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Public largely uniformed about local government

Published April 12. 2019 11:09AM

I was at a gathering in March and met a businesswoman who told me she lives in Lehighton. She recognized my name from these opinion columns that I write for the Times News, so she asked me some background questions, and I did the same.

As she described where she lived, I realized that she did not live in Lehighton but in Mahoning Township. Being a stickler on preciseness when it comes to local geography, I mentioned this to her.

She looked at me quizzically. No, I live in Lehighton, she said, noting that she had a Lehighton mailing address. Of course, many make the same mistake. They believe that the name of the post office is the same name of the community in which they live.

Since she rents an apartment and doesn’t pay real estate taxes, she did not realize that she was outside of the borough limits of Lehighton by more than a mile. She was shocked to learn that she was not a resident of Lehighton.

So I figured since it is Local Government Week, this would be a good time to be your friendly mentor and give you some information about why local government is the grassroots of our political system.

In Carbon County, there are 12 boroughs and 11 townships — no cities. There are also census-designated places such as Albrightsville, an unincorporated village in Kidder and Penn Forest townships. These types of villages have no government of their own.

Schuylkill County is awash in municipalities — 67 in all, including one city (Pottsville), 30 boroughs and 36 townships. There are a ton of census-designated places such as Cumbola — I just love saying that name — in Blythe Township.

Lehigh County, which has about 2½ times more residents than Schuylkill, has just 24 municipalities — one city (Allentown), eight boroughs and 15 townships. An odd-sounding census-designated community is Hokendauqua in Whitehall Township.

Northampton County has one city (Bethlehem), 19 boroughs and 17 townships. A familiar census-designated place known to our readers is Cherryville, an unincorporated village in Lehigh Township.

Monroe County has the fewest number of municipalities among the five in the Times News area — 20, including four boroughs and 16 townships. Some familiar West End villages are Brodheadsville in Chestnuthill Township, Saylorsburg in Ross and Hamilton townships, Kunkletown in Eldred Township and Kresgeville in Polk Township.

There are 2,562 municipalities in Pennsylvania — 56 cities, 959 boroughs, 1,546 townships and one town (Bloomsburg). They range in population from Philadelphia with 1.5 million to Centralia, which has about a dozen inhabitants.

Cities, boroughs and townships follow codified laws established by the state General Assembly that define their governments and the duties of those who govern, but municipalities wanting more control can draft a home rule charter. Weatherly, for example, has a modified home rule charter.

A borough with more than 10,000 people can ask to become a city by putting the question to its voters. There really is no advantage to it, so officeholders in larger boroughs, such as East Stroudsburg (population 10,290), are content to stay that way.

Boroughs follow a state-initiated Borough Code; there is a weak mayor form of government, where the elected council holds the majority of the power. The mayor is primarily responsible for oversight of law enforcement and performs ceremonial duties. He or she can break tie council votes. The council can appoint a manager to carry out its policies.

A township is the oldest form of government in the nation, with decision-making power in the hands of supervisors or commissioners. It is the most decentralized form of government. The two classes of townships — first and second — can have different numbers of elected supervisors or commissioners, and first-class townships can elect commissioners by wards rather than at large. They function under the Township Code.

As for that one town — Bloomsburg — it has six at-large council members. The mayor is a voting member of council. In that way the mayor has more power than the mayor of a borough,

Municipal officials are not highly paid. A member of Lehighton Borough Council makes just $2,500 a year, while members of council in Lansford and Parryville make only $1,875 a year. The top salary of $5,000 annually goes to members of council in boroughs of more than 35,000.

Big city mayors, who wield much more power, make considerably more. Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell gets $95,000 a year. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is one of the five highest-paid mayors in the nation at $218,000.

By Bruce Frassinelli |

Bruce could write several columns on this subject. I'm glad he used the phrase "big city" to differentiate between real cities and towns that are cities because they follow a certain state designation. Pottsville, Hazleton and other third-class cities ought to switch over to becoming boroughs. They're hardly cities the way Philly, Pittsburgh, Erie and others are cities. It's time for the state to update the governing codes and at the same time encourage consolidation of small towns and contiguous townships. That might get the lead person in Bruce's column into Lehighton. :-)

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