Howard J. Grossman, AICP
Is the Pocono-Northeast united as a true constant for the benefit of all our citizens?
Some would argue that with so may local governments, with so many nonprofits providing needed services and with a history of independence, there is little to call attention to regionalism and working together. Yet, this may not be true as more and more steps are being taken to gather a collective spirit for many different types of functions, whether they be economic development, emergency services, regional marketing, family service or other purposes.
United efforts should become even more crucial in coming years as it becomes financially beneficial to join together and not only save some monies but provide more efficient services. The interesting process is that in other counties of the Commonwealth, newer ways have been found to stand united. This includes the Center County Council of Governments where police services and other service-related activities have proven to be effective for up to eight local governments.
A regional asset district in Allegheny County has proven beneficial for libraries, public works and cultural and art entities through a special one percent sales tax that was approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor close to 20 years ago, yet has not been adopted in any other geographic area of the Commonwealth. It should be considered in the Pocono-Northeast and would add value to the overall quality of life of this region. It was studied in this region about two decades ago, but never enacted. While there are police regions in this part of the state, there should be many more found to be effective as a way to enhance police services and actually add dollars for such protection in law enforcement activities. At the very least, the opportunity exists to evaluate how various councils of government in this region can define their role through delivering services through that mechanism.
Regionalism is a tool that deserves more focus and study in coming years throughout the region and can be a way to expand services without necessarily adding taxes, especially in small communities that have difficulty adding new independent services, but could utilize a council of governments for that purpose. Even in places such as the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, a shared taxation system has been used for many years. And while this may not be adaptable to this region, it at least should be examined as a new tool for meeting the financial conditions.
The system has been used in some other regions of the nation as well. Regional governance means that a support structure can be recast, using more than one government, whether it be county or municipality, and there are organizations with much experience in this region who can assist such as the Pennsylvania Economy League and the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development. These entities are recognized specialists in providing specialized service and research capability.
Among the activities that could be established would be an updated regional plan, dealing with land use, environment, social services and other needs. Such a plan was created in the 1970s, following Tropical Storm Agnes, by the then Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania (EDCNP), now called NEPA Alliance, and that event was used for close to 10 years as a guide to review and comment on all federal projects proposed inside this region. EDCNP was careful in seeking ways to meet the needs of the review and comment system, and if this approach is ever recast, it could easily find ways to accomplish this goal in coming years through the work of the NEPA Alliance.
In still other situations, such as a social index of regional conditions, a regional plan could be established that would help all social service agencies and be an advocate for such enhancement across the entire region. In some respects, such an approach was suggested by then Lieutenant Governor William Scranton many years ago, and could be re-examined as a tool for advancement of this process.
None of this is to suggest that all local governments should be removed and regionalism substituted in the commonwealth, but it does mean that a review of actions that may be important for the next decade would be helpful and beneficial. There are ideas which could be implemented in the region such as the following:
■ Inventory the extent to which regionalism exists and point out examples of where it has proven effective in this region.
■ Create a regional task force on steps that can be considered across the region and use the entities previously mentioned as well as many colleges and universities and others to focus attention on this topic.
■ Bring in specialists from other jurisdictions who can discuss their situation and provide ideas for consideration inside this region.
■ Conduct a specific research study on ways to advance regionalism in the region and develop electronic and print media events that can highlight this approach.
■ Create more councils of government where needed and empower their activities dealing with a united process for meeting programmatic need. Begin a system that identifies the need for a regional system.
■ Expand and further support regional marketing as a means to advance economic development through the Penns Northeast process.
■ Create where appropriate, such actions a regional sports commission to further this function as has been done in perhaps 70-80 other places across the nation. This region should examine ideas such as this for other purposes as well.
■ Initiate mergers and expansions where needed to cause new approaches to happen as a means to cause regionalism to be considered in a programmatic way throughout this region.
These and many other steps can help generate a quality of life that benefits this and future generations in coming years.