Published: October 19, 2010; citizensvoice.com
The day will come when the good people of many small towns in Luzerne County will recognize the inevitable: "Our town, as much as we love it, cannot continue to exist."
On that day, the town folk will set aside sentimental attachments and will begin to do the work that, hopefully, will unite their community with one or more neighbors so that essential services can be provided at a reasonable tax rate.
It will not be enough on that day to proclaim intent to regionalize services. No, that day will have passed. Population loss, an aging citizenry, old housing stock, no growth or room for growth, diminished or defunct services: all will point the way to the inevitable.
Ashley Borough's many current woes make up only one example of a stressed community. There are many other small towns that even today make up a pool of municipalities that might be better off to consolidate: Pringle, Courtdale, Hughestown, Yatesville, Sugar Notch, Warrior Run, Laurel Run.
The thrust of this column for years has been encouragement of neighbor helping neighbor, towns joining together to create higher quality police, fire and ambulance departments, and moving beyond emergency services to joint planning, zoning, sanitation and infrastructure improvement coalitions.
Precious little has been done over the years. Kingston and Forty Fort are in a functional fire and ambulance emergency services consolidation that may lead to a truly exciting West Side regional department one day.
Pringle has opted to contract with Kingston for policing and there are several other joint ambulance and police agreements in place, but there are no true regional entities, save the Valley Regional Fire Department in Butler Township and Conyngham Borough, and that one is having financial difficulties, I am told. Had other area towns joined, it would be stronger.
Consolidation has not been urged because, frankly, studies show that people like their small towns. They identify with Podunk Junction even if Podunk is slipping beneath the waves. But there is nothing to prevent neighborly cooperation.
Ashley councilman Joe Gorham said at last week's meeting that regional policing and purchasing may be some of the answers to the borough's financial problems. In a classic understatement, he said, "We're paying the price for resisting a change that's inevitable."
Three years ago, the Pennsylvania Economy League did a five-year financial projection for Ashley's neighbor, Hanover Township, showing flat revenues and likely future financial angst. PEL suggested that Hanover look into regionalization and, in fact, a preliminary regional police plan was presented for Hanover, Nanticoke and Newport Township.
And what did the Hanover commissioners do? They abandoned the idea even before the full study could begin. What did Gorham say? What will be said in Hanover, and many other communities, before the next decade ends? "We're paying the price for resisting a change that's inevitable."
Finally, one final thought on the home-rule issue. The people of Nanticoke and Plymouth Township and, more importantly, the voters of Luzerne County, will give themselves a shot at better government by approving home-rule initiatives. We can do better. The county home-rule charter offers hope and greater citizen input into a system that is archaic and broken. Home rule is worth a try.
Paul Golias, retired managing editor of The Citizens' Voice, writes a weekly column on regional issues. He can be contacted at email@example.com.