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Trial Balloon: An Inter-Municipal Agreement

As representatives of Delta Development Group, a Pennsylvania lobbying firm, left Wednesday’s special meeting (Sept. 17, 2008) of the Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township Board of Commissioners, handshakes were exchanged all around. It was, after all, a business call. Delta pitched Lower Pottsgrove to become a client. The board is considering whether it should be one.

But earlier, when commissioners pressed Delta for specifics on how it, Limerick (PA) Township and Lower Pottsgrove might work cooperatively, the answers offered weren’t nearly as gripping as the hands being pumped in farewell.

Limerick has already signed a contract with Delta. The township east of Sanatoga is paying the Mechanicsburg PA firm to help find and bring in state and federal funding. Limerick needs money for future improvements to its roads that surround the Sanatoga interchange of U.S. Route 422. Lower Pottsgrove needs money for the same reason, which is why it interviewed Delta.

Delta’s senior vice president, Anthony Seitz, was clear Wednesday about where his company’s loyalty currently rests. “We take direction from our client (Limerick),” Seitz said at one point. “We look to do the best we can for them.”

However, Seitz also contended that “a regional approach is the strongest approach to convey the benefits” of improvements on Route 422 to members of Congress sitting on the House Transportation Committee. They decide who-gets-what from the federal highway funds Delta would be seeking.

Limerick and Lower Pottsgrove, with shared needs and mutual worries about future commercial growth at the interchange, could bolster each other’s cases, according to Mark Carmel, Delta director of government relations. “It’s a real strong argument to be making,” he claimed.

Lower Pottsgrove commissioners and their attorney, township Solicitor R. Kurtz Holloway, tried several times during the hour-long meeting to pin down just how such envisioned cooperation would work.

“It’s a little early for us to definitively answer” where Delta’s efforts for Limerick “would start and stop” if Lower Pottsgrove also were a client, Seitz told board President Bruce Foltz. When Holloway suggested the townships could sign an inter-municipal agreement to spell things out, Seitz was deferential. “There could be a joint understanding on how things would unfold. If it’s done as a cooperative venture,” Seitz said, “it should be disclosed at the beginning how things would work, and what the plans were for contingencies.”

Contingencies like which township gets how much, if any, and for what, Holloway pointed out. There likely would be “inherent conflicts working on two sides of the interchange,” the attorney said. Even given their joint needs, Holloway added, Limerick’s and Lower Pottsgrove’s “interests diverge at a point.” To which Seitz responded, “We’d advocate full disclosure, and work toward the common ground.”

Getting the townships to agree on what happens at the interchange has been tried before. It resulted in only limited success. Maybe that’s why, as Delta departed, Holloway could again be heard mentioning an “inter-municipal agreement” to Lower Pottsgrove Township Manager Rodney Hawthorne.

Such legal documents usually prove stronger than a handshake.

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