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County class change possible, but would not bring drastic changes

The decennial Census brings with it all kinds of changes.

Pennsylvania will lose a seat in Congress. State and federal funding streams will be adjusted that impact schools, roads, and a host of other programs.

One change, though, brought about by recent changes in state law might not carry any real weight — the county’s class designation. According to the state court website, the General Assembly back in 1953 created nine classes “for the purpose of legislating and regulating county affairs.” The largest are the first and second class while the smallest are the sixth, seventh and eighth.

Warren County is currently a sixth class county but, based on population, hasn’t met the 45,000 to 89,999 threshold for some time.

“The 2010 and 2020 census would bump Warren County to a seventh class,” Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said. “The reason it didn’t happen in 2010 is that there has to be two consecutive decennial censuses indicating the change.”

But as a result of a bill signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Tom Wolf, that decision could be delayed further.

That legislation, according to a release from the governor’s office, “delays any census-based county class changes, upholding their current status, until the 2030 census.”

The extension “gives county commissioners the ability to enact an ordinance or resolution for change of classification by Feb. 22, 2022,” per that statement. “After the 2030 census, the standard procedure for increasing or decreasing county classifications will go back into effect, considering both the 2020 and 2030 census information.”

So the county set classes by population. By population, Warren County’s should change. Legislation is aimed to pause that.

Does any of this matter? Not really.

“I believe we could still opt to be sixth class for a period of time anyway,” Kafferlin said. “There’s very little significant difference I am aware of.”

He said during Monday’s work session that he’s proposing the appointment of a small ad hoc group to evaluate what the move could bring.

Even though the change isn’t likely to be impactful, he said the county “should make an informed decision” by that February deadline.

He speculated that the change might allow the county to consolidate a position and could impact the county budget by changing how the county compares its wage structures. Currently, the county benchmarks its wages for positions against other sixth class counties – Kafferlin said some of those are three times the size of Warren.

He said the county will “do a cost-benefit to better understand the impact of becoming a seventh class county.

“We will research it over the coming months in advance of the February deadline,” he added.

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