that used to be done by four people. "Our county workers work hard," he said, adding that the county employees participated in a wellness program, resulting in lower insurance costs.
Commissioner John Bortz said they are wrestling with issues on taxes, paying for a re-assessment of real estate, necessary renovations to the county warehouse and capitalized expenses.
Other presenters during the day-long meeting included representatives from the state Department of Community and Economic Development's Center for Local Government Services, PennDOT and afternoon workshops. A number of vendors that routinely supply materials and services to townships also had displays.