Learn Over Lunch with PSATS' Upcoming Webinars
PSATS' 'Learning at Lunch' webinars, held from noon to 1:30 p.m., are a great way to access essential, interactive training opportunities without ever leaving your desk!
All webinars are $30 for PSATS members and $40 for nonmembers. [To qualify as a member, you must have paid current annual membership dues to PSATS or its affiliates (solicitors, engineers, planners, and emergency management associations) or be an associate member.]
Get a glimpse of the available webinars below, and then click on each link for more information. Please note that all webinars are eligible for 1 course credit for enrollees of the PSATS Municipal Government Academy.
Protecting Your Municipality from Fraud - August 27, 2014
PA DEP Underground Mine Mapping and Mine Subsidence Insurance Program - September 10, 2014
Expanding Volunteer Recruitment and Retention for Fire/EMS Services - October 8, 2014
Accessibility for Parks, Playgrounds and Trails - November 5, 2014
2014-2015 State Budget Wrap-Up
After a whirlwind June session, the House and Senate adopted a 2014-2015 state budget on June 30, but the implementing Fiscal Code legislation took another week.
On June 10, Gov. Tom Corbett signed the new budget into law but line-item vetoed $65 million in General Assembly operating appropriations, $7.2 million in legislative discretionary spending, and $20 million in transfers to the General Fund. Corbett took the General Assembly to task for failure to adopt meaningful pension reform and not tapping into its reserves. He urged them to return soon, before residents are forced to pay higher school property taxes to fund skyrocketing pension costs.
While the House is scheduled to return to Harrisburg briefly in early August, most likely to consider legislation that includes a Philadelphia cigarette tax to fund the city’s schools, it remains to be seen whether the chamber will attempt pension reform. An early July effort for a House vote on a hybrid pension plan was not successful. The Senate did approve a pension reform bill that would remove elected officials, such as legislators and judges, from the state’s defined benefit plan, but this measure was not taken up by the House.
For townships, the 2014-2015 budget may be most noticeable for what it doesn't contain — a severance tax on natural gas drilling in the state. While many had been pushing for this tax to fill a billion dollar-plus budget gap, PSATS warned legislators that doing so would eliminate the local impact fees as authorized by Act 13 of 2012, which since 2012 has delivered more than $600 million for roads, bridges, parks, public safety, and other needed improvements in communities across Pennsylvania — particularly in those that are home to natural gas drilling.
Here is a look at how the budget impacts several state agencies of interest to townships:
The Pennsylvania State Police will see an increase over 2013-2014, while funding for Municipal Police Training is held at 2013-2014 levels of $998,000. The approved budget does not make any changes to the current fine structure.
The Governor’s Center for Local Government Services will continue to be funded as a separate line item from the Department of Community and Economic Development’s general government operations budget and saw its budget increase to $8.5 million, from $7.3 million for 2013-2014. Funding for the Municipal Assistance Fund (the former Shared Municipal Services, the Land Use Planning and Technical Assistance, and the Floodplain Management programs) remains at 2013-2014 levels of $642,000.
At the Department of Environmental Protection, while the legislature reinstated some funding for the Sewage Facilities Planning Grants, it directed the majority of these funds to several specific projects. As a result, Corbett vetoed this line item. The Municipal Recycling and Municipal Recycling Performance Grants were held to 2013-2014 funding levels.
Other agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, saw an increase in funding.
Commonwealth Court Rejects PUC Role in Reviewing Local Ordinances Regulating Oil and Gas Industry
On July 17, 2014, the Commonwealth Court ruled unconstitutional several provisions in Act 13 of 2012 that granted authority to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to review local ordinances regulating the oil and gas industry.
In Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Court held that Section 3302 (to the extent that it attempted to enforce Chapter 33) and Sections 3305 through 3309(a) could not be severed from the sections that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in December 2013. The previously invalidated sections set out uniform requirements that municipalities must follow and established where oil and gas operations could and could not take place.
The Commonwealth Court determined that the statutory scheme of Chapter 33 could no longer be enforced. As a result, the court said, “Local zoning matters will now be determined by the procedures set forth in the MPC [Municipalities Planning Code] and challenges to local ordinances that carry out a municipality’s constitutional environmental obligations.” Those challenges must be brought in the courts of common pleas, not before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission or directly to the Commonwealth Court.
The court ruled in favor of the commonwealth on other issues, finding that:
- the commonwealth need not report spills affecting private water supplies as it must for those affecting public water supplies;
- Act 13’s chemical disclosure requirements are not unconstitutionally restrictive; and
- qualified entities have eminent domain rights for creating natural gas storage facilities.
