Did you ever notice that there are a lot of municipalities in Allegheny County?
One-hundred and thirty of them.
Did you ever notice that some of there are really small.
The entirety of Heidelberg, for example, is one-third of a square mile, with just 500 or so households. That’s smaller than most housing developments in South Fayette. Yet, Heidelberg’s 1,250 residents fund a police force, a public works department, and other municipal services.
There are 37 other municipalities in Allegheny County with less than 2,000 residents. In fact, the county has more police forces than the entire state of Montana, as the Post-Gazette’s Brian O’Neill points out.
Soon, leaders in municipalities struggling to make ends meet may have a new option to provide services for residents—rapid disincorporation.
A group of state and county leaders wants to make it easier for municipalities to voluntarily turn over governance to Allegheny County, which would then provide police, EMS, public works, tax collection, and other basic services. Some entities, like municipal authorities and volunteer fire departments, would continue to operate normally.
Under current law, municipalities can disincorporate, but it’s a slow process that unfolds over years. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
If the new law is enacted, a municipality’s governing body that believes disincorporating is worthwhile — whether from financial difficulties or other concerns — could vote to put it on the ballot in a referendum. If local voters then approve it, the plan would go to county council.
Bridgeville Mayor Pat DeBlasio told the Tribune-Review that disincorporation might be a good route for some struggling communities, although it would be wildly unpopular with residents who don’t want to give up local government control nor the sense of identity that comes with it.
“Do I think this is a good idea? Yes,” he said. “Do I think anyone will do it? Only if they are bankrupt and even then they would go kicking and screaming … The key word is ‘voluntary.'”
(It’s worth noting that Bridgeville is financially sound, with low crime, and a solid public works department.)
Over in Heidelberg, reactions to disincorporation ranged from skeptical to downright suspicion. One official suggested that it’s a scheme to benefit Big Government.
“This is just an attempt for government to get bigger,” Heidelberg Council President Carrie Nolan told the Trib’s Kimberly Palmiero “Your services would be greatly impacted. You would not have police presence and emergency services as you know it.”
Nolan added that her Heidelberg is “sustainable,” and is not a candidate for disincorporation.
For a more detailed look at disincorporation check out this report from the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics.