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Chester County Press

After input from the public, supervisors leave open space tax at same level

11/17/2020 12:24PM ● By Steven Hoffman

When the East Nottingham Township Board of Supervisors met on Nov. 10, one of the items on the agenda was an ordinance to change the open space tax rate as the supervisors were slated to consider lowering the tax rate on earned income from the current one -quarter of one percent (.0025) to one-tenth of one percent (.0010) for 2021.

But even before the supervisors could formally consider a proposed reduction in the open space tax rate, a number of residents in attendance made it clear that they favored keeping the tax rate where it is so that the funds are there when the right open-space opportunity comes along.

Several of the residents who spoke during the public comment session referenced a referendum five years ago in which East Nottingham residents voted to continue funding an open space program through a dedicated tax. Specifically, revenues collected by the township from this tax would be used for financing of open space acquisition, acquiring agricultural conservation easements, and acquiring recreation or historic lands.

Joe Herlihy, the chairman of the East Nottingham Township Board of Supervisors, said that the reason he wanted to consider reducing the open space tax is because the township has not preserved any open space this year and has now accumulated nearly $2 million in its open space fund, and there are a diminishing number of parcels in the township that can be preserved as open space.  

While there was general agreement that, at some point in the future, the township will reach a place where a dedicated tax for open space won’t be needed any longer because of the finite number of open space options, numerous residents said that the township hasn’t reached that point yet.

Shelley Meadowcroft, a resident who previously served on the township’s board of supervisors, said that $2 million is not an excessive amount of money when it comes to planning for open space preservation. She also pointed out that if the township were to reduce the open space tax now, it could delay moving forward on an opportunity to preserve a property in a year or two. The township could also find itself in a position of needing to issue a bond to preserve a particular property if the tax was lowered and the open space fund was diminished, Meadowcroft said, and that would cost taxpayers money.

She said that it isn’t an issue to have reserves set aside for open space preservation.

“The residents know what it’s in there for,” she said.

Township resident Joe Scheese said that it’s much better to protect agricultural lands than to risk over-development. There are 456 homes that are currently in various stages of the land-development process. Should all those homes be built, it would have a big potential impact on the school district—and taxpayers.

Scheese said that he reached out to the Oxford Area School District and found out that the average per-pupil cost to educate a child is currently about $17,000 annually. If a family with one child moves into one of the new homes, the cost to educate the child is about $17,000, and the family will pay—on average—a little more than $4,000 in property taxes. The rest of the taxpayers in the school district will shoulder the burden of the additional costs. Multiply those costs for each potential new home, and the impact to school taxes would be great.

Scheese said that it would be much preferable to have corn grown on farmland rather than to have the land developed for houses that will increase the enrollment in schools.

After listening to the points raised by some of the residents, the supervisors decided not to vote on the issue.

When it came time to act on the agenda item, Herlihy announced that, “We’re not going to be voting on this,” and said that it would be best to reevaluate where the township is in a year to consider if a reduction in the open-space tax makes sense. He also suggested that the township get an assessment about the township’s open-space program. The Board of Supervisors could consider approving that assessment at the December meeting.