Lancaster City
is Exploring

Home Rule

Vote Yes on May 16, 2023!

Home Rule would give Lancaster City residents more local control over what happens in their own community.

What is Home Rule?

Home Rule transfers the authority to make laws from the state government to local government. Pennsylvania began allowing municipalities to adopt Home Rule charters in 1972. The PA Department of Community and Economic Development summarizes Home Rule in this way:

“The basic concept of Home Rule is relatively simple. The basic authority to act in municipal affairs is transferred from state law, as set forth by the General Assembly, to a local charter, adopted and amended by voters… Local governments without Home Rule can only act where specifically authorized by state law; Home Rule municipalities can act anywhere except where they are specifically limited by state law.” (Source:  Home Rule in Pennsylvania – PDF)

What other PA municipalities have adopted Home Rule?

26 cities, 7 counties, and 56 other municipalities have adopted Home Rule charters to give themselves more local control.

Map of Home Rule municipalities in Pennsylvania

Why is Lancaster City exploring Home Rule?

For years, Mayor Sorace and other community leaders have advocated for critical legislative changes in Harrisburg that would give cities like Lancaster better, more fair tools to raise revenues through avenues other than property taxes. To date, these advocacy efforts have not yielded any relief for Lancaster City residents who carry the highest tax burden in Lancaster County.

How will Home Rule help solve the problem?

A Home Rule charter could let Lancaster City rely less on property taxes to fund the essential services our residents expect and deserve.

On average, each year costs for services like Fire and Police, street paving, water service, etc. grow by 3-4%, but the City of Lancaster’s revenues grow only 1%. Under the existing system of government, the City of Lancaster has to rely on property taxes to close the gap. This is not sustainable for our residents.

Enter the Earned Income Tax

Unlike Property Taxes, the Earned Income Tax (EIT) is a more equitable tax. The more you earn, the more tax you pay. At the same time, the less you earn, the less you pay. Revenue from the Earned Income Tax grows naturally over time as wages increase. The Earned Income Tax is a more equitable way to generate revenue for the City of Lancaster to pay for vital services like Fire and Police protection. This is only possible if Lancaster City adopts a Home Rule charter.

A Home Rule charter could let Lancaster City use a fairer tax system to pay for essential services!

Lancaster City’s Current Revenue Sources

The City of Lancaster has relied on the same four revenue sources for decades. Three of these revenue sources were set by state law in 1965 — 58 years ago — and have barely changed since.

Real Estate (Property) Tax

The only tax that the City of Lancaster has authority to control. Has increased 9 times since 2006.

Local Services Tax

$47 per year paid only by people who work in the City. This rate is controlled by the state legislature and can only be adjusted locally by adopting a Home Rule charter, and cannot be adjusted for people who work in Lancaster City but do not live in Lancaster City.

Earned Income Tax

Paid only by people who live in Lancaster City. Currently fixed at 0.6%. This can only be adjusted by declaring municipal bankruptcy (Act 47) or adopting a Home Rule charter.

Real Estate Transfer Tax

Fixed by state law at 0.5% of sale price. Can only be adjusted locally through a Home Rule charter.

Why is the Earned Income Tax the solution?

On average, the assessed value of real estate only increases by up to 1% per year, meaning revenue remains mostly flat while the City’s expenses increase 3-4% per year.

Earned Income Tax revenue, on the other hand, increases on average 5% per year due to growing wages.

Assessed Value of Real Estate Over Time
Unless the City raises property taxes, revenue remains mostly flat.
Earned Income Tax Revenue Over Time
Earned Income Tax revenue increases on average 5% each year.

What is the Home Rule process?

  1. On May 16th (Primary Election Day) Lancaster City voters must first vote yes on establishing a Home Rule Study Commission and select nine Commissioners.
    Meet the Home Rule Study Commission Candidates
  2. The Commission completes a study on the current form of government and possible alternatives.
  3. If the Commission recommends changes, they would draft a new charter for Lancaster City.
  4. Lancaster City voters would decide whether to adopt the new charter in the November 5, 2024 General Election.

What is the purpose of the
Home Rule Study Commission?

The Home Rule Study Commission examines our current form of government, learns about potential changes, then makes recommendations to the community about whether a Home Rule charter is right for Lancaster.

“Commissioners are charged with the task of comprehensively reviewing, studying and analyzing the very governmental structure for their own community. But it is not just a study, because the commission’s recommendations are promptly placed before the voters for a decision.” (Home Rule in Pennsylvania – PDF)

Meet the Home Rule Study Commission Candidates

Community Support for Home Rule

“The Lancaster Chamber supports the establishment of a Home Rule Study Commission because we have long held the belief that giving cities and municipalities the tools they need for sustainability without overburdening residents and sacrificing services is essential for the long-term health and safety of the community. Studying solutions that allow the city to address the structural deficit and encourage responsible stewardship of local finances is critical to ensuring we having a thriving community for all.”

“The Lancaster City Alliance supports the establishment of a Home Rule Study Commission that will study any and all solutions that address the structural deficit and urge voters to vote “yes” to the following question on the May 16, 2023 primary ballot and to select nine residents of Lancaster City to serve on the commission.

The Lancaster City Alliance supports the efforts to provide Lancaster City with tools to address their structural deficit before they are forced to reach Act 47 status. This is essential to limit, if not reduce, the burden on City residents, property owners and negatively affect the economic and community growth of Lancaster.

With that said, we urge the Commission to study multiple options and make recommendations with City residents and property owners, as well as, the business community and their employees in mind; particularly as the Commission analyzes the long-term impact of home rule on City stakeholders.”

Home Rule Success Story

The City of Pittston (Luzerne County) adopted a Home Rule charter in 2012. Since then, Pittston has had tremendous success with shifting from relying on property taxes for revenue to the Earned Income Tax. Revenue from the Earned Income Tax has allowed Pittston to not only maintain but expand services to its residents, and the City has not raised property taxes since the Home Rule charter was adopted.

“We’re in the best financial shape we’ve ever been in. It’s not my opinion; it’s fact. Without home rule, we would have achieved none of this.”

Michael Lombardo
Mayor of Pittston