State College seeks regional response to code agency withdrawal options

The borough’s debate over whether and how to leave the Centre Region Code Agency next will include its township colleagues.

The Borough Council on Monday voted 4-3 to forward to the September Council of Governments General Forum — the monthly meeting of all six municipalities — the three remaining options under consideration:

•  Complete borough withdrawal from the agency (option A).

•  Borough withdrawal from the rental housing and fire inspection programs. COG would continue to handle new construction (option B).

•  Withdrawing from the rental housing program and contracting those inspection services back to COG (option E).

Council members Don Hahn, Sarah Klinetob, Peter Morris and Jim Rosenberger supported the move and members Tom Daubert, Cathy Dauler and Ron Filippelli opposed.

The council voted in December to withdraw from the agency, at borough staff’s suggestion, based on issues including duplication of services between the borough and COG and public confusion about which agency to deal with when obtaining permits and inspections. They have since debated various options, holding two special work sessions this summer and changing the potential withdrawal date from Jan. 1, 2014, to the start of 2015.

There was confusion Monday among council members as to whether the third option had carried forward from Friday’s special work session on the issue. The only option of an original six eliminated Friday was one to have COG staff operating the program from the borough’s municipal building.

Rosenberger said he thought only the first two options remained and said efficiency is key.

“By putting it forward we do leave more flexibility, but it might make it more difficult to respond to us,” he said. “I thought A versus B was a whole lot easier for them to respond to.”

Daubert said he doesn’t feel option E would work because properties would require two inspections.

“It’s hard enough for anybody who has ever been a person in charge of property to get one thing in every couple of months,” he said. “As you know, I’m for A, but E, I feel, would be a disaster.”

As proposed by Hahn, the vote also included forwarding to COG staff a request that they investigate how code appeals are handled in similar Pennsylvania communities and consider local implementation and analyze the benefits of creating a citizen board of directors to which code agency Director Walt Schneider would report, similar to boards already in place for Schlow Centre Region Library and Centre Region Parks and Recreation.

Finally, following that vote, Dauler proposed and the council approved asking for a COG response by Sept. 30, which is the borough’s self-imposed deadline to choose one of the withdrawal options.

COG Executive Director Jim Steff detailed Monday night’s discussion and decisions to the rest of the region’s officials as part of a memo noting the cancellation of the August General Forum. The next meeting is set for Sept. 23.

COG staff’s current understanding is that the partial-withdrawal options would require unanimous approval of all the municipalities to change the articles of agreement in place for the code agency.

For that reason, Steff is asking the townships if they are “willing to allow” State College to move forward with options B or E. In the memo, Steff recommends they answer in the affirmative.

“Regarding option E, regardless of whether the borough continues to participate in the CRCA, modifying the articles of agreement is a good idea because it gives the participating municipalities the flexibility to contract with other Centre County municipalities, should Centre Region elected officials decide that it makes operational and economic sense to do so,” Steff’s memo said.

Steff recommended township officials think about how they wish to proceed before they are faced with the borough’s questions Sept. 23.