Centre County’s proposed contractor ordinance gains interest from state officials, candidates

Eugene DePasquale, candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney General, spoke in support of Centre County’s proposed Responsible Contractor Ordinance Thursday alongside state Rep. Paul Takac and State College Borough Council candidate Evan Myers.

DePasquale was previously Pennsylvania’s Auditor General and just last week announced his candidacy for Attorney General. As Auditor General, he said he was tough, fair and independent. When it comes to those three things, he said it’s important to back local governments and communities who are trying to address a problem.

“Worker safety, fair wages, misclassification of workers, are all important issues, not just here in Centre County, but all over Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said. “If items like this, like the Responsible Contractor Ordinance are put in place … my job as your attorney general will be not only to have the back of local governments that pass these ordinances, but more broadly, to look out for the issue of workplace safety, making sure workers get a fair wage, making sure people get the benefits they deserve, and making sure the taxpayers get the investment that they deserve.”

The proposed RCO has been controversial among the county board of commissioners and some in the community. But Takac, D-College Township, said he’s spoken with many people who have served as elected officials in various levels of government, business officials and lawyers, and he’s heard positive impacts and benefits of RCOs.

A primary criticism that Takac said he’s heard about RCOs is that they are fiscally irresponsible and harm taxpayers, increase costs and restrict opportunities by reducing the number of potential bidders.

“What I’m hearing, however, is exactly the opposite. Their experience is that RCOs lead to fewer change orders and cost overruns, fewer delays and higher quality work, all of which end up saving money. And higher quality work also reduces maintenance costs and extends use life, again, leading to long term savings,” Takac said. “Time and again, they mentioned that setting reasonable minimum benchmarks have allowed them to weed out poor or even unscrupulous contractors.”

County code requires the board to award public works contracts to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder. But because there is limited guidance on what “responsible” means, the county is looking at creating its own Responsible Contractor Ordinance with those guidelines and requirements. Takac faulted previous legislatures that never defined “responsible” in that context. This ordinance —which has not yet been approved by commissioners — would decide and define what would be responsible for Centre County, he said.

Rep. Paul Takac speaks in support of Centre County’s proposed responsible contracting ordinance during a press conference on Thursday, June 8, 2023 outside of the State College Borough Building.

Evan Myers, a candidate for State College Borough Council, shared a story of his father, who in 1939 while working in a textile factory in Philadelphia, lost a finger and twisted his arm in a large machine due to unsafe working conditions. His father’s story isn’t unique, Myers said, as “far too many” workers are injured or die on the job. But with cooperation between workers and businesses, those dangerous conditions can be minimized or eliminated, he said.

Myers questioned why anyone would oppose the RCO, when they should be championing such worker safety measures.

“Everyone needs to get behind it, whether it’s in Centre County as a whole or in our municipalities like here in State College,” Myers said. “It makes good business sense, too. It increases the skills of workers and gets them ready to work on the infrastructure of the future, helping them attain higher levels of skills and boosting local economies. And it also comes down to basic human decency. Are we going to step forward and protect the people of our community?”

Barring a successful write-in campaign during November’s Municipal Election, Myers and three other Democratic candidates will become the new State College Borough Council members. Myers said he’s already talked with other council candidates and members about an RCO for the Borough, and if elected to the council in November, he said it’s something they’ll look at.


The two Democrat commissioners who support the ordinance, Mark Higgins and Amber Concepcion, were not at the press conference. A vocal opponent of the ordinance, Republican Commissioner Steve Dershem, was in attendance, as well as Republican commissioner candidate Marie Librizzi. In an interview, Dershem questioned why people at the state government level are interested in the county government.

He fears the current advertised ordinance will eliminate the vast majority of Centre County laborers or contractors from participating in county work.

“This is about the exclusivity of some groups of laborers and construction folks,” Dershem said. “I want a fair, level field for everybody. I want to get the sharpest pencils out there. I want to make sure that we have the best deals, I want to make sure we get the best product at the end. And we have construction managers and bonds that make sure that occurs.”

Jim Willshier, director of government affairs for the Keystone Chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors, was also at the press conference and said a big reason they’re opposed to the ordinance is because there’s been a lack of clarity and transparency on a number of issues, including the workforce requirement and lack of definitions in the ordinance. ABC has an apprenticeship program, he said, but the 70% workforce threshold is unattainable.

“Beyond that, then moving forward in the life of a construction project, we have not heard what the mechanism will be to make sure that that threshold is never below. There’ll be an attestation at the time they submit the bid, but a year later, two years later, how are they going to know that? Checking the box and getting it notarized is not a very strong method to make sure that that’s met,” Willshier said.

What’s next?

The Centre County board of commissioners last month voted 2-1 to advertise its proposed ordinance, which would require the county government to accept the lowest responsible bidder in any capital construction project over $250,000, with stronger guidance on what “responsible” means. The proposed ordinance would, among many things, require the county to use contractors with at least 70% of the craft labor workforce employed on the project be either a journeyperson, workers who have completed an apprenticeship training program, or registered apprentices enrolled in such programs.

The Centre County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed RCO at 10 a.m. June 27 in room 146 of the Willowbank Building, 420 Holmes St., Bellefonte. The board will vote on the ordinance after the public hearing.

Eugene DePasquale, who is a candidate for Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and previously the Auditor General, shares his support for Centre County’s proposed responsible contracting ordinance during a press conference on Thursday, June 8, 2023 outside of the State College Borough Building.