McLeod: Open space program important to East Nottingham’s future
● By Steven Hoffman
Shelley McLeod didn’t decide to seek a seat on the East Nottingham Township Board of Supervisors because of concerns about the future of the township’s open space program, but now, with the general election just a few weeks away, she finds herself talking to her neighbors in East Nottingham about that the open space program more than she talks about her own campaign.
“I’ve been concentrating on the open space program,” she explained in an interview last week.
McLeod earned both the Democratic and Republican nomination during the Primary, which puts her in a strong position for the upcoming election. On Nov. 3, she is one of three candidates, along with Democrat Gary Coates and Republican Joseph Herlihy, who will be vying for two seats on the Board of Supervisors. But East Nottingham voters will also be deciding the fate of the township’s open space program as a result of a 3-2 decision by the Board of Supervisors to put a referendum on the ballot.
“It’s going to be an interesting fall in East Nottingham Township,” McLeod said. “We had some supervisors who haven’t supported the open space program. It is disappointing that this was made a political issue.”
The referendum will ask voters, “Do you favor the continued imposition of the earned income tax in the amount of one-half of one percent by East Nottingham Township to be used for financing of open space acquisition, acquiring agricultural conservation easements, and acquiring recreation or historic lands?
For McLeod, the answer to that question is a firm “yes.” She said that her primary objective is simply to educate residents about the issue before they go into the voting booth.
“A lot of people didn’t even know that it was on the ballot,” McLeod explained. “We’ve had the program for so long. Taxpayers are being put in a position to either slightly increase the Earned Income Tax (EIT) now, or increase our school taxes buy much more in the next few years.”
If voters reject the open space program, an unintended but likely consequence will be a significant increase in residential development.
According to McLeod, if the open-space tax is voted down, it will be like rolling out the red carpet for developers. There are already 506 houses on the books to be built in East Nottingham, and that’s with the open space program in place. Without the opportunity to preserve farmland, there could be many more parcels sold off to housing developers. That will result in additional students being placed in schools, at a minimum cost of $9,000 per student per year. Taxpayers in the Oxford Area School District will shoulder the burden of the tax increases that will be necessary.
“It’s about farm preservation, but it’s also a fiscal issue. Residents in the rest of the Oxford Area School District will be affected because it will increase school taxes for the entire school district,” McLeod explained, adding that the increase in students could necessitate a new school and costly additions to the current buildings—at the cost of tens of millions of dollars to the school district.
As the election approaches, McLeod said that she is still concerned that misinformation is being spread regarding the amount of acreage that could potentially be preserved in the township. There are rumors that there no more acreage that would be eligible to be preserved. McLeod said that there are approximately 2,000 acres from parcels that are 20 or more acres each. Which means that a lot of agricultural land could be lost to development if the open space tax is eliminated. Without careful and intelligent planning, East Nottingham could experience another period of unchecked residential growth. McLeod is concerned that retired residents, in particular, will be hit hard by the ever-rising property taxes that would result, as well as the impact that this residential growth would have on the area.
“I grew up in Oxford Borough,” she explained. “I loved growing up here in the rural community that Oxford was.”
Public service has always been important to McLeod. She grew up watching her parents, Jim and Mary, give their time to numerous organizations and non-profits in the Oxford area, and they instilled a strong sense of service to the community in her. She also appreciates the importance of good government.
After graduating from Oxford Area High School, McLeod earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. Joseph’s University. She started her career working in politics when she was a political field staffer for Pennsylvanians for Effective Government, serving as part of the daily operations team for two of Pennsylvania’s most highly targeted State Representative races that year. After graduating from college, she went to work for the Republican Committee of Chester County as the member services director. A few months later, McLeod was hired as the Committee’s executive director, a position that she held for almost four years. Shen then went to work as a communications consultant for Pathfinder Communications, which later became Red Maverick Media. In this role, she developed winning campaign and communication strategies for candidates and campaigns across the country. In 2014, she became the senior communications and marketing professional with the Delaware State Education Association, which is her present job. She is also a graduate of the Anne Anstine Excellence in Public Service Series, which has a mission of increasing the number and influence of Republican women in government, politics, and community leadership.
With her education and background, it might seem to be a natural next step for McLeod to enter local politics. But she maintains that she was reluctant at first to run for supervisor. She was talking to East Nottingham supervisor Gene Turns last year, and he was talking about some of the issues facing the township. He encouraged her to join him on the ballot, and she ultimately decided that she would run for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. Turns passed away in April.
“It was a huge loss to the township,” she explained.
Although she has experience in the political realm, or perhaps because of that experience, McLeod doesn’t view serving as township supervisor as a political position.
“These are community positions to me, not political positions,” she explained.