State College

Centre Region rules for sewer service extensions may be eased

Centre Region officials took a step Monday toward loosening the process by which the region approves public sewer line service extensions.

They voted at a Council of Governments General Forum meeting to no longer require a unanimous vote from the group for moving the regional growth boundary/sewer service area.

Officials settled on a plan requiring a supermajority vote — or a 5-to-1 vote of the six COG member municipalities — over another proposal that would have required only a simple majority.

Coincidentally, enough municipalities to qualify as a supermajority apparently preferred to implement the simple majority vote. But making any change required a unanimous decision, and Ferguson Township officials made it clear they would not support any plan that called for a simple majority vote.

Whether to change the voting requirement was part of a larger discussion that started last fall after officials denied an expansion in Harris Township 5-1.

Ferguson Township voted against the expansion to a new Calvary Baptist Church building, and approval requires a unanimous vote. However, an appeal by the church led to a legal agreement between the parties that eventually allowed the Harris Township expansion.

Officials at the time charged an ad hoc committee including the municipal managers, COG Executive Director Jim Steff and University Area Joint Authority Executive Director Cory Miller with discussing the expansion process.

The expansion process, which begins with a request from a development, did not at the time include criteria to help officials make a final decision.

Paul Rittenhouse Sr., chairman of the Harris Township Board of Supervisors, spoke out Monday in favor of a simple majority vote, saying it would go further to eliminate what he called “potential political movement” in which one or two municipalities can essentially veto growth projects like the church.

Officials from other municipalities recognized what they called Ferguson Township’s willingness to negotiate and jumped at the chance to move away from a unanimous vote requirement.

“I think we need to distinguish between what’s preferable and what’s acceptable,” said Don Hahn, State College Borough Council president. “I think, quite frankly, 5-1 is acceptable. If we are going to get off the unanimous requirement, I think 5-1 will do it.”

Municipal leaders still have other questions to answer on how the region will approve the extensions after the meeting Monday. Those include whether the regional growth boundary and the sewer service area should be separate lines of delineation. Currently, with a few minor exceptions, they follow the same course.

COG officials have recommended that the lines continue to be separate and that they continue to move in conjunction with each other.

With the supermajority vote in place, Ferguson Township’s George Pytel, vice chairman of the General Forum, asked that a discussion on the remaining questions wait until representatives from each municipality could discuss potential agreements.

The executive committee was tasked with finding that common ground.