Civil Discourse Between Agnes Irwin School Supporters and Easttown Residents . . . Township Supervisors Listen and the Vote Goes in Favor of the Community Voice

Civil Discourse is the formal exchange of reasoned views as to which of several alternative courses of action should be taken to solve a societal problem. It is intended to involve all citizens in the making of the decision, persuade others (through valid information and logic), and clarify what course of action would be most effective in solving the societal problem.

Last night the auditorium of Beaumont Elementary School was standing room only for Easttown Township’s special meeting . . . by my calculations, 250 Easttown residents and Agnes Irwin School (AIS) supporters packed in to the room.  After brief remarks from the township supervisors, there was a 20-minute overview of the revised Agnes Irwin School’s proposed playing field plans for the Hawkins Farm.  Agnes Irwin head of school, Dr. Mary  Seppala  spoke about the school and the students, followed by AIS attorney Ross Weiss who explained the contents of the revised playing field plans.  Mr. Weiss presented AIS’s new proposed plan; attempting to answer many of the previous concerns of the Hawkins Farm neighbors and other Easttown residents. 

A cornerstone of the new proposal was a ‘give-back’ of 58 acres (of the 108 acres) to Easttown.  Other new plan components included the creation of $500K fund for the township, whose yearly interest was intended for maintenance of the 58 acres;  complete public use of playing fields and tennis courts and a walking trail throughout the property with exercise stations.  Mr. Weiss patiently promoted the merits of this new plan and his hope that the supervisors would allow the plan to move to the planning commission.

The supervisors asked Mr. Weiss several general questions and then opened the discussion to the residents for their comments, questions and remarks.  The next two hours of this special meeting were remarkable.  One after another of the residents spoke with passion and conviction on the proposed playing fields,  Although the majority who spoke were in opposition of the proposed playing fields, there was a minority of Easttown residents who spoke in favor of the proposed plans; many of these supporters with daughters at  AIS. The residents frequently clarified their remarks, explaining that the issue was not about AIS.  Rather the issue was about changing zoning ordinances to allow a multi-sports complex construction in a residential district.  Their concerns remained unchanged as from previous meetings – traffic, safety issues, noise, associated expenses to the township and the potential lowering of property values.

Following the resident’s comments, the supervisors agreed to make a decision on proposed playing field plans.  The supervisors had three choices; (1) to remain silent and do nothing; (2) vote against AIS proposed plan or (3) vote to move the AIS proposal on to township Planning Commission and Chester County Planning Commission.  The supervisors asked for a 5-minute break to deliberate and then with a few remarks, once again in a unanimous vote, made the decision to vote against the proposed plan.  In their remarks, several supervisors cited receiving 328 emails and letters from residents and all but 10 were opposing the proposed plan.

Although I was pleased for the many residents who had passionately fought against the playing fields, I received an unexpected bonus from attending this lengthy meeting.  I left the meeting with a sense that both sides had presented their cases with civility and respect for the other side and that I had witnessed local government at its best.

Thomas Jefferson and the other founders of the American Republic, considered political discourse to be the heart of democracy. Jefferson noted, “Differences of opinion lead to inquiry, and inquiry to truth.” According to Webster’s dictionary, the concept discourse has two major meanings: (a) formal communication of thoughts about a serious subject through words (spoken or written) and (b) rationality or the ability to reason.

Civil discourse is our ability to have conversation about topics about which we disagree, and our ability to listen to each others’ perspectives. Political discourse is a method of decision-making in a democracy; last night’s special meeting represented local government and civil discourse at its best!  I applaud the Agnes Irwin School supporters and the Easttown residents for their thoughtful civil discourse, but above all, Easttown Township’s elected officials receive a standing ovation from my vantage point! 

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52 Comments

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  1. So now does it go to court? In other words, witll agnes irwin sue to have it overturned?

    [Reply]

    Parent in PA Reply:

    Let’s not forget the longer term issues for Easttown — which has essentially ONLY transfer tax up to now as their source of income. It’s all well and good for them to turn this down — and I think it’s the right decision, but Easttown continues to provide no fields to the community mix beyond those at their only park and the ones on school district land — yet all local teams are blends of Easttown residents along with Tredyffrin. Had they okayed this deal, they would have had 58 acres of open space in perpetuity.

