The Borough Council on Friday eliminated another option related to withdrawal from the Centre Region Code Agency, and plans to vote Monday on sending remaining options to its Council of Governments colleagues for consideration.
Friday was the second of two special work sessions the council held to discuss the issue. Staff in May provided six options to council members for consideration. At its July work session, members eliminated two options — remaining completely in the COG agency and the borough taking on responsibility for only the single-family homes converted to rental units.
On Friday, members eliminated a third option, in which the borough would issue code permits, with COG staff operating the program from the borough municipal building.
While council President Don Hahn named that option as his first choice, he eliminated it from discussion after receiving no comment when he asked if any member wished to keep it on the table.
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The council voted last December to withdraw from the code 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.
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 was not enough time to establish a borough program. The council voted 4-3 at that time to repeal that withdrawal ordinance and set a Sept. 30 deadline to decide whether and how to withdraw from the regional program.
Three options remain — withdrawing entirely from the code agency, withdrawing only from the rental housing and fire inspection programs and withdrawing only from the rental housing program.
Hahn asked members to give their preferences. Tom Daubert, Cathy Dauler and Ron Filippelli supported a full withdrawal. Sarah Klinetob and Jim Rosenberger supported withdrawal from rental housing and fire inspections. Peter Morris said his first choice was to withdraw from just the rental housing program.
While Hahn noted there didn’t seem to be a majority, based on members’ ordering of the options, withdrawal from rental housing and fire inspections would have four votes, and full withdrawal would have three.
Because the former option would require acceptance by the other COG municipalities, Hahn suggested adding a vote on the options to Monday’s regular meeting agenda, in an effort to proceed in a timely manner. At that time, members may vote to send the partial withdrawal options to COG’s General Forum, the meeting of all six municipalities, for consideration.
Daubert and Filippelli said complete withdrawal from the agency will best serve their constituents. Filippelli noted input from neighborhood representatives and a letter, dated Thursday, from the Downtown State College Improvement District supporting the move.
“There’s no constituency in the borough left, in my opinion, that supports us staying in COG codes,” he said, also noting that there are other COG programs in which not all six municipalities participate. “So this is not a revolutionary move.”
Klinetob said that a full withdrawal should be a “last-case scenario” if the other municipalities oppose a partial scenario.
Morris said rental housing is the main problem, which others have previously acknowledged. He said if a partial withdrawal doesn’t work, the borough can re-evaluate in several years.
“I think the welfare and the future of COG is important,” he said. “So by helping COG we’re also helping residents of the borough. I’m in favor of an option, which turns rental housing over to the borough, but does as little else as possible.”
Several members of the public offered input to the discussion. Bud Graham, a Harris Township supervisor and chairman of the COG Finance Committee said the change could be good or bad, and urged the council to remember it will impact the entire region.
“The people that will be affected are the people that have to pay for the rental housing permits,” he said.
Resident Susan Venegoni mentioned other comments about the difficulties the borough could face getting back into the agency if it leaves.
“There should never be a day that there’s a question on any property, whether something is eligible or not to be a student rental,” she said. “People should be able to get answers to those questions, regardless of where you come. I hope that you have enough information to make this decision.”