In Re: Petition to Submit Ballot Question to Concord Township Voters; Appeal of: Concord First and Colette Brown
Submitted September 8, 2014
Francis J. Catania, Solicitor, Media, for appellee The Delaware County Bureau/Board of Elections.
BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge.
BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge
On July 28, 2014, Appellants, Colette Brown, and a citizens group named Concord First, filed a petition with the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County requesting that the ballot question " Should Concord Township become a Township of the First Class?" be placed on the November 2014 ballot. The petition contained 994 signatures out of 11,640 registered voters, approximately 8.5% of the registered electors. The petition asserted that the 2010 Census showed that Concord Township encompassed 13.7 square miles and had a population of 17,231 inhabitants, which equals approximately 1,258 inhabitants per square mile.
Appellees, who are various qualified electors, filed objections to the petition asserting that the petition was procedurally and substantively defective. The Delaware County Bureau of Elections filed a petition to intervene and a request for declaratory relief. The Bureau asserted that Appellants had not complied with the relevant statutory sections, a home rule study commission referendum question is already on the ballot and that, if Appellants' question is successful, the reorganization of the township government may result in a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
After holding a hearing, common pleas issued an order denying the petition. In an opinion in support of its order, common pleas concluded that the petition was not timely filed under the requirements of Section 207 of the First Class Township Code of 1949 (Code), Act of June 24, 1931, P.L. 1206, as amended, 53 P.S. § 55207. This appeal followed.
Appellants filed their petition pursuant to Section 207 of the Code, which provides:
At the first general or municipal election occurring, at least ninety days after the ascertainment, by special enrollment or from the last preceding United States census, that any township of the second class has a population of at least three hundred inhabitants to the square mile, and after a petition signed by at least five per centum of the registered voters of the township has been filed in the quarter sessions court, the question whether such township of the second class shall become a township of the first class shall be submitted to the voters of the township, and the county board of elections shall cause to be printed on separate ballots, to be used in such township at such election, a proper question framed in accordance with the Pennsylvania Election Code.
53 P.S. § 55207. A township of the first class has a population density of at least 300 inhabitants per square mile. Section
201 of the Code, 53 P.S. § 55201. A second class township may become a first class township only as provided by the Code. Id.
Appellants dispute common pleas' conclusion that the petition was not timely filed because the first general election occurring at least 90 days after ascertainment of the Township's population density by the 2010 United States census was in calendar year 2012, and the first municipal election occurring at least 90 days after the ascertainment of the population by census occurred in calendar year 2013. (It is undisputed that the procedures for ascertainment by special enrollment were never undertaken.) Appellants argue that the phrase " first ... election occurring at least ninety days after" applies to the completion of both prerequisites, ascertainment of the population density by census and the filing of a ...