Lancaster County Home Rule Charter Vote

Here is some information I have compiled on the Lancaster County home rule ballot measure (per a request from a Lancaster County Resident).

Currently six counties in Pennsylvania have home rule (Philadelphia, Allegheny, Erie, Lackawanna, Northampton, and Lehigh) The proposed home rule charter in Lancaster County would increase the number of county commissioners to five, instead of the current three; replace the position of a county administrator with an appointed executive; consolidate the Register of Wills, Clerk of Courts and Prothonotary into one office; and eliminate two part-time jury commissioners. The major debate over the issue seems to be what would be the effect on county taxes and spending.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of research and evidence of the effect of home rule or county government structure on spending. Some years ago, as a graduate student, I did a paper on county government reform. My conclusion was inconclusive: counties with home rules/”reformed” structures had higher expenditures, but much of this was explained by the fact that home rule charters were larger and spent more to begin with – and hence became, or were allowed to become, home rule, as a result of their size.

That conclusion is mirrored in papers by David Latzko of Penn State University on Home Rule and the Size of County Government in Pennsylvania (2005; updated in 2008). From the 2005 abstract:

This paper finds that taxes are not significantly higher or lower in counties which have adopted a home rule charter. Non-tax revenues in the form of state and federal grants are higher in home rule counties. As a result, county expenditures are also positively related to home rule status.

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