    So it’s good news that they turned down this buyer — but at some point someone will demand to sell the land (at Bryn Mawr College) and someone with deep and determined pockets will be the buyer…and Easttown might need the money…

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  2. Refreshing to hear that opposing sides remained civil and that the process was open and the comments thoughtful and free of politics.

    The Hawkins properrty is a gem in a part of the county where few pieces of land that large and well-located will ever become available for preservation or development.. And whatever development takes place there needs to be in keeping with the community’s vision and Mrs. Hawkins’ wiishes.

    This represents an opportunity for Easttown to increase its taxable base without disregarding the intent of Mrs. Hawkins’ generous gift. I think there are many options to be explored. Easttown should take its time and decide carefully. It looks like residents will play a major role in reaching consensus.

    If only that were the modus operandi in Tredyffrin…

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  3. “Easttown is an example of how government should run.” Is it their 12%! tax increase in 2010 or their measly $393,000 12/31/09 general fund balance that you find exemplary, John? Plus, the 2010 budget discussion revealed that it would be very difficult to issue bonds at reasonable rates because they have allowed their fund balance to dwindle so badly. It’s the old story, they can’t borrow money when they need it, only when they don’t need it. How about 2009 when they took $150,000 from another fund for salaries so they would only have to raise taxes about 4%, rather than 6% originally proposed? I don’t know the people personally and I’m sure they are well-intentioned and do many good things, but please don’t hold Easttown up as “an example of how government should run.’

    [Reply]

    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    John:

    They raised taxes 12% this year because they did not have adequate reserves and had no other choice. They had to cut salaries 20% across the board. They started a citizens budget group late in ’09, after Tredyffrin’s suggestions had already been implemented, saving millions. “They had hard decisions to make” largely due to poor execution and planning – they had almost no reserves to draw! Easttown has a fund balance of less than 10% of their annual spending – Tredyffrin’s is about 60%. In other words, Easttown’s like a family with $100,000/year budget and $10k in the bank – no room for error. Any rational person can see that Tredyffrin is in much stronger financial condition, is better run financially, and its Aaa bond rating bears that out.

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    Mt. Pleasant Supporter Reply:

    So a citizens budget group is an original thought? Give me a break.

    [Reply]

  4. “If only that were the modus operandi in Tredyffrin”… it takes two to tang, dancin’ kate. I like the vitriol. Makes me harken to the days of the founding of our country and they seemed to figure it out…Is it Koom ba ya?

    [Reply]

    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    Mt. Pleasant Supporter:

    I would suggest that you re-read my post. Nowhere did I suggest that a citizens budget group is an original thought. However, Tredyffrin saw the financial challenge, formed its group in early 2009 and implemented many of the recommended changes in the 2nd half of 2009, saving $1 million++ before others (Easttown, Radnor) had even formed their citizens budget committees – these Townships lost the opportunity to implement changes, and thus save money, in 2009. These facts are inarguable.

    [Reply]

    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    John:

    If you can look at Easttown’s financial situation, dangerously low reserves and an emergency 12 % tax increase, and not see the mistakes, then frankly, I can’t help you.

    So the BAWG was your original idea – ok, Al Gore.

    I’m not carrying water for anyone. I don’t know L,O or K. They have made mistakes – the St. Davids matter, some of their handling of the Fire Department fundraising, and Mr. Lamina’s demeanor as chair, in particular. I do not agree with everything they do, by any means. However, give credit where it is due. I’ve looked at the financial facts – the income statement, the balance sheet, the bond ratings – that’s what I do professionally. Tredyffrin is in a very solid financial position.

    John, it’s gotten to the point where your undisguised hatred for these folks, your personal attacks, and refusal to admit that they have ever done anything right, diminish your credibility to a point where anything you say about LOK is marginalized.

    [Reply]

    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    Why would one question them? It’s tough to improve on a balanced budget and Aaa bond rating.

    [Reply]

  5. Mr. Petersen, was there a similar situation in Tredyffrin where property usage was at issue where the Tred BOS “sold out ” the community? Please don’t refer to St. Davids.. that is not similar and we have been over that alot… thanks Chet

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  6. Patty,

    I must say I am confused with your position on Civil Discourse. You seem to profess it, but your blog has statements such as:

    — begin quotes —
    Ed is a clueless idiot

    I’m not sure which has less intelligence…Warren Kampf or the voter that casts a ballot for him.

