Ex-mayor urges home rule for county

Schirf recommends asking voters to create government study commission

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A former Altoona mayor and councilman who is supportive of the city’s transition to governing under a home rule charter is recommending Blair County initiate the same kind of study.

“Look at Altoona today,” Bill Schirf told county commissioners Tuesday, referencing the city’s 2012 entry into the state’s Act 47 program for distressed municipalities and its exit five years later, along with adoption of a home rule charter revising governmental operations.

“We have a form of government that, I think, could last for decades,” Schirf said.

Schirf was on council 2006-09, then served four years as mayor 2010-13.

County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti asked fellow commissioners in October to consider a step in the same direction by voting in favor of a voter referendum, probably for the November ballot.

The referendum question would only ask voters if they favor the forming of a government study committee. It would take additional voter support to decide who serves on the study committee and if the committee’s recommendation should be approved.

Prior to making his recommendation in October, Tomassetti conducted his own research and concluded that the county has long been operating under an outdated form of government that no longer works. He linked the current governing set-up, operating under the state’s County Code, to Blair County’s financial-related issues and said they developed over time as county government became more complex.

Schirf said he reviewed Tomassetti’s research and conclusions.

“I think Mr. Tomassetti is spot on,” Schirf said holding up a copy of Tomassetti’s research ti­tled, “The Case for Home Rule in Blair County.”

“I think a home rule charter is something that this county should look at. … What you said is exactly how I feel,” the retired Altoona mayor said.

Schirf also acknowledged Commissioner Ted Beam’s stance against the pursuit of a home rule charter for the county and Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb’s desire to study and research the matter. The city voters, Schirf said, agreed to adopt a home rule charter by a much smaller margin than the more lopsided vote in favor of initiating the study.

Putting the question to voters allows them to decide if there’s going to be a study or not, Schirf said.

“If one of you doesn’t support Mr. Tomassetti’s initiative,” Schirf said, “then it would take over 2,000 voters to sign a petition to get it on the ballot.