Centre Region officials approve consideration of contracted code services

jvanderk@centredaily.comSeptember 30, 2013 

— After another evening of intense debate, Centre Region officials voted last week to allow the borough to contract with the Centre Region Code Agency for inspection services, should the borough decide to withdraw entirely from that program.

However, allowing the agency to contract out its services would require a unanimous vote by the six participating Council of Governments municipalities to amend the agency’s articles of agreement.

Since last December, when the Borough Council first voted to withdraw from the regional program, the council and the rest of the region’s officials have debated whether and how the borough should go forward with that decision and how it would impact the rest of the region.

The code agency reviews, issues permits for and inspects building construction, rental housing and commercial fire safety in the region.

Monday was the council’s self-imposed deadline to make a decision on the issue. Though, to give the required one-year’s notice, the council has until Dec. 31 to take that final vote if it’s going to withdraw effective Jan. 1, 2015.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said Monday that he anticipates the issue making it onto an October agenda, most likely Oct. 7.

After working through various options for full and partial withdrawal, the council narrowed it down to three — fully withdraw and start its own code program; withdraw only from rental housing and fire, remaining in the new construction program; or withdraw only from rental housing, but contract with the code agency to conduct rental inspections.

The council’s direction is unclear because the seven members are split on their first choice. Three have expressed support for a total withdrawal, two for rental housing and fire withdrawal and two for rental housing withdrawal with an inspection contract.

The regional officials’ first vote failed last week because it combined the contracting issue with allowing the borough to partially withdraw from the code agency.

That’s when Borough Council President Don Hahn moved to vote on just the contracting issue, which received near unanimous approval. COG Executive Director Jim Steff said contracting would give flexibility to the COG and called it “good business.”

Some officials had issues with a partial borough withdrawal, saying it could create a slippery slope and potentially break down regional programs.

“If you can pick and choose which items you want in that program, I think you’re going to destroy COG,” said Ferguson Township Chairman George Pytel. “If you’re going to do that, Ferguson would like to have an itemized list of all the programs ... so we can pick and choose what we want. You don’t want to do that.”

While Patton Township Supervisor Josh Troxell said he watched some of the borough’s previous meetings and understands council members’ rationale, he also worried about cherry picking parts of programs.

“I worry about where we go in the future with that,” he said. “My concerns are if we split and start choosing, at some point there needs to be a limit for how far we subdivide programs.”

However, Harris and Halfmoon supervisors noted a precedent already exists, as those two municipalities have, at times, participated only partially in the code agency.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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