Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
For township, cooperation is overrated
As a Manheim Township homeowner, I appreciate that township commissioner Al Kling is looking out for our tax dollars.
But when Kling says there's not room in the township's $21-million budget for regional cooperation, I have to wonder.
Kling joined the majority in a 4-1 vote last week to sever the township's ties with the Lancaster Inter-Municipal Committee, which for almost a quarter century has promoted cost sharing and joint projects among a dozen municipalities in Lancaster County's core.
The joint projects are sometimes small -- buying materials to patch potholes, for instance. But some projects are monumental. It was a first-of-its-kind achievement in Pennsylvania, home to 2,563 municipalities, when 11 LIMC municipalities, including Manheim Township, created a regional comprehensive plan.
It just makes sense for representatives of Lancaster city and nearby townships and boroughs to meet monthly to explore ideas for saving money and enhancing the region's quality of life.
I may live in Manheim Township, but I spend most of my waking hours in the city. Meanwhile, one of my sons lives in Lancaster Township and works in West Hempfield Township. Another son volunteers in East Lampeter Township. My wife has a client in East Petersburg. And one of our favorite restaurants is in East Hempfield Township.
All of the above are dues-paying LIMC members, or were until December when East Hempfield also walked away from regional collaboration.
Like most Manheim Township residents, I benefit from the financial viability of all of these municipalities. So if Manheim Township commissioners think it's wise to withdraw from LIMC, then they must be saving taxpayers a ton.
But they're not.
What's likely is they'll miss out on savings through joint purchasing. In addition, their applications for competitive state grants might be weaker because the township no longer belongs to a council of governments.
What should also be a concern is they are giving up their place at the table when state or federal officials come to share information and get input from municipal stakeholders.
But Kling says it's worth it because the township will be able to save -- are you ready for this? -- $22,068. That would be Manheim Township's cost to belong to LIMC this year. It's 0.001 percent of the township's budget, yet Kling objects.
"Our taxpayers are screaming about taxes all the time," Kling told me. "We literally have people coming in with tears in their eyes trying to pay their tax bill. Then I'm supposed to tell them we're helping out the people in other townships? That dog doesn't hunt."
Because $22,000 is such a trivial amount for a municipality as big as Manheim Township, I'm hesitant to even bring up Kling's other objection to LIMC membership. But here it is: He feels it's wrong to pay $22,000 when other municipalities pay as little as $1,078.
"What they're saying is you can afford it so you can pay more," Kling said. "I'm saying there's something fundamentally wrong with that."
But what Kling is objecting to is an assessment formula that applies equally to each municipality. LIMC isn't asking Manheim Township to pay more than its fair share.
Yes, Manheim Township chips in 22 percent of LIMC's budget and Mountville contributes 1 percent. But that's because Manheim Township's tax base is 22 times larger than Mountville's. What's unfair about that? Why should tiny Mountville pay more and mighty Manheim Township less? Yet Kling believes the formula should favor Manheim Township, and that's absurd.
Kathy Wasong, a Lancaster Township supervisor who chairs LIMC, said the committee has heard Kling's concern and was open to tweaking the funding formula. But still Manheim Township pulled out. "I'm sad to see someone walk away when I think the conversation is not finished," Wasong said.
But rather than get along with its neighbors, Manheim Township took its ball and went home.