By David Sanko
Pennsylvania Local Government Week is April 6-10, and we can think of no better time to recognize our townships, which are on the front lines of making sure life goes on as smoothly and safely as possible in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the COVID-19 emergency continues throughout the nation and the commonwealth, township officials are the “boots on the ground” in helping their residents stay safe during this crisis.
Townships have a public safety responsibility to govern their communities, ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their residents, and continue providing essential services, such as police, fire, emergency medical services, passable roads, water, sewer, and trash collection. Local governments remain functional and “on the job” to ensure that critical services continue to be provided to residents. Our member townships have stepped up to the plate during this challenging time to maintain the level of services their residents have come to expect.
Townships are the level of government closest to the people, and for this reason, are best positioned to adapt solutions customized for each community during the pandemic. While the federal and state governments have their roles to play, the local level is the foundation of support for these two higher levels.
Township officials know their community best. Their neighbors trust them to have their best interests at heart because they are part of the same community. All of this works because of township supervisors’ commitment to serving their community and their common-sense approach to solving problems.
To help our members with their COVID-19 response and operations, PSATS has been sharing information every day with them, including guidance from the commonwealth to assist in the enforcement of the orders that Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Rachel Levine have issued requiring all non-life-sustaining businesses to close and for all residents to “stay in” to prevent the spread of this virus.
The governor’s declaration defines that municipalities retain the authority to make decisions as to which of their operations are essential or non-essential. As directed, municipal decisions need to “appropriately balance public safety while ensuring the continued delivery of critical infrastructure services and functions.”
To help its member townships with the many decisions they are facing in terms of public service, PSATS has been holding weekly web-based “town halls” on the COVID-19 pandemic. Close to 1,000 township officials from across the state have participated to seek guidance and answers to a whole host of COVID-19-related township issues.
Townships have been looking to PSATS, their member service association, to keep them informed during the pandemic and offer advice on how to conduct public meetings, keep their employees and residents safe, protect their first responders, plan for an outbreak in their community, and find reliable information on COVID-19. They want to do things right, and they care about how to best serve their constituents.
Townships in the commonwealth have provided critical services to their residents for four centuries and will continue to do so in the face of this pandemic without fail. Residents can count on their local governments as a source of information, calm, and continuity. As local leaders, township supervisors can reassure their residents that basic public services will continue.
As we celebrate Local Government Week, keep this in mind: Township government isn’t just another layer of government; it’s the critical layer, the foundation. It’s the one that represents you and your family, lives within its budget, and provides the services you have paid your taxes for, even in the face of a pandemic. So as we thank our health care workers, first responders, truck drivers, and grocery store clerks, don’t forget to share your thanks with your local township officials, who keep roads open and water flowing and help maintain quality of life and general community safety. They will appreciate a kind word, especially in times like these.
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors represents Pennsylvania’s 1,454 townships of the second class and is committed to preserving and strengthening township government and securing greater visibility and involvement for townships in the state and federal political arenas. Townships of the second class cover 95 percent of Pennsylvania’s land mass and represent more residents — 5.5 million — than any other type of political subdivision in the commonwealth.