Lowman S. Henry

Robert W. Keibler
Vice Chairman

Jane R. Gordon

Board Members

Jerry Bowyer
Allegheny Institute

James Canova
Canova Electric

LeGree S. Daniels
U.S. Postal Governor

Joseph Geiger
PA Assoc. of Non
Profit Organizations

Hilary Holste
PPG Industries

Charles L. Huston, III
Huston Foundation

Doris O'Donnell
Allegheny Foundation

Albert Paschall
King of Prussia
Chamber of Commerce

James Trammell
Sun Company, Inc.


Survey Consultant
Albert E. Sindlinger
Sindlinger & Company

Focus Group Moderator
Charles L. Kennedy
Penn State University

OFFICE: 610.265.0757


Township Officials In Pennsylvania Favor Local
Tax Reform and Local Control of Zoning

New Survey by Lincoln Institute concentrates on
local government issues

     (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 27, April 2000) – Elected township officials in Pennsylvania are largely veterans of years of service, earn little at the job and are overwhelmingly in favor of local tax reform and local control of land use and zoning.  These findings are among the highlights of a new Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research survey released today.  The “2000 Township Officials Survey” was mailed in March to more than 5,000 elected township officials in the state and more than 1,000 responded to the inquiry.  The survey was conducted in cooperation with the Pennsylvania State Association of Townships (PSATS).

     “With so much emphasis in Harrisburg on potentially changing the responsibilities of local governments, we wanted to find out what the people who actually run these governments were thinking, “ said Albert Paschall, managing director of the Lincoln Institute and the survey architect, “and they responded in huge numbers.”

     Of the elected township officials responding 64% earn less than $2,500 a year for their service yet 48% of them have served more than 8 years.  “This characteristic shows a dedication to local government that is unmatched anywhere else except in local school boards,” Paschall said, “when nearly 2/3 of these people are working for a little better than $200 a month you have virtually volunteer government which really harkens back to the American tradition of town meetings."

Budgets and Taxes

     74% of the respondents have general fund budgets of less than $1 million a year and during their terms in office 70% held the line with no increase in residential taxes and 81% had no increase in business taxes.  A full 64%, trending right across the state, want options other than the property tax to fund their governments and if they had the option the same 64% would turn to, or raise, earned income taxes as an alternative to property taxes.  “The trend toward property tax relief is very clear,”

Paschall said, “with more reliance on wage earners to create ‘pay-as-you-go’ government.”  Two years ago the general assembly in Harrisburg passed the so-called Homestead Act that allows school boards in the state options in local taxes to relieve property taxes.  The option was not extended to township governments in Pennsylvania.  “The other trend that is clear is that the institutional manageability of local governments makes markedly increased spending and subsequent taxes hard to enact,” according to Mr. Paschall,  “I call it super market politics.  You don’t often see your Congressman or State Senator in the local super market aisles but you can corner your local supervisor there when you’ve got a complaint.  It’s really a very remarkable system of efficient government unlike its larger colleagues on the state and federal level.”

Growth and Management

     Half the respondents to the Lincoln Institute survey of township officials indicated that their township had experienced “a little growth” during their terms in office 26%, generally concentrated in southeastern and south central Pennsylvania, had experienced “much growth” in their term of office.  Of those experiencing growth sewage disposal was the biggest problem facing 45% of them with traffic at 39% ranked second.  A strong 65% said that new residential housing was not a priority for their governments and they were evenly split of 42% when asked if bringing new business and creating new jobs were a high priority for their townships.  About 1/3 of respondents identified a low commercial tax base as the biggest general problem facing their township and 25% identified sprawl as the top issue that they must cope with.  “There’s a continuing thread here,” Paschall said, “local government officials want to take the property tax pressure off homeowners and under the state’s system the easiest way to do that is to have a strong commercial tax base so a third of these officials are looking to expand the business base and 42% of them want manufacturing with its high tax ratables.  On the other hand, again predominantly in the counties surrounding Philadelphia and in Lancaster and York Counties we see the sprawl concerns surfacing with strength.”  Of those officials whose townships had experienced growth 63% felt that their governments had done a good job of maintaining adequate government services.  65% favored inter-municipal agreements and authorities to cope with the problems they face.  Sewer authorities were favored by 31%, inter-municipal police departments and highway authorities were favored by 21% with 20% favoring joint planning and zoning authorities.  

Local control and land use

     While 40% of township officials participating in the survey identified preserving open space as very important they believe the best way to manage growth is within their governments.  A full 79% were opposed to County government taking control of land use and zoning with 85% of the respondent townships managing their own comprehensive plans.  Under the state Municipal Planning Code local governments must maintain a land use and zoning map to allow different uses with the boundaries of the municipality.  The township also has the option of relying on County planning commissions to manage the plan for them.  Called a comprehensive plan it defines boundaries for commercial, residential and institutional uses.  69% of the respondents to the Lincoln Institute survey had comprehensive plans that were less than 10 years old.  And while 40% were concerned about open space preservation 53% were unsure if Governor Ridge’s $645 million Growing Greener initiative would be used in their municipality.  “Its clear that local government officials intend to maintain control of this facility of government as they should and it appears that the administration isn’t getting Growing Greener’s message out to these local officials,” Paschall said.

Methodology and survey results

     The Lincoln Institute’s 2000 Township Officials Survey was mailed to a random sample of 5,000 township supervisors and commissioners on March 3, 2000.  A total of 1,015 officials returned their questionnaire by the March 20, 2000 tabulation deadline.  Complete survey results can be found on the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research’s website at www.lincolninstitute.org

     The Lincoln Institute Of Public Opinion Research is a non-profit educational foundation with offices in Harrisburg and Valley Forge Pennsylvania.


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