Let voters decide on home rule

A voter-approved study is the right way to ascertain whether adoption of a home rule charter might be good for Blair County government and the county as a whole.

Even if a study were conducted, there would be no certainty that home rule would be implemented. After the study, the county’s voters would decide that question at the ballot box, based on the study’s findings and recommendations — and based on specifics revealed during public information sessions.

An elected commission would perform the study.

But first things first: Voters would have to decide whether to give the proverbial green light to the governmental-based exercise, and the soonest for a study to be possible would seem to be sometime after November’s election.

A quick, unanimous vote by the Blair County commissioners conceivably could refer the question about initiating the study to the May primary elections, but Commissioner Ted Beam already has stated his opposition to the proposal, and Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb hasn’t expressed excitement about the idea, either.

Without a unanimous “yes” by the commissioners, getting the study question on election ballots this year — or whenever — would require collecting and verifying about 2,200 voter signatures, according to Erb.

Accomplishing that in time for this spring’s primary ballots would seem to be impossible.

Commissioner Terry Tomassetti suggested pursuit of home rule at a meeting in October. Since then, former Altoona Mayor William Schirf, believing that home rule has benefited the city significantly, has expressed hope that the county will follow the city’s lead.

If approved by the voters, the home rule study presumably would be conducted in a way similar to how Altoona’s was conducted; numerous work sessions would be held before recommendations were compiled and a report drawn up.

Upon the study’s completion, home rule’s fate would be in the voters’ hands entirely.

This editorial’s purpose is not to state a position about whether or not a study would be a good idea. Its purpose is simply to advise county residents to be watchful about what’s happening on the home rule front in the weeks ahead.

Since voters might eventually be asked to make decisions at the ballot box, having knowledge about what’s being proposed and what’s at stake makes sense — from the beginning.

Additional general discussion is necessary in the weeks and, presumably, months ahead. Specific viewpoints need to be collected about the county’s needs.

Likewise, opinions need to be collected regarding whether home rule might or might not be able to address those needs.

Some discussion already is underway, as evidenced by home rule having been a topic this month at a meeting of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club.

Home rule might not be right for the county. However, refusing to consider it carries risk of passing up what could be a great opportunity.

It’s right that the voters have the final say on such an important issue.

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