SHAMOKIN — City voters Tuesday shot down a referendum asking whether a government study commission of seven members be elected to study the existing form of government and consider the advisability of the adoption of a Home Rule Charter.
The measure was defeated 447-392, causing the election of seven members to the government study commission a moot point.
A major initiative of the City of Shamokin’s Act 47 recovery plan for distressed municipalities was establishing a new city charter under Home Rule, which would allow the city to maintain the court-approved earned income tax rate of 2%.
State law sets the cap rate at 1% for all third-class cities, but Home Rule does not have any limitations for earned income tax for residents of a municipality.
The highest vote-getter for the commission was city Treasurer Brenda Scandle with 440 votes. She was followed by Mayor John Brown (423), former Mayor William Milbrand (402), Denise Brown (394), Jennifer Seidel (361), Joe Leschinskie Jr. (338) and former Councilman and Controller Gary Haddock (336).
The remaining seven on the ballot were Councilman Scott Roughton (319), Nedra Templar (227), city Administrative Accountant Doreen Annis (222), Robert Derk (189), Bill Allen (167), Gene Garancheski (166) and Justin Minnich (106).
City officials have stated that if residents did not eventually choose Home Rule, Act 47 Coordinator Ryan Hottenstein would be required to write an Act 47 exit plan, which could include recommendations to cut staff to offset lack of finances. Council would then vote on the plan.
Shamokin was declared a financially distressed municipality by the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) on June 16, 2014. On Feb. 23, 2015, council unanimously adopted a financial recovery plan containing 128 initiatives.
The city is required to exit Act 47 on Feb. 23, 2020, but can request a three-year extension.
When contacted Tuesday evening, the mayor said the next step for city officials is to meet with the Act 47 team, consisting of Hottenstein and DECD Coordinator Jim Rosen, to discuss the city’s options.
“To be such a controversial thing, I was surprised it was as close as it was,” he said, referring to the 55-vote margin of defeat. “As people came out of the polling places, there were some people, for the most part, who did not even know what (the referendum) question was. What do you say there?”
According to DCED, a referendum on a question for election of a government study commission to recommend a home rule charter cannot be held within four years after the question has been defeated.
Referendums asking whether a study commission be formed to recommend an “optional plan” of government or an “optional plan of government or a Home Rule charter” may appear within the four-year period.
“Originally, council kicked around the idea that if (Tuesday’s) referendum did not pass, we could put one of the other questions back on the ballot,” he said. “But it doesn’t make much sense to do it so soon after this one failed.”