Montour County may be the smallest county in Pennsylvania, but it has considerable clout. Anchored by Geisinger Health System, which serves 2.6 million people in 44 counties, the county is one of the epicenters for rural medicine in the country, and has regularly been cited by President Barack Obama as a healthcare success.
Even with that sort of building block, Montour has issues it must deal with. For that reason, commissioners Jack Gerst, Jerry Ward and chairman Trevor Finn are looking into merging several county-wide services with Columbia County. Among these are prisons and 911 services.
Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the state's Department of Economic Development, the two counties will only contribute $6,500 each toward a five-year study to look at the feasibility of the move. At that price, it would be nonsensical to not look into it.
The potential jointure makes sense in a lot of ways. The two have a significant history; Montour County broke away from Columbia more than 160 years ago. Also, the counties already share many services already, including the same judicial district, chamber of commerce and visitors' bureau.
Those ties will be included in the scope of the study, which will look at services the counties can share.
"We have a chance to make history in Columbia and Montour counties," said Finn, Montour's senior commissioner.
It is a lesson others could adopt, not only in terms of potential future mergers, but in terms of achievement through cooperation.
The reality is we live in a rural part of the nation where duplicate services can be found within miles of one another. It is difficult to argue with the convenience of having these services available locally. Financially, however, it makes more sense to regionalize some of these resources under fewer umbrellas the way Columbia and Montour counties are approaching this study.
Regional cooperation can be a rational adaptation to mandates from Harrisburg and Washington that arrive with more expectations than funding. Unfortunately, long-standing rhythms can be difficult to shake.
At some point, unity is undeniably the best option. "Columbia and Montour counties have worked very hard to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money, but we have reached the end of the road," said Finn. "We need to look at something different — regionalization."
Sounds like a smart step in the right direction.