It will be months more of hard work for the members of the Sharon Home Rule Study Commission after they voted unanimously Wednesday to scrap the city’s current form of government and draft a new charter.

“Maintaining the status quo is not working for us,” said commission member Rosann Rookey.

After about seven months of research, the commission decided a new system is needed to help the city function efficiently.

“We’ve learned a lot,” said member Noel Moss.

Their next task is drafting the document that will become — if voters approve it in November 2007 or May 2008 — Sharon’s constitution.

The home rule charter option under Pennsylvania law is designed to allow local communities to bypass city codes set up by the state legislature and tailor their government structure to the area’s special needs.

“Home rule is a big deal,” said Moss. “It’s basically the rebirth of city government.”

“It boils down to flexibility,” said commission Chairman William McConnell Jr. at Wednesday’s public hearing.

The commission will consider things like the government structure and management and fiscal matters including taxation.

Commission members bandied about words like “accountability,” “transparency,” “outreach,” voter “initiative” and “recall” while talking about things they want for voters in regards to officials.

“We want you to have every benefit of citizenship,” Moss told about 40 people at the hearing.

Going to home rule would not be a cure-all for the city’s ills, the commission emphasized.

“The city’s problems run deep,” McConnell said.

And though it may not be the answer, “maybe it will help,” said commission member David George.

A misconception many in the public have about the role of home rule, Moss said, is that the charter would set tax rates.

That’s not accurate, Moss said.

“We have very little to do with taxation,” Moss said. “This isn’t where the power is.”

Though the charter can impose restrictions on taxes, decisions will still be made by elected officials, Moss said. McConnell said he thinks the city has to be careful with altering the tax structure.

McConnell said the charter also has no affect on the fire or police departments and that if the city enters Act 47, the state program for financially distressed communities, the commission’s work would likely be “running parallel” to what a recovery plan coordinator would do in the city.

There could be an issue with the transition should the charter be approved by voters, McConnell said, because elected officials have the right to serve out their terms.

McConnell stressed that the commission reports directly to citizens who will vote whether to accept the charter. The commission doesn’t need the approval of city officials to put the charter on the ballot.

Before the commission voted, Mayor Bob Lucas told them he thought they should vote to proceed with home rule, an issue that surfaced during the mayoral race in 2005.

“If you didn’t vote for it now, we wouldn’t have an opportunity to see if there’s a better way,” Lucas said.

The home rule charter is “just a piece of the puzzle,” commission member Brian Kepple said, as the fairly new council and mayor are also working on recommendations from a recent financial study that projects growing deficits and recommends cost cutting.

Change is on the horizon, and “this is really a time it could happen,” said Kepple.

Commission members urged the public to come to meetings.

“We need your input and we need your support,” Moss said.

The commission’s next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 10 in the city building.



For more information, visit www.homerule.cityofsharon.net.

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