The Borough Council on Friday eliminated two of six options related to withdrawal from the Centre Region Code Agency after the first of two special work sessions.
The next is scheduled for noon on Friday, Aug. 16.
Borough staff in May provided six options to council members for consideration, independently of a February report by Council of Governments officials offering five options as a response to the borough’s request for more information.
The council voted in December to withdraw from the agency at borough staff’s suggestion. Reasons for doing so include duplication of services between the borough and COG and public confusion about which agency to deal with when obtaining permits and inspections.
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While the original withdrawal date was Jan. 1, 2014 — the required one year’s notice — borough Manager Tom Fountaine said in June that staff determined that date was “not practical” and not enough time to set up a borough program. On June 17, the council voted 4-3 to repeal that withdrawal ordinance and set a deadline of Sept. 30 to decide whether and how to withdraw from the regional program.
If the borough leaves the agency, it will be with a Jan. 1, 2015, effective date.
After considering budget estimates and other details during the council’s first special work session Friday, members agreed to eliminate options C and D from consideration.
Option C kept the current arrangement of the regional agency maintaining responsibility for all permit types in the borough. Eliminating the option signaled the council’s desire for a change from the status quo.
Council President Don Hahn said that, in conversations he had with individual council members, that option “seemed to offer very little support.” With no objections Friday, he eliminated it.
Option D offered a hybrid approach, with the borough taking responsibility only for the approximately 1,200 homes converted to rental units, with a net cost of $137,350.
Members discussed several problems with that option. Tom Daubert said if the borough takes over responsibility for rental housing, it should be all types.
Fountaine said the overriding concern is that carving out 1,200 of about 10,000 borough rental permits actually would exacerbate the fragmentation problem. Along with that, all rental permit fees currently are equal, though it costs more to inspect conversion housing since each unit is unique and takes more time than a complex of identical units.
“Part of what brought us to this discussion ... was in no small part because of the dissatisfaction and confusion people in our borough have felt about who is doing the permitting, who they have to talk to, which agency is in charge of this process,” said Councilwoman Cathy Dauler. “We have to keep in mind how we respond to those concerns.”
The remaining options are withdrawing fully from the code agency, withdrawing from only the rental housing and fire inspection programs, withdrawing only from the rental housing program and the borough issuing all rental housing permits with COG code staff assigned to work from the municipal building.
If the borough chooses a partial withdrawal, unanimous approval of the other five Centre Region municipalities in the codes program is required.
Theresa Lafer, a former council member and one of several borough neighborhood representatives in the audience Friday, said she favored a full withdrawal.
“I think the question is what’s most functional,” she said, criticizing the partial withdrawal options. “I think they divide things up too much and leave some of the unhappy community still unhappy.”