The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 24, 2013

What would the Johnstown region look like with municipal consolidation?

Dave Sutor

JOHNSTOWN — If the City of Johnstown and the 16 boroughs and townships abutting it consolidated, the population would top 50,000.

Adding nearby Richland Township, Geistown Borough and Scalp Level Borough would move the total to above 65,000, making the southwest corner of Cambria County one of Pennsylvania’s 10th-largest cities.

But, instead, Johnstown’s population is now a little more than 20,000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and dropping.

Among those municipalities in the immediate Johnstown region, 16 experienced population decreases between 2000 and the most recent nationwide head count.

Most dramatically, Franklin Borough, a participant in the state’s Act 47 program for distressed municipalities, saw its population plummet by 26.92 percent during the decade.

Only East Taylor Township, Lorain Borough, Richland and Southmont Borough broke even or made slight gains.

There is little talk about consolidation though.

The most recent attempt came when Franklin, Daisytown Borough, Conemaugh Township, East Taylor Township and East Conemaugh Borough considered a merger. Voters in every municipality needed to favor the plan to move forward.

It was rejected with some voters reluctant to attach themselves to the financially struggling Franklin.

“We spent two years with it, trying to get it to happen,” said Franklin Borough Council President Richard McNulty. “It just couldn’t fly.”

A major attempt at local consolidation occurred in 1970.

The Greater Johnstown Committee, a collection of business and community leaders, proposed the idea of consolidating the city with Westmont Borough, Southmont and Upper Yoder Township. The group spent more than $50,000 promoting the idea. Johns­town voters overwhelmingly supported the plan. But consolidation was rejected in each of the 14 precincts outside the city.

“We couldn’t sell the program, and look what happened,” said Ed Kane, director of the Greater Johnstown Committee campaign.

Kane feels the reluctance to consolidate over 40 years ago still affects the region today.

“We would be a much bigger and better municipality,” he said.

“The overall community could be so powerful.”

One municipal consolidation has occurred locally within the past two decades. On Jan. 1, 2000, Barnesboro Borough and Spangler Borough joined together to become Northern Cambria Borough. Spangler citizens voted in favor of the plan with 410 yeas, compared with 243 nays, in 1997. It passed in Barnesboro 466-324. By merging, the new municipality’s population grew large enough to qualify for more than $100,000 annually in state entitlement funding. However, due to a population loss registered in the most recent census, Northern Cambria, a town of 3,835 people, fell below the qualifying threshold, meaning it is no longer eligible for the Community Development Block Grant money.

Now, the two communities are left as one town with proponents and opponents of the merger living together.

“I think it’s a good thing, but I know there are a lot of people that are against it,” said Northern Cambria Area Business Alliance President Chuck Contres.

On a statewide level, in 2010, Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Reading, from the 127th district, proposed legislation calling for all government operations to be consolidated on a countywide basis, as opposed to being divided among more than 2,500 municipalities.

He said many government positions are filled with people who “don’t want to give up power.”

The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs strongly opposed his plan.

The bill never came to the House floor for a vote.

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