Pike County and Home Rule
At present, Pike County’s governmental structure is defined by the state code for Sixth Class counties (those with a population between 45,000 and 89,999). But if Pike County went through a “Home Rule” process, as other municipalities in Pennsylvania have undergone in recent years, we could modernize local government and create a structure more suited to the 21st century and the county we are today, rather than the county we were a century ago.
In 1968, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted all counties the right to adopt a home rule charter. The basic concept is that home rule transfers authority in municipal affairs from state law (the state’s municipal codes) to a local charter, one adopted and amended by the voters. By enacting its own home rule charter, Pike County would have the capacity to minimize our reliance on state legislation to define our local governance.
Studies of home rule have shown it increases citizen access, widens representation, improves accountability and responsiveness, improves fiscal procedures and controls, provides greater flexibility and lessens political influence in employee hiring and advancement.
In everyone of those areas, Pike County could use improvement. Our current governmental structure was essentially established in the late 18th century. That’s why we have archaic positions like the Prothonotary, Recorder of Deeds, Register of Wills, Clerk of the Orphan’s Court, Jury Commissioner, Treasurer and three elected Auditors.
If we were to design a streamlined and more effective system of county government today, from scratch, some of these offices would likely be restructured, eliminated or replaced by trained professional staff.
A More Representative Government?
Home rule also provides the opportunity to have more representative government, and there are many options to consider that could help achieve that objective. Here are just a few:
→ Perhaps instead of three County Commissioners, we could have five or seven County Commissioners elected from districts throughout the county, guaranteeing better geographic representation and lessening the quadrennial “eastern Pike vs. western Pike” tension.
→ Rather than having bitterly partisan elections between two parties—for local positions where partisan politics should not be an issue—we could make county elections non-partisan.
→ We might choose to have a board of Commissioners that sets policy and an elected or appointed County Executive who manages the day-to-day county operations.
→ Maybe the terms on the County Commission—whether three seats as we have now, or some other number—should be staggered, rather than all coming up for election in one year, to provide more continuity.
Let me provide one specific example. My sister, Missi Strub, was just reelected as one of the three Pike County Auditors. She is a dedicated public servant, with impeccable integrity and I have always been proud to support her campaigns.
But when I hear from her about inefficiencies in county government, particularly with the random bookkeeping systems that differ from one county department to another, I cringe. No business could maintain such inefficiency for long.
Yet Missi and her two elected Auditor colleagues have no authority, under state law, to make any changes. Only the Commissioners can do that. Defining one bookkeeping standard for all departments of county government, for example, would enable greater transparency and accountability, as well as ultimately realize savings for the taxpayers.
A home rule process could look into whether the County might be better served by a professional comptroller or chief financial officer, who has experience in management of municipal finances, rather than by three citizen auditors who have no authority to change county accounting practices.
I’m not proposing any of these changes specifically and I don’t know what the best restructuring of county government would look like. However, I’m sure that we—as Pike County citizens and taxpayers—need to think bigger and more long-term about the county we want Pike to become and how we are going to get there.
An important step is exploring what home rule could mean for us.
Two good resources concerning Home Rule in Pennsylvania:
Submitted by: Sean Strub, Milford