Last May we wrote a blog on the task force report advocating for municipalities in Allegheny County to dissolve if residents voted to do so. Last week legislation to allow for voluntary municipal disincorporation in Allegheny County was introduced in the General Assembly and referred to committee.
Pennsylvania is one of twelve states that does not have a law that permits a municipality to dissolve and become unincorporated. However, there is language in the Pennsylvania Constitution on initiatives and referenda relating to mergers, consolidations, and boundary changes. And 2014 amendments to Act 47 allow for disincorporation of distressed municipalities should they be deemed nonviable.
The proposed legislation would give “…electors residing in a municipal corporation located in a county of the second class [the] right to voluntarily dissolve their existing form of government and transfer all powers, duties, and responsibilities for the governance of the municipal corporation to an unincorporated district administered by a county of the second class if the electors believe that the county would be able to provide for more efficient and effective municipal services”
Voluntary disincorporation sounds like a laudable goal. If it makes economic sense, and the voters approve, the municipality goes away. So, if the law passes, all 130 municipalities in the County can begin disincorporation deliberations, right?
Not exactly. The proposed law defines a “municipal corporation” as “a city, borough, incorporated town, township, or home rule municipality with a population of 10,000 or less and located entirely in a county”. 2016 population estimates show that 31 municipalities have a population greater than 10,000, so disincorporation would not be an option for Ross, Robinson, Upper St. Clair, Penn Hills, Pittsburgh, and 26 others.
Due to the requirement of being located entirely within a county McDonald and Trafford would be eliminated, bringing the eligible count to 97 municipalities (75% of the total).
The total population in these 97 municipalities as of 2016 was 339,210, which is about the combined size of Pittsburgh and Penn Hills. Three of the municipalities under 10,000 people (Duquesne, Rankin, and Braddock) are currently in distressed status and could be eligible for disincorporation via that statute or the proposed one if it became law. 14 municipalities have a population of 1,000 or less.
Regardless of the size, the decision of whether a municipality would give up its government in favor of becoming an unincorporated district is hard to see happening, especially when there is very little interest in consolidations and mergers presently. Some already contract or cooperate for services with other municipalities, authorities, or the private sector. The savings would have to be more than significant and the residents would have to be convinced there would be no drop off in services.
Upcoming blogs will cover the mechanics of the disincorporation procedures as proposed in the legislation.