350 people attended Wednesday evening's public meeting about Home Rule in Martic Township. That's roughly one in every seven township residents. The massive turnout is a indicator of just how big of an issue the pipeline and Home Rule are in southern Lancaster County. Read on for a recap of the meeting from Martic SOUL (Save Our Unspoiled Land):
Thanks to all who came out to learn more about Home Rule and/or support the movement at the Marticville Middle School on Wednesday!
So, what did we learn?
1. Insurance for the Fire Department
We learned that…
…a decision to go Home Rule would in no way threaten insurance coverage for our Rawlinsville Fire Dept. When our Assistant Fire Chief asked the panelists whether home rule would threaten the fire dept’s insurance coverage, Elam Herr (Asst Executive Dir. of PSATS) answered with a resounding, “No!” Insurance coverage for the fire dept is guaranteed regardless of which form of government we operate under. Turns out those rumors were entirely baseless in the first place.
We learned that…
…under Home Rule, any changes in property taxes or other local taxes would rest in the hands of the residents, rather than in the hands of the supervisors alone. As it stands now, if 3 of our 5 supervisors believed taxes should be higher, they have the power to raise them. Under Home Rule, taxes could only be raised if more than half the voters choose to raise their own taxes. Thus, tax increases are arguably more likely to take place under our current system of governance than under Home Rule.
However, if residents of Home Rule townships agree together to provide greater support for a critical cause, they have the right to make that happen. For example, in the home rule township of West Deer, PA, elected officials in the township kept cutting the fire department’s budget. Unhappy with these cuts imposed by local board members, residents exercised their Home Rule right to referendum by designating an annual flat tax of $40 per household to assure adequate and steady financial support to their fire department. The measure passed with the support of 70% of the voters (Josh Wiegand, Fire Chief of West Deer Twp, letter dated March 27, 2015).
3. Increased Citizen Involvement
We learned that…
…the residents of Martic Township have been energized by the Home Rule debate! The fact that 350 residents attended a 2-hour meeting on Home Rule highlights the biggest reason to choose Home Rule: it promotes & permits greater citizen involvement in local politics. Panelist James Miller, who served on Lancaster County’s Home Rule Study Commission back in 2008, commented that in the two years he served in that position for a county of half-a-million people, never did they draw a crowd as large as the one that showed up in Martic this Wednesday. Pretty amazing, since the population of Martic is 100 times smaller than that of Lancaster County!
…almost nothing about how a charter might help us keep the pipeline out of Martic, because the supervisors banned all pipeline conversation during Wednesday’s public meeting. However, a few comments slipped through anyway.
One resident pointed out that a natural gas pipeline slated to come through State College, PA, was, in fact, stopped due to a combination of local legislation & community opposition. And State College isn’t alone. Had residents been allowed further discussion on the issue, they could have explained how scores of PA municipalities have kept harmful industrial projects out of their communities—without ever going to court! Some companies couldn’t afford the project delays that a long legal battle would have cost them. Others were scared away by potential legal costs. Some wanted to avoid the public relations disaster of pushing a project on a community that had publicly rejected it.
Put simply, there are lots of ways—besides “winning in court”—that a community can successfully challenge a state or federally-approved project that they don’t want. Are there risks involved? Absolutely. But it’s largely a matter of how creative and committed the residents prove to be in expressing their resistance.
5. The Vote on May 19th is about Seating a Commission—it’s NOT about Passing a Charter.
We learned that…
…the May 19 primary vote on Home Rule is simply to decide whether a Commission should be established to:  explore the benefits of Home Rule for Martic, and  draft a charter—over the next several months & in collaboration with extensive public input—if they decide that a Home Rule charter could benefit our township.
Fears and accusations about all the “crazy things” a charter might include are premature at this point, for 3 reasons. First, there is no charter on the table. The commission’s first task will be to decide whether we need one. Second, if the commission determines that a charter should be drafted, the law requires the process to involve extensive & frequent public input. Third, a charter becomes effective only if a majority of voters approves it in a future local election.