The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


June 11, 2013

George Hancock | For our region, the signs are everywhere: Consolidate or die

JOHNSTOWN — “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

“Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind

“Do this, don’t do that

“Can’t you read the sign?”

– ‘Signs,’ 1971 song

Five Man Electrical Band

Those prolific signs have been very visible the past several weeks.

The May 21 primary election generated a vast array of campaign signs, giving credence to that famous political axiom that all politics are local. This means that voters are more concerned with local matters. They focus more on community issues.

Passing myriad political signs on my morning runs is an incredible experience. These signs are strategically placed along streets. I often wonder if the motoring public can really read them. These political announcements seem more suited to runners and walkers.

The William Seger-William Telek district judge campaign produced the most signs along my routes. Richland school board contests were a close second. There were but a few touting the Paint Township supervisor candidates. And I don’t recall any Scalp Level campaign signage.     

Another sign dominates the Greater Johnstown landscape: The “For Sale” sign. Houses, buildings, businesses, land and numerous other real estate items flood the sellers’ market.

Every Saturday, The Tribune-Democrat publishes a 30-something page real-estate supplement of offerings.

Running past so many empty buildings and homes every week is unnerving.

An April 11 Tribune news report, “Leaving town: Johnstown among leaders in population loss,” was troubling.

Greater Johnstown has one of the fastest-shrinking populations in the United States. Our residents are exiting at an alarming rate.

Our population plight attracted the attention of CNN, which reported on April 10 that “The city of Johnstown has lost population for nine decades, falling by about 70 percent from its peak in 1920. About 13 percent of that loss occurred in just the past 13 years.”

Do you recall our discouraging 2010 census figures?

Cambria County’s population loss was 5.8 percent. Somerset County registered a modest 2.9 percent drop.

The city’s population was down 12.2 percent. My hometown, Scalp Level Borough, experienced an 8.6 percent decline down to its current 778 people. Some of our local fundraiser road races have more people crossing the finish line.

Many local politicians ignore this data. Population loss is not a glamorous topic. Yet, the subject is critical and worthy of serious discussion.

Recently, Readers’ Forum faithful perused numerous letters from Pennsylvania Highlands Community College staff and other supporters. The Cambria County commissioners announced a plan to reappropriate Penn Highlands funds to what some writers were describing as a nefarious foreign-investment scheme.

The umbrage was created by the May 15 Commissioners Corner article outlining a plan for economic development. I was intrigued with one line in that essay. The commissioners wrote that “We should understand that Cambria County has been losing approximately 1,000 people a year for the past 70 years.” 

Was this meant to imply that Cambria County loses many people despite our painstaking efforts?

Or, was it meant to warn Cambria County residents to wake up, that 1,000 people leave our region every year?

Our annual out-migration rate is horrendous. We’re losing population from every age bracket, including our educated, skilled young people.

That can cripple the region’s future.

Several groups are dedicated to regional economic development. Can we do anything else to stabilize our region?

Paul Rinker of Johnstown, in his March 22 Readers’ Forum letter, “Getting Johnstown moving forward,” offered a revolutionary vision for a positive future.

Consolidation of four population centers is key to Rinker’s plan.

I run daily in two of his envisioned consolidated centers:

-- Ogle and Paint townships with Paint and Windber boroughs into the city of Windber.

-- Adams and Richland townships with Geistown, Lorain and Scalp Level boroughs into the city of Richland.

Rinker’s plan is worth immediate action. The signs are ominous. Population decline clouds our future.

A united base survives that storm. Fragments are tossed aside.

We need more consolidation discussion, and we need it now.

George A. Hancock of Scalp Level Borough is an occasional contributor to the editorial page.   


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