    Based on the St. David’s vote alone, you know that Kampf and a member of his team (again, EJ) are not too bright.
    — end quotes —

    I don’t know who Ed Sweeney is and I did not vote for Warren Kampf. But these kinds of posts do not support Civil Discourse.

    [Reply]

    Chet Reply:

    well at least no one is beating up people with baseball bats

    [Reply]

  7. I should add that these are not statements that you (Patty) made, but are posted on your site with no notes or statements from you, the moderator.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    TBO –
    Thank you for your comments. Having never attended a Easttown BOS meeting until last night — it was a remarkable experience. Last night’s meeting represented what local government can (and should) be. For nearly 3 hours, supervisors, residents and Irwin supporters discussed, asked questions and voiced concerns on various issues surrounding the Hawkins Farm development project — but always with the upmost respect for each other’s views, even if they differed from their own. Witnessing democracy at work through civil discourse — amazing! Do I wish that others would engage in debate and discussion with civility and respect? Yes.

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  8. Easttown and Tredyffrin have a totally different tax base and I think the budget discussion is way OT to this issue.

    I was at the meeting Tuesday night. I was pleased to see how many people were there on a hot non-a/c’d room to express their opinion.

    I, personally, don’t know if this will remain as civil if AIS comes back with a new proposal. After months of this, it may disingrate. I hope that they get the message that the community doesn’t want its zoning changed, but I don’t know if they understand the depth of opposition.

    [Reply]

    Easttown resident Reply:

    John, the problem is that no one understands all the facts about EIT. There are *many* Easttown residents that pay EIT…. elsewhere. How many ? What percentage ?

    Why should they be subsidizing another Township when that money could come back to “home” Township without any financial penalty to the taxpayer ?

    The million dollar question is how many people is that ? It is 20% ? 50% ? or 70%? And where is the breakpoint for what makes sense ?

    All questions not easily answered in black and white.

    [Reply]

    Libby Brinton Reply:

    Have to agree with Easttown Resident. An EIT in both townships would be of great benefit to them. All that EIT money going to townships outside ours is wasteful & just raises our taxes. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…I would have been more than willing to pay an EIT to Tredyffrin while I was working and not have it go to an outside township.

    By the way folks, we are NOT talking about a PIT (personal income tax here) which would be a severe burden on our senior citizens & unemployed.

    [Reply]

  9. Pattye – I heard from a friend in Berwyn that these residents have started a website to help air the issues and fight this. Have you heard about it and if so can you post the address? Also we cross posted you here:

    http://www.saveardmorecoalition.org/node/4723

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Carla —

    The website is Protect Easttown: Working to Keep Easttown Residential, http://www.protecteasttown.org/

    Thanks to you and Save Ardmore Coalition!

    [Reply]

  10. John:

    You knew you could not revisit the EIT discussion, without me weighing in some actual facts. You say:

    “And..when you get to the point that you are in the last 5% of municipalities that are not charging it, you are in effect, subsidizing other township.” You know this is not accurate.

    From my post on 3/17/10:
    “According to the EIT presentation in Easttown Township in October, 90% of municipalities in Chester Co., 31% in Delaware Co., and 94% in Montgomery Co. have an EIT – the arithmetic mean is about 72%.
    That said, it is of very limited value to look at countywide numbers – how many of our residents work in London Grove or Yeadon or Perkasie? More importantly, look at neighboring communities, where our residents primarily work. Besides Tredyffrin and Easttown,
    Radnor, Lower Merion, Upper Merion, Marple, Newtown, Haverford, Edgmont and others DO NOT have an EIT. ”

    Further, “According to the figures the Township presented in November of 2009, there is a total of $7.0 million of potential revenue from Tredyffrin residents – $2.7mm of EIT is currently paid to other jurisdictions, therefore the remaining $4.3mm would be paid by Tredyffrin residents who do not currently pay EIT where they work. So, about 61% of the Tredyffrin residents earnings are NOT currently subject to an EIT because they work in Tredyffrin, Easttown, Radnor…”

    I’m not sure if your misrepresentation of the known facts is an honest mistake, a conscious choice to lie, or a reflection of your “core intelligence, or lack thereof”.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    Figures lie and liars figure — so I appreciate Mike pointing out that while we could recapture $2.7M….we would also add tax of $4.3M from people who do not currently pay it —
    So “how does that harm the taxpayer” is a humbling question for people paying the EIT — but considering those folks would be in the significant minority of tax paying, it is not an easy answer.

