Managers, and their towns, are managing to get by

Rick Shrum

Paul Lauer reached beneath the table for a prop.

“When you come into Peters Township and drive through the subdivisions,” said the municipal manager, “you will be greeted by smiles like this.”

He held up one of Amazon’s trademark smile boxes – which elicited grins throughout the audience.

Lauer’s gesture established a relaxed tone, which would continue during the Washington County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Municipal Leadership Roundtable discussion. The Friday morning event at the Chartiers Township Community Center featured a spirited discussion among Lauer and fellow township managers Andrew Walz, of North Strabane, and Tyler Linck, of South Franklin.

Their 45-minute roundtable – held, actually, at a rectangular table – addressed many areas. Local Share Account funding, Act 13 funding, development and the local retail climate were among the more prominent topics. The speakers represented diverse communities.

“We’re looking to improve the quality of life,” said Linck, who oversees a largely rural municipality – estimated population 3,300 – that is home to the Washington County Airport.

“We have no public sewage, and that’s been the main focus of the township for the past 20 years. We had our first public meeting Tuesday and it was pretty positive,” said Linck, who added that the township plans to begin construction of a treatment plant in 2020.

Walz, a Trinity High graduate who grew up with Linck, said North Strabane a generation ago “was a lot like South Franklin” is today. Now it is a township of about 15,000, boosted by The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, that continues to build up commercially and residentially.

“We still want to have that rural charm that Larry Maggi talks about,” Walz said, acknowledging the county commissioner 15 feet away. “The Eighty Four area has that rural charm.”

Peters hasn’t lost that, although it has experienced housing and retail booms over the past quarter-century, and is more like Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon to the immediate north. With about 22,500 residents, it is the county’s most populous municipality.

Lauer talked about development, including construction of a new high school building on the former Rolling Hills Country Club property and proposals for a community park and aquatics center. Lauer also focused on retail, which – he acknowledged – has changed in the aftermath of the departure of Kmart, Peters’ one big-box store.

He said a drive along the township’s stretch of Route 19 shows there are a number of health-care and pet-care facilities, car dealerships and financial institutions.

“Every bank that does business in Western Pennsylvania is on 19 in Peters,” Lauer said, adding that Bank of America and Chase are coming in. “We’re seeing retail replaced by services that can’t be offered online. We’re seeing a change in business processes.”

All three managers said their townships have benefited from LSA and Act 13 money, which has made road and other infrastructure improvements more feasible. One project, Walz lamented, involved construction of a wall following landslides last fall.

That was one of the few talking points that was not smile-worthy.