WILKES-BARRE — After hearing some of the successes of municipal governments cooperating on services and resources, Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton expressed an interest in participating.
Lawton was among the 35 people Friday attending a lunch-hour forum by the Pennsylvania Economy League on regional cooperation.
“I’d like to have the county involved and not as an overwhelming presence, but just another seat at the table,” Lawton said afterward.
Granted the county has a different form of government than most municipalities, there is common ground in information technology, human resources and insurances, he pointed out.
Marita Kelley, local government policy specialist in Gov. Tom Corbett’s Center for Local Government Services, explained the state programs available to assist municipalities in financial distress.
Representatives from three different municipal government groups detailed their growing pains and achievements during the hour-long program at the Genetti Hotel and Conference Center in Wilkes-Barre.
The longest standing of the three, the Mountain Council of Governments, has been in existence since 1991, said member Dan Guydish.
“We’ve been around the block a little and we’ve had our ups and downs,” Guydish said.
Like most of the 2,562 municipalities across the state, members of the Mountain COG have populations of fewer than 5,000 people, yet they provide police and fire protection, road maintenance, sewage treatment, garbage collection and zoning and code enforcement among other services, he said.
Elsewhere throughout the United States, counties take the lead in providing those services. In Pennsylvania it doesn’t happen and in place of it are the COGs that were allowed by legislation in 1972, Guydish explained.
“This intergovernmental cooperation is meant to try to overcome the multitude of problems that municipalities face,” he said.
But at times COGs face problems from within. “There is this provincialism. People do not want to give up their identities, their local identities,” he said.
Eileen Cipriani of the West Side Council of Governments agreed that it takes some effort to get municipalities involved and do away with the misconception about the loss of control and identity.
“We’re just trying to foster cooperation and communication. This is not an effort to take over,” Cipriani said.
The West Side COG was created in September and made up of 11 municipalities on the west side of the Susquehanna River with a combined population of approximately 50,000 people.
Back Mountain group
The first Back Mountain COG failed and a second attempt resulted in the Back Mountain Community Partnership, explained Jeffery Malak. It was formed in 2009 and has six members. The group started off small and chose to meet at a neutral site at Misericordia University in Dallas Township.
It still meets there so “no one feels that they’re giving up anything,” Malak said.
One of the first things it did was reach an agreement to provide notice to other municipalities of zoning applications for projects that would affect the entire Back Mountain such as the compressor station for the natural gas pipeline from the Marcellus Shale in the northern part of the state, he said.
The members can voluntarily participate in projects, Malak said.