‘The people have spoken.’ Local ballot measures leave municipal decisions up to voters

     The Borough of Mount Penn voted

    The Borough of Mount Penn voted "no" on a local ballot measure approving a consolidation with the Township of Lower Alsace. (Kate Lao Shaffner/WPSU)

    Here’s a look at a few local ballot measures from the midterm elections.

    Tom Wolf’s victory in Pennsylvania—and the GOP sweep nationwide—may be taking over the headlines today, but in many of Pennsylvania’s communities, it’s the results of local ballot measures that are big news. Here’s a look at a few of these measures, all meant to give citizens a say in how their municipalities should address financial pressures.

    In Berks County, Mount Penn Borough and Lower Alsace Township asked citizens to approve a ballot measure that would merge the two communities under a new home rule charter. The merger was meant to streamline local government and give the communities more flexibility in setting tax rates.

    The measure passed in Lower Alsace, but failed in Mount Penn. Mount Penn Borough Councilman Kurt Miller, who supported the merger, says despite the outcome, the communities will find ways to work together.

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    “Merger or no merger, cross municipal cooperation is going to be so important going forward, especially as the challenges and new regulations come down upon our local governments,” said Miller.

    By law, the failed vote means the merger question can’t be on a ballot again for five years.

    In central Pennsylvania, Altoona citizens voted YES to home rule. This means the city will operate under a new home rule charter that gives the mayor more power and also allows the city greater control of taxes. It’s seen by supporters as a step to get out of the city’s Act 47 financially distressed designation.

    Citizens of the City of Reading approved six local measures—including a question that would require voter approval before the city can sell or lease a major asset, such as the water system.

    Cities in financial distress have increasingly looked at privatizing their assets as a way to balance the budget, but some say it’s a bad idea amounting to a short-term fix.

    Aaron Thomas is a local activist and spokesperson for Our City, Our Water, a group against privatization of Reading’s water system. He says the water asset belongs to the people, and the YES vote supports this.

    “It’s we the people, for the people,” said Thomas. “The people have spoken.”

    You could say that’s what elections are all about—handing decisions over to the people—or, at least, the ones that showed up at the polls.

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