Return to the SNPJ
A mayor, an office and a pool, but no
official population at the Borough of SNPJ
by Joe Mandak, Associated Press
ENON VALLEY, Pa. — Knock, knock. Who’s there? Nobody at all.
According to the folks who live in [the Borough of] SNPJ, one of [Pennsylvania’s] tiniest municipalities, that’s what happened when a census worker came to call last year. She was supposed to come back but never did.
So the 2000 Census has SNPJ’s population as zip, nada — the big zero.
“They kind of lost us in the shuffle, I guess,” said Susan Krispinsky, borough secretary.
Actually, SNPJ has 14 legal residents — 12 adults and two children — which is one more than the population of 13 recorded in the 1990 Census. But Krispinsky said nobody’s really upset with the oversight because, well, this isn’t your typical borough.
Formed in 1978, the 500-acre municipality 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh is named for the group that owns the land: Slovenska Narodna Podporna Jednota, or the Slovene National Benefit Society.
SNPJ seceded from North Beaver Township in Lawrence County, figuring it might be the easiest way to control any development of its property — and get its own liquor license, Krispinsky said.
The borough, which is really more of a recreation area, has 60 rental cabins, 115 mobile home slots, a man-made lake and is open to the public as a summertime resort and facility for bingo, weddings and dances. It also plays host to two festivals — Slovenefest in July and Octoberfest in September.
Society members, who join by purchasing the group’s life insurance, get discounted rates and other incentives at the recreation area. Most don’t actually live in SNPJ, however.
Jeff Wisneski, a borough councilman and maintenance director of the recreation center, his wife and two children are the only residents who live at SNPJ year-round. The other handful of residents are of a less-traditional type, like borough Councilwoman Judy Moses, who put her SNPJ mobile home address on her voter registration card two years ago.
“They needed voters and asked me if I would change my residency,” said Moses, who also is the recreation area’s secretary. “I have a home in New Castle (about 10 miles away), but I also have a trailer here, and being that I’m here most of the time, that’s why I did it.”
Borough officials serve for free and earn every penny of it. The borough has no ordinances and levies no taxes. Under the secession agreement, SNPJ residents still pay their taxes to North Beaver Township.
The borough has a mayor and three council members only because SNPJ needs them — and a handful of voters — to remain a borough. Office holders run unopposed write-in campaigns because that’s easier than gathering 10 registered voters to sign the petitions needed to get on official ballots.
The state’s borough code was amended in 1992 to prohibit such arrangements by requiring boroughs to have at least 500 residents, said Shelly Houk, director of research for the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.
But SNPJ is grandfathered in and will remain a borough as long as they continue to hold elections and keep a roster of voters, however small.
“I’ve never seen anybody go in and say ‘shut down a borough.’ It’s not possible,” Houk said.
Phil Lutz, assistant regional manager of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Philadelphia office, said the borough’s zero population is likely the result of a “misallocation.”
“Even though somebody may be legally registered [as living] in SNPJ, we may have counted them in Florida or wherever if that’s where they spent most of the year,” Lutz said.
The fact that a census worker did visit the borough means the information is in the bureau’s database. The bureau is still investigating, and Lutz said the borough can contact it to rectify the oversight.