The Borough Council voted 5-2 Monday to give the required one year’s notice to withdraw from the Centre Region Code Administration, and unanimously approved sending a letter to the agency, seeking dialogue over borough concerns.
Council President Don Hahn and Councilman Peter Morris opposed giving notice of withdrawal. Hahn proposed sending the letter, noting that the council could choose to withdraw at a later time if members chose to do so.
The vote came about two weeks after borough staff first recommended the council consider the move. Manager Tom Fountaine cited issues with duplication of services between the entities, fragmentation, and complaints about confusion from borough residents attempting to deal with both agencies.
Fountaine has emphasized that the issues aren’t the regional agency’s fault. He has called the timing “unfortunate” because the council had to make a decision by the end of this month in order to withdraw effective Jan. 1, 2014.
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The Council of Governments officials also recently voted on a new code software package, after much debate, and the processes COG and the borough must undertake to implement it would take considerable financial and staff resources, Fountaine said, adding to the urgency of the staff recommendation.
“It was not by design, it was not by intent,” he said. “It did not become completely clear until a conference call on Nov. 26.”
The council discussion was mixed, with some members in favor of giving intent to withdraw, so the borough has the option, while still holding the ability to reverse that decision next year. Others wanted to have further discussion before making a decision of such magnitude and potentially damaging the borough’s relationship with the COG and other municipalities.
The borough last considered withdrawal from codes in 2007 and 2008. The council voted to withdraw and, when new members were elected, reversed that decision.
“I’ve been a real advocate for working together, but I’ve also been hearing from our constituents in the borough,” said Councilman Jim Rosenberger. “I think the sensible thing to do is to pass this resolution to keep our options open.”
COG Executive Director Jim Steff and Codes Director Walt Schneider attended Monday’s meeting and Steff said after the vote he’s “hopeful” the entities can continue a dialogue on the issue. He said the COG is willing to station two people at the borough building to help with duplication, but said that may not be the correct solution.
“Our mission is life safety and we’re darn good at that,” he told the council, in reference to focusing on those issues and, perhaps, lacking on rental housing, a main concern in the borough.
The Coalition of Neighborhood Associations also has pushed for the borough to take control and streamline code processes, in an effort to further its priority of preserving neighborhoods.
“What is this doing to our neighborhoods, to the borough, to the tax base,” asked Donna Queeney, president of the College Heights Association. “The borough needs to get on top of the rental situation. It cannot be done with the current, bifurcated system.”