At a forum yesterday in Harrisburg, three Mayors, representing the cities of Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York, addressed “The State of Our Cities”. As noted in news coverage, “the challenges they shared about their cities were starkly familiar. So were the solutions they were seeking from the state: pension reform, property tax reform, and consolidation of municipalities and school districts”.
All three cities are home rule and Harrisburg is the only one of the three to be in Act 47 financial distress. The moderator of the panel asked why so many municipalities are in financial distress. There are 18 municipalities in Act 47–with 2,561 municipalities in PA, that is less than 1% in distress.
The Mayors lamented lack of annexation powers (PA is one of six states with no unicorporated territory, which makes annexation much more difficult) and the Mayor of Harrisburg wants “consolidation and boundary expansion”.
How does PA compare on the number of local governments (municipalities and town/townships as counted by the 2012 Census of Local Governments)? Examining the 50 states (excluding DC) PA reported 2,561 local governments which ranks it 3rd out of 50 (behind Illinois and Minnesota) and represents around 7% of all local governments in the 50 states. Compared to states with similar population (13-10 million, which includes Illinois and Ohio) the total is not out of line (2,729 in Illinois, 2,245 in Ohio). If measured on a per 100,000 person basis, PA has 20.2 local governments per 100,000. Indiana, Illinois, Alaska, and Ohio are close to that rate. There are 27 states that have 10 or fewer local governments per 100,000 people.
Most of local government in the country serves a small population. By the Census’ count, 314 local governments served a population of 100,000 or more, which is about 1% of the total number of local governments. PA has 4 of these, and 6 other states likewise have 4 local governments serving 100,000 people or more.