Panel: Townships would benefit from regional approach on issues

Michael Bradwell
Observer Reporter

Three of Washington County’s township managers said Friday they speak frequently with their counterparts in other townships and often enter into cooperative agreements to purchase goods and services and to share equipment.

But the trio, featured in a panel discussion at the monthly breakfast meeting of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said they would like to see all of the county’s municipalities be a part of a bigger picture represented by a regional plan.

“Our improvements don’t end at our municipal borders, and our problems don’t end at our municipal borders,” said Chartiers Township Manager Jodi Noble, who participated with Tyler Linck, manager of South Franklin Township, and Paul Lauer, Peters Township’s manager.

The discussion was moderated by state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane.

Linck said South Franklin has agreements with Amwell, Buffalo, Blaine and Donegal townships, participating in bids for road materials and sharing equipment and sometimes operators when they do road work.

If a fire occurs at a Peters home, Lauer said, “it’s probably going to be Peters and North Strabane fire trucks in your driveway.”

But the managers agreed that municipalities here would benefit from a regional approach that would eliminate some of the fragmentation that exists among them.

The call for a regional approach also came when Neuman asked how they were dealing with the opioid crisis.

Linck said after several used hypodermic needles were found 18 months ago in the township’s park, supervisors installed lights and security cameras.

“We’ve seen a significant decrease in randomly parked cars in the lot,” he said.

Lauer noted since early 2016, there have been 39 incidents in Peters Township in which ambulance services dealt with overdoses. “Twenty-four of those incidents involved heroin use,” Lauer said, adding two overdoses resulted in death.

He added the township supports drug education programs in its schools as well as discussions on drug abuse for the public in its library.

“We need to take a regional approach in dealing with the opioid crisis in Western Pennsylvania,” he said, referencing a University of Pittsburgh study that had the input of David Hickton, former U.S. attorney for the Pittsburgh region, as well as Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone.

Supervisors also looked beyond their boundaries when Neuman asked if there were any projects related to economic development they would emulate.

Noble, who said infrastructure is key to improving economic conditions, referred to the Southern Beltway project that, when completed, will provide a connector between the county and Pittsburgh International Airport.

More locally, Noble said the township worked with Range Resources to improve Allison Hollow Road and wants to add water and sewer lines.

Linck said South Franklin is trying to raise $10 million to address a lack of sewerage.

Noting 90 percent of Washington County Airport is in his township, he said, “We need to get sewage lines to the airport.”

Lauer agreed a highway connection from the county to Pittsburgh International represents one of the largest economic development opportunities, but said more attention needs to be given to making connections to the Route 19 corridor.

All three managers agreed on their views on the Local Share Account money provided by The Meadows Casino.

Local share funding last year was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, which asked legislators to find a more equitable funding scheme.

“The (original) deal was struck between Pennsylvania and the people who have these licenses,” Lauer said. “The casino in Washington County is located in Washington County, and the beneficiaries need to be here.”

The trio also agreed their opportunities to access funds through the county’s vetting process enable them to take on projects they otherwise couldn’t do.

Noble noted Chartiers Township Community Center, where Friday’s event was held, was an LSA recipient.

“We can’t do capital infrastructure projects without these other funding sources,” she added.

The panel held the same view when asked about Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to enact a severance tax on gas drillers, which could affect impact fee payments.

Linck noted South Franklin has received $1.5 million from Act 13 impact fees over the years. He said the money has been used to replace some of the township’s decades-old concrete roads.

Noble said her township commits impact fees to road upgrades and extending sewage infrastructure.

“If that money goes away, the extension does not happen,” she said.