Northwestern Press

Friday, August 23, 2019

Guest View

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 by The Press in Opinion

Townships call for broadband expansion, and firefighter crisis to be resolved

Communities need reliable, high-speed Internet if they are to grow and prosper.

Finding a way to ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to wireless broadband was one of the key themes discussed when township officials gathered in Hershey April 14-17 for the 97th annual Educational Conference of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.

Other themes were unfunded mandates and the volunteer firefighter crisis.

During their business session, township officials adopted a resolution to support the safe and orderly deployment of wired and wireless broadband services throughout the state and to demand that local governments be a partner in any expansion efforts.

More than 800,000 Pennsylvanians lack high-speed Internet access.

Reliable, high-speed Internet access is a critical component for economic development, student achievement, quality health care and efficient government.

Every day, though, more and more demands are put on this system. The result is an increasing number of unserved and underserved areas.

As more people use smartphones and rely on wireless technology for such everyday items as thermostats and doorbells, our broadband speed slows down.

This isn’t just a rural or urban problem. It affects everyone, regardless of where they live.

In fact, if things don’t change soon, no one will have the bandwidth capacity needed for successful economic development, job expansion, quality health care and education, or even recreation.

Development and expansion of broadband access is a critical component of our nation’s infrastructure. But it’s also important communities have a say in where and how broadband gets expanded.”

Local officials have an obligation to ensure that this infrastructure is deployed safely.

To protect their communities, townships must be viewed as partners in any technological progress that is made.”

Among other resolutions enacted to guide the association’s legislative priorities are several demanding that state and federal governments put a stop to unfunded mandates.

To drive home their point, township officials wore “no unfunded mandates” stickers as a show of solidarity in their belief the government closest to the people is the most efficient and responsive.

Those of us in local government have learned not to let our guard down when it comes to decisions made in Harrisburg and Washington.

All too often, townships and their residents pay the price for overzealous regulations that townships must implement without the accompanying dollars necessary to fund them.”

Seeking to reduce this financial burden, PSATS members adopted resolutions that, among other things, seek fixes for the unintended financial consequences of the state’s Right-to-Know Law and the increasing costs of complying with stormwater regulations.

Local leaders representing 1,454 townships in the state also reiterated their commitment to finding solutions for recruiting and retaining volunteer emergency service providers.

At last year’s conference, PSATS called attention to the problems that township supervisors face in keeping their residents safe and protected at a time when volunteers are dwindling and costs are soaring.

This year, they wore 911 stickers at the conference to show their support for volunteer emergency providers and to draw attention to the public safety crisis that continues to plague communities.

Since the Senate Resolution 6 Commission released recommendations last year that seek to avert an emergency services crisis, some of the suggestions in the report have made their way into bills and proposals in Harrisburg but not enough has been done.

The volunteer model that many communities rely on to provide public safety is threatened. And, townships and the state must join forces in finding solutions.

Without a workable resolution, communities could be forced to pay nearly $10 billion a year to cover the fire service that volunteers now provide, according to the state fire commissioner’s office.

It’s important that momentum around this key issue not be lost. The crisis involving fire and EMS has gone on for far too long, and the longer we wait, the more at risk our communities and citizens become.

In addition to discussing these and other legislative priorities of the association, conference attendees heard from Gov. Tom Wolf; Lt. Gov. John Fetterman; Sen. John Gordner, Pa. Senate Majority Whip; Rep. Bryan Cutler, Pa. House Majority Leader; Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro; the majority chair and a member of the Senate Local Government Committee; and the majority and minority chairs of the House Local Government Committee during the three-and-a-half-day conference.

Other speakers included Sheri Collins, acting executive director of the Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives; Bryan Smith, president of the National Association of Towns and Townships; and Heather Penney, an Air Force pilot who was in the air on Sept. 11, 2001, and is now the senior resident fellow for the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies at the Air Force Association.

Township officials also attended their choice of more than 80 workshops and elected the following officers to a one-year term:

•President: Shirl Barnhart, supervisor of Morgan Township, Greene County;

•First Vice President: Marvin Meteer, supervisor of Wyalusing Township, Bradford County;

•Second Vice President: A.J. Boni, supervisor of Perry Township, Fayette County;

•Secretary/Treasurer: John “Jay” Wilkes Jr., supervisor of Jackson Township, Luzerne County; and

•Assistant Secretary/Treasurer: Anna Swailes, supervisor of Metal Township, Franklin County.

Attendees also elected two members to the association’s executive committee:

•Robert Heffelfinger, supervisor of Richland Township, Cambria County; and

•David Nyman, supervisor of East Rockhill Township, Bucks County.

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Editor’s note: David M. Sanko is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors, which represents Pennsylvania’s 1,454 townships of the second class.

PSATS is committed to preserving and strengthening township government and securing greater visibility and involvement for townships in the state and federal political arenas.

Townships of the Second Class cover 95 percent of Pennsylvania’s land mass and represent more residents — 5.5 million — than any other type of political subdivision in the commonwealth.