Scudder Stevens socked with lawsuit by Kennett Township resident
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Kennett Township Solicitor David Sander announced at the township’s Board of Supervisors Nov. 6 meeting that board chairman Scudder Stevens was recently named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed against him by a township resident, who is claiming that Stevens does not have the authority to charge a real estate tax against him.
The Berkheimer Tax Collection Agency, the township's tax collector, has also been named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The plaintiff, Sander said, is proceeding without legal counsel. Sander did not disclose the name of the plaintiff, but said that his “legal” name contains several exotic symbols. He said that he is not aware of the punitive damages the plaintiff is seeking.
By a 3-0 vote, the board approved the hiring of Sander and the Norristown-based law firm of Kilkenny Law, where Sander is employed, as the legal representative for Stevens.
In addition to his services for Kennett Township, Sander serves as legal counsel for Newtown Township (Bucks County), Borough of Millbourne, the Chester City Zoning Hearing Board, the Cheltenham Township Zoning Hearing Board, and the Plymouth Township Zoning Hearing Board.
Referring to the context of the lawsuit, Sander said, “This is some interestingly-worded pleadings, something you don’t see every day, and I am learning a lot about the law that I never knew existed.”
Sander said that when the township received the lawsuit, it was referred to the township’s insurance company, which denied coverage to the township “because there is exception for individual supervisors potentially acting outside the scope of their authority,” he said. “I see this as a suit that is against Scudder as a member of the Board of Supervisors.”
Supervisor Dr. Richard Leff asked Sander if this case would qualify as a frivolous lawsuit, and if so, would Sander be able to recover any expenses.
“The plaintiff is proceeding pro se, and it has been my experience that the courts are reluctant to impose attorney fees or punitive damages against pro se parties who at least present some kind of colorable, legal cause of action,” Sander said, “and if the court views this as somewhat of a legitimate challenge to Scudder’s and Berkheimer’s ability to levy real estate tax, then chances are they will not [refund expenses].”
Leff asked Sander about the potential ramifications to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania if, in fact, the plaintiff wins the case.
“Probably widespread panic,” Sander replied, “but I don’t think that will happen, considering that the plaintiff has not challenged the [authority] of the remainder of the board and the township to levy these taxes.”
Berkheimer has hired its own legal counsel.
“Ultimately, if there is a hearing, we’ll have us and Berkheimer there, and we’ll be fighting the same fight,” Sander said.
In other township business, township manager Eden Ratliff proposed that the township hold two public meetings to discuss the township’s 2020 budget over the next few weeks, in addition to a budget discussion at the next board meeting on Nov. 20. He said that the meetings would provide more attention on the township’s capital fund, general fund, open space fund and sewer fund.
“I fully expect that the board is going to have questions and recommendations, and I suspect that the community will have the same,” Ratliff said. “We need time to research [those questions and recommendations] and have time to formulate a response.”
“From my perspective, if that’s what we need to do, then that’s what I’m prepared to do,” Stevens said. “I hope that the rest of the community will share in that process, because it is important that they be a part of this process.”
Ratliff said that the public will be informed of the dates and times of these meetings via the township’s website, social media, and by email. The first meeting will be held on Nov. 13.
Ratliff was recently accompanied by township grant coordinator Michael Guttman on a visit to Harrisburg to pursue a $2 million multi-modal fund grant (MTF) through the Commonwealth Finance Authority. If approved, the grant will be applied to the improvement of the Five Points intersection in the township; specifically, the creation of a roundabout that will ease the flow of traffic. Ratliff met with Delta, the township’s grant writing firm, as well as with Sen. Tom Killion and Rep. Steve Barrar, regarding the application, which Ratliff said is likely to be decided on in the next few weeks.
“We explained the importance of this project and its enhancement to our transportation needs in the township,” Ratliff said.
Later in the meeting, the board authorized Ratliff to submit a second grant application for the Five Points project – a grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for $2 million. Submitting two grant requests provides a better insurance for the township; for instance, should the Commonwealth Finance Authority grant allocation fall short of the desired $2 million request, the township will apply the PennDOT grant allocation to help pay for the project.
The entire cost of the intersection will be approximately $2.9 million, of which 30 percent will be paid for by the township.
Discussion about how to improve the troublesome intersection began as far back as 2009, and in the pecking order of township plans, the Five Points intersection has been consistently at, or near, the top of its to-do list. The thorn in the side of this project has always been determining how it will be funded, and by whom.
“One of the points that Michael [Guttman] and I made to our elected officials was that the total cost of this project is more than our annual budget for our police department,” Ratliff said. “We can’t do this by ourselves. It’s possible that PennDOT will come in and fix the intersection and do it by themselves, and they don’t want to fix it by themselves, so they should help us do this.
“They asked us, ‘What if you don’t get the grants?’ I said, ‘We’re not going to do it. We don’t have $2.9 million to go and complete this project, but it’s really important, and that’s why we’re here for a second year, and why we will be here next year, because that’s how important this is.’”
Ratliff also said that the much-needed repair to the Rosedale Road sewer line, estimated at $500,000, will be discussed at the board’s Nov. 20 meeting, at which bid proposals for the improvement project will be considered. Stevens called the project a high priority for the township.
Ratliff said that the community will be invited to an upcoming presentation about the history of the historic Isaac Allen House, that he said will be part of a community discussion to determine the future of the home.
“The question is, how much is this township committed to preserving museum pieces?” Stevens said. “Is the township committed to preserving structures of consequence? These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking. I want to toss the question to the community to begin thinking about, because at some point, we’re going to have to make a decision about how we’re going to continue to invest money on old structures, and if so, to what extent and why.”
After a public hearing that included a presentation by township planner Tom Comitta, the board passed an amended ordinance related to the township’s Transfer of Development Rights.
Ratliff said that beginning on Aug. 2020, the bridge at Route 82 and Kaolin Road will be closed for repairs, and will be closed for the next seven months.
Ratliff also informed the audience that the annual Holiday Village Market will be held at the Kennett Creamery from Dec. 7-10, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.