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Approach to managing communities varies

July 21, 2018

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE ON SATURDAY, JULY 21, 2018 AND THEREAFTER In this Tuesday, July 10, 2018 photo, Tarentum Borough Manager Michael Nestico talks with Council President Erika Josefoski before the start of a council agenda meeting in Tarentum, Pa. "In Tarentum, Nestico not only manages our borough as a whole, but he also manages two utility companies, our water plant and distribution and electrical distribution companies. His legal background is a tremendous asset as well," Josefoski said. (Brian C. Rittmeyer/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review via AP)

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Businesses have them. So do school districts.

Whatever they’re called — superintendents, chief executive officers or presidents — they’re managers.

Local governments need them too, but most of Pennsylvania’s 2,560 municipalities operate without them, according to Rick Schuettler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League.

Many of the municipalities are so small that it would be hard to justify or cover the expense of paying a manager. Schuettler estimated there’s a need for managers in about 400 of the state’s municipalities that he described as “full-service,” with police, public works and other departments to run.

“You need someone in charge. You want it to be professionally managed,” Schuettler said. “Every citizen wants to look at their municipal building with some level of confidence.”

Government leaders across the region have differing takes on how to best run their communities, and often their approaches evolve as their communities change.

Tom Madigan, an elected supervisor in Marshall for 20 years, can’t imagine how his township of nearly 9,000 people could run without a manager.

“Our manager manages the day-to-day business operations of the township. As supervisors we’re not in a position to do that. We all have other professions,” Madigan said.

“We set policy. We’re a legislative body. We make the laws,” Madigan said of the township’s board of supervisors. “The township manager basically executes them. He sees that they’re carried out.”

But in Westmoreland County, Derry Township Supervisor Vince DeCario doesn’t see the need. He’s one of three supervisors in the township of about 14,000 people.

“As of now, we get the work done. We get grants. We have a secretary here and a clerk who take care of the phone calls and the meeting minutes and things like that,” DeCario said. “We do a lot of the work ourselves, the supervisors, that a manager would have done. It’s working fine.”

In the Alle-Kiski Valley, the elected leaders of two townships — Harrison and Kiski — have decided their municipalities need managers.

In Tarentum, which is home to about 4,400 people, some eyebrows were raised when the borough’s recently hired manager, Michael Nestico, was given a sizeable bump in pay after only a short time on the job.

Tarentum hired Nestico this year at a starting salary of $65,000. While he was up for a 3 percent raise at the end of June, council was pleased enough with his performance to give him a 26 percent raise, to $82,000.

Council President Erika Josefoski said council members looked around the area to see what other managers or administrators were being paid and found salaries approaching $100,000 in several communities, including Lower Burrell ($90,000), Greensburg ($81,400) and New Kensington ($94,000).

Other factors contributed to the pay raise.

“In Tarentum, Nestico not only manages our borough as a whole, but he also manages two utility companies, our water plant and distribution and electrical distribution companies. His legal background is a tremendous asset as well,” Josefoski said. Nestico is a lawyer.

And with nearly a dozen municipalities in the region currently seeking managers, Josefoski said Tarentum was trying to prevent Nestico from being lured away by a bigger payday.

“We’re pleased with the decision we made to hire him and recognize his talents and sincere desire to propel Tarentum forward,” Josefoski said.

Neighboring Harrison is one of the communities looking for a manager as it anticipates the retirement of its long-time executive secretary, Faith Payne. The township hired a recruiter to help it find one, possibly by October.

Across Pennsylvania, it’s not unusual to find municipal secretaries acting as managers, just without the title, Schuettler said.

Harrison Commissioner Chuck Dizard said the complexity of running the township of just more than 10,000 people has reached a point where a manager is needed so commissioners don’t have to get into the details of daily operations.

Schuettler said part-time elected officials shouldn’t be expected to manage their municipalities.

“If you’re a full-service community, the demands of that are pretty significant. If we want good people to run for office, we don’t want to ask them to do too much,” Schuettler said. “Day-to-day management isn’t their job.”

Kiski Township has never had a manager, but supervisors Chairman Jack Wilmot said the township is growing so much that it needs one now because the secretary is overloaded with work.

“We’re just getting so big that we’re almost to the point we have to get (a manager) to control everything. There’s too much going on,” said Wilmot, who has been in office more than three decades.

Wilmot said the township hopes to hire a manager by the end of the year. He doesn’t know how much the job will pay, but said a property tax increase might be needed to cover it.

Wilmot thinks a manager could save Kiski Township money in the long run by doing things such as securing grants to cover costs that otherwise would be paid for with township funds. The township might even be able to cut back its supervisors from five to three, he said.

Salaries for managers vary widely, based in part on qualifications and experience, said Ed Knittel, a former municipal manager who oversees education and training at the state boroughs association.

Knittel said pay ranges from $35,000 to $140,000 in Allegheny County. Across the state, the highest salary he’s seen is in the upper $100,000s, but he doesn’t know of any managers making $200,000 or more.

“It’s really up to each community and what they are comfortable with,” he said.

Neil McFadden had a starting salary of $24,000 when he became Marshall ’s first manager 32 years ago. He’s retiring this year at $118,000.

His successor, Julie Bastianini, starts in late August at $90,000.

Marshall brought on a manager when it changed from a sleepy rural bedroom community to a developing township with commercial growth, McFadden said.

“The position has grown. The respect for the position has grown, and the compensation has grown with it,” McFadden said.

Municipalities can’t afford to not have a manager, McFadden said. He equated the job to running a large business. Marshall operates on a $7.5 million budget.

“If you looked at private industry as to what a manager is being paid for running a multimillion dollar business, we’re certainly not overpaid,” McFadden said.

“The more enlightened governmental entities run their operations more and more like a business, and we must,” he said. “There are very intricate insurance concerns and liability concerns and materials management and personnel management. Those all have to be handled in a professional manner. Using a business model on the administration side makes perfect sense.”

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Information from: Tribune-Review, http://triblive.com

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