SHAMOKIN — The question whether a government study commission be formed to study the existing form of government, and draft and recommend a home rule charter for the City of Shamokin is now up to the electors.

City council on Monday unanimously approved the second and final reading of Ordinance 2019-01, which grants the Northumberland County Board of Elections to place the following question before city voters of the May 21 primary: “Shall a government study commission of seven members be elected to study the existing form of government of the City of Shamokin, to consider the advisability of the adoption of a home rule charter and, if advisable, to draft and recommend a home rule charter.”

Voting in favor were Mayor John Brown and councilmembers Barbara Moyer, Charlie Verano, Scott Roughton and Dan McGaw.

Home Rule government transfers the basic authority to act in municipal affairs from state law, as set forth by the General Assembly, to a local charter that is drafted, adopted and amended by municipal voters. Limitations of Home Rule include the U.S. Constitution, state Constitution and state laws that are uniform and applicable throughout the commonwealth, including, but not limited to, election code, open records law, regulation of utilities and the vehicle code.

A major initiative of the City of Shamokin’s Act 47 recovery plan is establishing a new city charter under Home Rule, which would allow the city to maintain the court-approved earned income tax rate of 2 percent. State law sets the cap rate at 1 percent for all third class cities, but Home Rule does not have any limitations for earned income tax for residents of a municipality.

For the 11th consecutive year, a Northumberland County judge granted in December the City of Shamokin permission to maintain a 35-mill real estate tax, while also approving for the fifth year in a row a 2 percent earned income tax.

According to state law, the governmental study commission of seven members, as designated in the question, shall be elected by the qualified voters during the upcoming primary. Each candidate for the commission shall be nominated and placed upon the ballot containing the question in the manner provided by the Pennsylvania Election Code.

All candidates for the government study commission shall be electors, who are required to be nominated by nomination papers signed by a number of electors equal at least to 2 percent of the number of electors voting for the office of governor in the last gubernatorial general election or 200 electors, whichever is less. Each candidate on the ballot shall be nominated and listed without any political designation or slogan.

Alisha Elliot, director of Northumberland County Board of Elections, said earlier Monday that the number of city electors voting for the office of governor in the last general election was 1,496, which means candidates would need 30 signatures on nomination papers, not 10 as previously reported by council.

She said there is no fee for nomination papers and the date range to file them is Feb. 19 through March 12.

State law says each elector shall be instructed to vote on the question and, regardless of the manner of his vote on the question, to vote for seven members of the commission.

If an insufficient number of nominating papers is filed to fill all seven positions on the commission, the question of establishing a commission shall still be placed on the ballot, and, unless a sufficient number of study commission members are elected by receiving at least as many votes as signatures are required to file a nominating position (30), then the question of creating a study commission shall be deemed to have been rejected.

State law also says if a majority of electors vote against the election of a commission, none of the candidates will be elected.

If the referendum is defeated, it cannot be placed on the ballot again for four years.

Members of the government study commission serve without compensation, but shall be reimbursed by the municipality for their necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.

The government study commission shall study the form of government of the municipality to compare it with other available forms under the laws of this Commonwealth and determine whether or not in its judgment the government could be strengthened or made more clearly responsible or accountable to the people or whether its operation could become more economical or efficient under a changed form of government.

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