Centre Region municipal managers issued a rare rebuke in reaction to a proposed plan to up the amount of funding their local governments contribute to a longstanding regional government organization.
The Centre Region Council of Governments is governed by the elected officials from six municipalities — College, Ferguson, Halfmoon, Harris, and Patton townships and State College borough — who work together to provide shared services to their residents.
Organizations funded by the COG include the Schlow Centre Region Library, Centre Region Parks and Recreation, and Alpha Fire Company, among others.
But the 2023 Centre Region Council of Governments operating budget released in mid-September proposed “significant” increases to municipalities’ contributions, the Centre Region’s five municipal managers wrote in a Sept. 26 memo.
The memo, sent “in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” to the COG Finance Committee detailed their concerns with the proposed budget and the overall budgeting process.
The municipalities’ total contributions haven’t increased more than 5% in the past five years, according to the memo. But the proposed budget called for a 16.86% total increase in funding provided by the municipalities.
Set formulas determine how much each municipality pays for specific services.
“These increases are proposed at a time when we are grappling with double-digit inflation, escalating oil prices, and supply chain issues that are driving up our costs and straining our own budgets. We are also still in the throes of recovering from a pandemic that saw a significant loss of revenue for all of us,” the managers wrote in the memo.
Under that proposed budget, College, Ferguson, Harris, and Patton townships, and State College borough, the managers noted, would have to raise taxes to cover their increased COG share, and that was before factoring in the needs of their own municipal budgets.
Richard Francke, COG Finance Committee chair and College Township Council chair, told Spotlight PA that the managers’ memo was “unprecedented.”
“That's a consensus opinion of the Centre Region managers; that doesn't happen a lot,” he said. “I personally appreciated that they came forward that way.”
Based on the managers’ concerns, the COG staff reworked the budget to call for a total increase in municipal support of 6.78%. They had been given a target of no more than 8% by the finance committee, which State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine told Spotlight PA would be a more manageable lift.
Going forward, the managers hope to see the COG move to a revenue-driven model, prioritize funding public safety needs — like preparing for a fire service with more paid employees as volunteerism declines statewide — and shift its budget process earlier in the year so that there’s more time between when the COG budget is finalized and when the municipalities pass their own budgets.
“We’re having some growing pains right now,” Amy Farkas, Harris Township manager, told Spotlight PA.
—Sarah Rafacz, State College Editor