Many of the municipalities in Pennsylvania recognize the benefits of having a manager to oversee the local government operation. Others view this as a luxury that they just can’t fit into the yearly budget. The biggest drawback is the expenditure associated with hiring this type of professional, following closely by the challenge in finding a qualified applicant. Wages and benefits are just too cost-prohibitive for most to absorb into financial plans already stretched to the limit. But now a new option may become available. There are three sets of bills currently proposed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that would amend laws for Boroughs and Townships, allowing them the opportunity to hire professional firms to act as municipal managers. This change could potentially save taxpayers considerable dollars by having seasoned professionals overseeing how things are operated while sharing that expense across multiple employers. First-class townships have had this choice since 2020.
State Rep. Bob Freeman of Northampton County said the current structure is particularly burdensome for smaller communities that are unable to pay the salary and benefits of a full-time administrator on their own. He said that the legislation would allow municipalities to hire a range of professional groups to serve as managers. The option also aims to address increased costs and a shortage of municipal managers, currently making hiring extremely difficult.
Pennsylvania’s government managers are skilled in accounting, budgeting, hiring, and maintaining qualified staff, and the difficult job of navigating politics. Those wealthier municipalities that want to have good quality management can undoubtedly afford and attract qualified candidates. The less fortunate municipalities that could genuinely benefit from professional oversight often fall behind, causing further complications due to a lack of experienced leadership.
If this legislation passes, it could change local governments by giving them the option to contract with a professional management firm on a full-time or part-time basis, which could nicely balance the cost and needs of a given community. It's also possible that several municipalities could share services from one company, creating the opportunity to share costs and share best practices.
Several years ago, Keystone Municipal Solutions recognized this lack of municipal managers and started a program to help recruit managers to fill these positions throughout the state. In addition, KMS has been helping fill roles on an interim basis by recommending qualified candidates. The choice will be entirely up to the individual municipalities, but at first look, it appears to be a very attractive option for Township and Boroughs to consider.
Contact your state representative and ask them to support this legislation if you feel you could benefit from it. Get the board together and "fire this thing up." Yes, you can afford a manager with this legislation.
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 33 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at email@example.com. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.