At this time, it is unclear whether the parties will appeal any or all aspects of the Commonwealth Court’s decision.
If the decision stands, municipalities will no longer be threatened with a loss of impact fee funds distributed under Act 13 or the imposition of attorneys’ fees against them in the event their local ordinances are invalidated. Although municipalities will not have to defend their local ordinances before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, they will still need to ensure that those ordinances comply with existing law.
This maintains the traditional and existing practice that has been followed for years and represents a great victory for local government.
Action Alert: Townships Urged to Oppose Clean Water Act Change
PSATS is asking township officials to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw their proposed change to the Clean Water Act that would dramatically impact land, water, and local budgets.
If adopted, this rule would tighten federal control over the nation’s waters and land, including private property, by redefining what constitutes “waters of the U.S.” This phrase currently covers “navigable waters” that flow between states, typically rivers, but under the new rulemaking, it would include streams, wetlands, ponds, and even temporary bodies of water created by heavy rains and flooding, such as ditches.
While the agencies’ intentions may be admirable, their approach is being roundly criticized as a “terrifying power grab.” Why? Because the rule change would give the federal government greater authority over public and private waters and land. Local officials worry, for instance, that the regulation would delay projects and create new bureaucratic hurdles.
PSATS opposes the rule change and is encouraging townships to support its efforts. Here’s what you can do:
Study up on the rule change. Read more on the proposed rule from the National Association of Towns and Townships. Townships can also go to any search engine and do a keyword search — use such phrases as “Waters of the U.S.” and “Clean Water Act expansion” — to find related information and news articles.
Participate in the EPA’s public comment period, which ends October 20. Comments may be emailed to email@example.com or mailed to Water Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20460, Attention: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-2011-0880. (Note:Suggested talking points for PSATS member townships are available under "Member Resources" and then "Environmental Info." You will need to enter your member ID and password to view the information.)
- Register your opposition with Pennsylvania’s senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, and your congressman. (You can access their contact information by entering your zip code here.)
Submit Your Citizen Communication Contest Entries by Aug. 31!
If your township has published a newsletter or other publication to communicate with residents in the past year, show your pride in a job well-done by entering it in PSATS’ 47th Annual Township Citizen Communication Contest. Eligible publications or other forms of communication must have been produced between August 1, 2013, and July 31, 2014.
Entries must be received by August 29.
Thirty-one awards in eight categories will be up for grabs. Winners will receive a framed certificate and coverage in the Township News. All entrants will also compete for the 24th Annual Outstanding Citizen Communication Award, which will be presented at PSATS’ Annual Conference to the township that exhibits an exceptional commitment to informing its residents.
The contest honors townships for their citizen communication efforts in the following categories:
- Most improved newsletter
- Electronic newsletters (This category is for electronic newsletters that are produced strictly for the Web. Printed newsletters that are posted on a township’s website as a PDF are not eligible.)
- Annual reports (Year-end budget or financial reports that include figures but no text or graphics are not eligible.)
- Other publications, including brochures and calendars of events
- Cable TV channels and programs (Audiotapes are not eligible.)
- Social media (Judges will evaluate townships’ overall use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and other resources to communicate with their residents.)
Entries in the printed newsletter category will be judged according to the following population ranges:
- 2,500 and under
- 10,001 and over
Entries in the remaining categories will compete against one another regardless of township population.
Each entry will be judged on the usefulness of information presented, how well the information is communicated, and the entry’s attractiveness, readability, or technical quality, depending on the media being judged. First-, second-, and third-place awards will be given in all categories unless the entries fail to meet the minimum standards of the judges.
Awards will be mailed to winners in November, and the Association will publish an article in the Township News about the winning entries and send news releases to the winners’ local news media.
To enter, provide the following:
- For newsletters and other printed publications, send three copies of each entry.
- For websites and social media, send three printouts of the home page and the Internet address for judges to access the sites.
- For cable TV channels and programs, send three DVDs of each entry. Please note: Each township is limited to three entries in this category.
Each entry must be accompanied by a cover letter noting the category being entered and, for printed newsletters, the township’s population.
If submitting multiple publications in one category, such as Newsletters or Other Publications, please indicate whether they should be judged as one entry or separate entries. Multiple issues of the same newsletter, such as the spring and summer issues, will be judged as a single entry.
Townships entering the Most Improved Newsletter category should state in their cover letter who was responsible for the redesign, such as staff or outside agencies, and include three copies each of “before” and “after” newsletters.
Note: Once-a-year tabloid-type newsletters that contain a map of the township and business advertisements and are produced by outside firms are not eligible.
Mail all entries to: PSATS, 4855 Woodland Drive, Enola, PA 17025, Attn.: Brenda Wilt.