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Plus: Pa. primary election results, township talk, and higher internet costs could be on the way for low-income residents

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

April 25, 2024
Inside this edition: Pa. primary election results, township talk, and higher internet costs could be on the way for low-income residents.
Min Xian / Spotlight PA
A map showing townships present at the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors' annual conference. More than half of the state's 1,454 second-class townships sent delegates.
Thousands of local officials gathered in April in Hershey to talk shop at the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors’ annual conference. 

The assembled supervisors, managers, secretaries, and solicitors are the people who determine garbage pickup times, approve budgets, and pick polling places. They organize local festivals and schedule public pool cleanup. Unsurprisingly, they had lots to discuss.

As a local accountability reporter, this was my Super Bowl. Roaming the halls of the Hershey Lodge, I heard about the issues that second-class townships are dealing with, as well as how they’re getting creative to help their communities thrive. Here’s some of what I learned:

Staffing and retention

Kelly Kelch, manager of West Manchester Township in York County, won the association’s President’s Leadership Award this year. Kelch told me that one of his professors at York College sparked his interest in the field, which now faces retention issues.

The professor was a township supervisor and offered Kelch an unpaid internship 30 years ago in the place he now manages. “It went full circle,” he said.

To keep the circle going, Kelch said he tries to talk with high school and college students about public service careers. At a roundtable discussion, he urged fellow township managers to recruit workers from within their communities and pay attention to employees’ wellness to boost staff retention.

A roomwide groan

As township managers detailed the successes and errors they’ve experienced in their day-to-day work, they also commiserated. 

When one manager mentioned he was the fourth person to run his township in four years, the room collectively let out a low rumble of pain. 

High turnover among local government staff is a chronic issue for townships, especially those with smaller populations. Several other managers in the audience sympathized with the struggle and suggested ways to incentivize hiring and show appreciation to existing staff.

The solar farm rush

At a standing-room-only session, Tom Murphy, the association’s solar adviser, said Pennsylvania has seen an uptick in proposals to build large solar farms since 2019, many of them seeking to construct on agricultural land in townships. Local officials largely decide whether utility-scale solar farms get built and how this particular use of land is regulated.

But most townships don’t have existing ordinances for solar farms and have to make complex decisions on tight deadlines when projects are pitched. Elected leaders and township staff were keen to hear more about leasing with companies, mitigating environmental impacts, and decommissioning large amounts of solar panels. 

Remember to have fun

Mike Velardi’s ornate lanyard display was hard to miss. It included flags that said “first timer,” “trouble maker,” “my brain hurts,” and “That’s OK — I can’t remember your name either!”

The newly elected commissioner from Pocono Township in Monroe County told me his lifelong passion for volunteering led him to public office. He said he’s immersing himself in learning about zoning, code enforcement, and volunteer fire company best practices, topics that he’s taking seriously despite their overwhelming nature.

But his mind was also occupied with planning the first Pocono Olympics for residents in the township next summer. He’s thinking of including a three-legged race, or maybe a potato sack race. Providing fun activities increases residents’ quality of life. For Velardi, that outcome is what being a township official is all about. 

Min Xian, local accountability reporter
Mark your calendar for May 8-9! Spotlight PA’s State College bureau is participating in Centre Gives for the second year! Centre Gives is Centre County’s 36-hour online giving event, hosted by Centre Foundation.

We were blown away by your generosity last year, and we hope you will consider supporting our vital journalism again this year.

Help us get a head start on fundraising by posting a selfie or photo on your Facebook or Instagram and tell Centre Foundation why you support Spotlight PA! Use the hashtags #CentreGives and #IGiveWhereILive, and we’ll be entered to win the randomly selected $1,000 #IGiveWhereILive prize!

Learn how else you can spread the word by emailing Michelle Mertz at michelle@spotlightpa.org.
» Thousands of employees at federal contractors do not have whistleblower protections despite 2013 law

» Higher internet costs could be on the way for low-income Pa. residents as federal subsidies run out

» Democrat Eugene DePasquale, Republican Dave Sunday win primary elections for Pa. attorney general

» Malcolm Kenyatta wins Democratic primary for Pa. auditor general, will face Republican Tim DeFoor this fall

» Erin McClelland wins Democratic primary for Pa. treasurer, will face Republican Stacy Garrity this fall

» Latest results from the 2024 Pennsylvania primary election

» Some voters are failing to complete the year on Pa.’s newly redesigned mail ballot envelopes

» Missing voting machine documents raise concern about Pa. county’s testing processes
Buffalo on a farm in Lycoming County, via Stephen V.

Have a north-central Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
Our brand new ‘Now Brewing the Truth’ coffee/latte mugs are here! Matte black with white inside, perfect for every day use or as a gift! Proceeds from the Spotlight PA store benefit our nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. 

Please allow 1-2 weeks for shipping. Have an idea for a product you'd like to see? Send us a note at membership@spotlightpa.org

» Record: Ridgway police chief placed on administrative leave
» CDT: Centre County jail holds firm on no-contact policy

» SC: Labor Dept. cites Centre Hall plant for safety violations
» CDT: State College school district proposes tax increase
» AP: Altoona-based Sheetz hit with discrimination lawsuit
» Courier Express: Improvements planned for Kinzua Bridge skywalk
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» April 26: Penn State’s Student Farm Club, in Centre County, hosts its 10th annual plant sale with vegetables, succulents, and native plants available.

» April 27: Rhoneymeade’s Arbor Day Festival “celebrates community and nature with family-friendly activities” in Centre County.

» April 27: Outdoor maker and vintage market Pop Up Ave features dozens of vendors, live music, food, and a beer garden in downtown State College, Centre County.

» April 27: Brookville Trails Hub hosts its Celebrate Trails Day with a scavenger hunt, biking, hiking, and more in Jefferson County.

» April 27: The Arboretum at Penn State in Centre County hosts AnthroFest, an exploration of the human experience over time with interactive activities.

» April 27, 29-30 and May 1-2, 4: Support the Bellwood-Antis Public Library at its Spring Used Book Sale, in Blair County.
An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, “spotlight” also forms “stoplight.”

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We’ll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

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There were no new winners this week. Send this newsletter to your friends so they get a shot at receiving Spotlight PA State College swag! Those who answered correctly: Don H., Rena Z., and Linda M.
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