Weights and Measures is a county department that makes sure you're really getting a gallon of gas and that a pound of balogna is not just baloney. It even tests the parking meters to make sure you get an hour when you pay for an hour. Northampton is one of just 13 counties with its own Weights and Measures Department. Elsewhere, including Lehigh county, that function is now performed by the state Department of Agriculture thanks to a change in state law that allows counties to opt out ofproviding this service to consumers and businesses.
"I do not think we need this service, this cost, this additional government in Northampton County," said Hayden Phillips, arguing instead for "less governmental oversight" when he was on Council two years ago.
There are only 37 inspectors statewide. Lehigh County gets a half inspector from the state. Northampton County's Sealer, John Keppel, has told Council that the state simply lacks the manpower "to do the in-depth testing that we do. Once you're two blocks off Main Street, for the most part, they don't know you exist."
Keppel went on to say that the state is so strapped for manpower that it actually certifies sellers and installers of scales, pumps and timing devices in use in many stores.
"That's like me coming into your store and saying, 'This scale or timing device is not any good. I'll sell you a new one.' It's like having the fox in the henhouse."Two years ago, Ken Kraft delivered a withering criticism of abdicating this department to the state in the name of less government.
"[Y]ou're going to put your faith in the state when they can't even pass a budget for 15 months and they can't do anything like fix their own bridges and their own roads. That's a foolish road to go down." He later added, "As long as I'm here, there will be a Department of Weights and Measures."
Last night, a wary Keppel was before County Council again, but let Administrator Charles Dertinger and Executive Lamont McClure do most of the talking.
"We're protecting consumers," McClure said. Administrator Charles Dertinger told Council that the state would like Northampton County to take over inspections in Lehigh County. To do inspections in Lehigh County, Dertinger said there would need to be a memorandum of understanding with both Lehigh County and the state. He said the state wants counties that still provide this service to expand into adjoining counties because its own manpower is stretched too thin.
Keppel's two-man department will soon be a three-man department, with a weights vehicle and a measuring vehicle. He said he already has made forays into Lehigh County to check the scales at some PIAA wrestling matches.
As Weights and Measures explains on the county website,
We belong to a unique group of professional regulatory officials that perform a valuable community service through out the country. In some states over 50% of an average family's income is spent on items sold by weight, measure or count. The program provides a set of weights and measures standards to which industry adheres to and consumers can count on. What would consumers do if this system did not exist? Bring their own measuring devices to make certain that they got their fair share for each purchase? It is not something each of us considers, but applying uniform weights and measures standards to commercial transactions is one of the most important supports to a strong national economy.