By David M. Sanko, Executive Director
Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors

You may read about them in the newspaper or see them along local roads,
plowing snow in the winter or patching potholes in the spring.

They’re your township supervisors and staff, and while you may not know
them personally, these public servants show up each and every day with
one goal in mind: to build a better community for you, your family, and
your neighbors.

As Pennsylvania celebrates Local Government Week, April 11-15, this is
the perfect opportunity for you to better understand the critical role
your township and its officials play in the commonwealth’s governing

Established to be a direct reflection and representation of the people
who live there, townships are places where residents – when they choose
to – have a voice in what happens, where every expenditure is
scrutinized, and where services provided don’t exceed what the community
needs or can afford.

In other words, townships are full-service, grassroots-driven
communities overseen by your neighbors, who are dedicated to meeting
your needs.

A system that makes sense

Since its inception, Pennsylvania has had three levels of government:
state, county, and local. This structure, which the Founding Fathers
based on a division of labor, made sense then and makes even more sense

In fact, the commonwealth’s governing system is a lot like a telescope.
Open it wide and you’ll see the state’s big-picture view. Narrow the
focus a bit and you’ve got the county’s regional perspective. Narrow the
focus even more and you’ll see what townships see: the local side of

And each of these levels of government has distinct duties and
priorities. In the early days, for instance, township supervisors
primarily oversaw the maintenance of local roads. And while this
continues to be one of their top priorities, township supervisors today
have many more responsibilities.

Jacks of all trades, township supervisors in the 21st century are
hands-on local leaders who must be well-schooled in a wide range of
complex issues, such as land use management, budgeting, transportation
planning, and environmental concerns.

And because they live and may even work in the communities they
represent, township supervisors are on call around the clock. In fact,
it’s not unusual for supervisors to field phone calls from residents
during dinner and plow roads at night and into the early hours of the

Just imagine, though, what it would be like if your township didn’t
exist and your community was managed by a larger, centralized

Under this scenario, which has been proposed in the state legislature,
you would not be able to turn to a neighbor for help. Instead, you would
have to approach a more distant group of elected leaders – some of whom
may be familiar with your community; most of whom may not – and compete
against a much larger pool of individuals to get your voice heard and
needs met.

Local democracy, as you know it, would be lost and replaced with a
bigger and more sluggish way of governing.

So as we celebrate Local Government Week, here’s something to keep 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’ve
asked for – nothing more and nothing less.

And the next time you’re out and about, take a good look around your
township and realize that all the good things you see – the parks, the
well-maintained roads, and the safe environment to raise a family – are
possible because your local leaders, your neighbors, had a vision and
turned it into a reality for you.

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