Home rule decision could bring better future

By opting for home rule, the Altoona Government Study Commission “poured the footer” on Monday for what has the potential to be a better financial future for the Mountain City.

The next step is to make the important decisions regarding how home rule might most effectively benefit Altoona for many years hence.

Actually, this step is more important than the task just completed. If the commission is not bold enough in selecting the “nuts and bolts” of the new home rule government to recommend, the city will not fully capitalize on the potential benefits and efficiencies made possible by Monday’s vote.

The commission must choose a form of government that would operate best in “tomorrow’s” Altoona. Based on the commission’s meetings, it appears that the study group will opt for a strong-mayor government, as some former mayors have recommended.

Beyond that, the commission is tasked with drawing up a charter detailing the operations of the new government and how that system will be funded.

The commission should heed one of the major recommendations voiced by Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski on Monday prior to the study group’s home rule vote – that the commission not make Altoona’s new charter too restrictive.

Altoona residents should pay attention to the charter-preparation process ahead and not be reluctant to voice opinions because city voters will be saying yes or no to a proposed charter, probably next November.

Commission Chairman Wayne Hippo, a former Altoona mayor, was right in urging an “aggressive” charter-preparation schedule to have adequate time to educate voters about the proposed charter’s provisions prior to the November 2014 election.

Besides writing the charter, the commission must present that document at a public hearing, after which the commission must have time to make final adjustments, based at least in part on comments presented at the hearing.

From the commission’s standpoint, putting the proposed charter before the voters in time for next November’s election is imperative. Missing that date would require commission members to lobby for the charter’s approval after having disbanded.

Hippo was correct in observing that that would weaken commission members’ efforts to urge approval.

A new governmental structure is viewed as the mechanism by which Altoona can exit state Act 47 fiscally distressed status. While a godsend in one sense, Act 47 doesn’t enhance the city’s efforts to put forth a strong image.

Nevertheless, a new charter – even the best charter possible – can’t guarantee fiscal prosperity. The success of home rule will depend on the right people being elected to implement the charter’s provisions.

The commission has “poured the footer.” Now the “construction” must begin in earnest.