Lancaster City residents on Tuesday voted in favor of commissioning a government study to consider a home rule charter in the city, according to unofficial election results posted by Lancaster County.
The proposed referendum question on the ballot said: “Home Rule Study: Shall a government study commission of nine members be elected to study the existing form of government of the municipality to consider the advisability of the adoption of a home rule charter and, if advisable, to draft and recommend a home rule charter?”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the unofficial results listed 3,593 votes in favor and 1,017 against.
Since 1972, when Home Rule charters were introduced, over twenty Pennsylvania cites have adopted Home Rule, a change which transfers the authority to make laws from the state government to local government.
Home Rule allows local governments far greater freedom, especially the ability to force citizens to pay more taxes to local government. According to the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, “Local governments without Home Rule can only act where specifically authorized by state law; Home Rule municipalities can act anywhere except where they are specifically limited by state law.”
A Lancaster City government website set up to encourage residents to vote for the Home Rule study referendum contains the following sub-heading: “Voting Yes on Home Rule would give Lancaster City residents more local control over what happens in their own community.”
In a May 14 column published by LNP, Lancaster City Mayor Danene Sorace urged residents to vote yes on the study, noting that yearly property taxes are not sufficient to fund the city government. (The proposed 2023 city budget estimated over $30 million in property taxes.)
“The city budget increased an average of 2.5% each year over the last eight years,” Sorace said in the column. “Property tax revenue, our main revenue source, cannot keep up — on average, increasing less than 1% yearly. So, either property tax rates must go up, or the city must make cuts to services to balance the budget.”
Last year, Sorace proposed an 8% property tax hike.
In her column, Sorace did not discuss any city services that could be cut to prevent increasing taxation, and instead focused on Home Rule as an option to increase city “revenues” by raising the tax rates on citiy residents.
“Through home rule, the city could raise revenue by modifying other existing tax rates rather than over-relying on one source — property taxes,” she said. “Other taxes include earned income taxes, local services taxes and real estate transfer taxes.”
Under Home Rule, a municipality could theoretically be unlimited in the tax rate the city council could implement, a reality Sorace alluded to in her column, but brushed off. “While a lot can change through home rule,” she said. “I am suggesting slight changes to keep our city running effectively and sustainably.”
If the commission proposes a charter, another referendum would be put before city voters next year to approve or reject Home Rule.