    [Reply]

  11. The problem with this entire issue is that the community does not have access to the raw data. You can’t get the information from Berkheimer as a citizen because according to what they told me when I called them, only a Township official or appointed representative (i.e. Tom Coleman; BAWG) has access to the data.

    Meaning that the only way we are to know who does and doesn’t currently pay an EIT to other townships can only be accessed by the Township. I think Ms. Gleason breezed over these values in her presentation last year.

    Whatever your opinion of the EIT good or bad, you have to admit that without access to the real data by the community, we won’t be able to make an unbiased opinion on the issue.

    [Reply]

    Style Observer Reply:

    Now you are the moron — and I want you to take your medication. You make the concept of civil discourse beyond consideration. This post is on the topic of EIT and you switch (impulse control problems) to the first class postage on a TESD report card. Some 46 cents on 2000 pieces of mail is wasteful to be sure — but not relevant and so incredibly off topic.

    You told the TESD about it and they didn’t listen 3 years ago? Did you tell them you are the financial genius behind any good idea (BAWG, EIT)…

    Patty — you let John advertise his blog here — why don’t you insist that he pollute his own. “The Real Culprit” of any issues on this blog is him — and allowing him to continue to antagonize under the guise of debate may help your “traffic” but is not bringing credibility to the talk here.

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  12. The imposition of the EIT/NPT on both residents and non-residents creates a universe of possible taxpayers of a Tredyffrin Township-imposed EIT/NPT, which may be divided into categories of persons who:
    1. Live and work in the Township (Township entitled to EIT/NPT proceeds);
    2. Live in the Township, but work in Philadelphia (as provided in the Sterling Act, Philadelphia has first claim on non-resident EIT/NPT);
    3. Live in the Township, but work out of state (Township entitled to EIT/NPT proceeds up to amount of Tredyffrin EIT/NPT, but with some prospect for credits against Township for EIT/NPT as to liabilities to other states, depending on particular circumstances);
    4. Live in the Township, but work in a jurisdiction which either does not impose an EIT/NPT, or which does not impose it on non-residents (Township entitled to EIT/NPT proceeds);
    5. Live in the Township, but work in a jurisdiction which imposes an EIT/NPT on non-residents (Township entitled to EIT/NPT proceeds up to amount of Tredyffrin EIT/NPT);
    6. Live in a jurisdiction which imposes an EIT/NPT and work in the Township (Township entitled to retain EIT/NPT to the extent it exceeds EIT/NPT of worker’s municipality of residence); and
    7. Live in a jurisdiction which does not impose an EIT/NPT and work in the Township (Township entitled to EIT/NPT proceeds).

    If either the township or BAWG created this data set (or the school district), an information request can produce it. I have always assumed the township was waiting for the school district to do it — and then the township will step in and take theirs….
    So I would suggest that you ask each entity for information, and ask Berkheimer if they have prepared the info for either entity — and if yes, request it from the entity.

    The unknown, of course, is how much income would be taken by the Sterling priority, and how many people who worked here live elsewhere (if we were to tax non=-residents — which I would hope we would do if we are going to tax residents who aren’t paying it already)

    [Reply]

  13. Earned Income Tax needs to be discussed (and understood) by members of this township. Instead of people burying their heads with a ‘no EIT’ – ‘no way’ kind of thinking, we need to bring the discussion out in the open. Residents should challenge elected official to public discourse re EIT in a full and open environment — why is this so difficult for people to understand?

    [Reply]

  14. While 4 GOP seats are up in 2011, for one or two to go to the Dems is a longshot – the odds of them winning all four are Powerball-like.

    “An EIT will happen” We may revisit the EIT discussion, but remember the vote was 88% AGAINST in 2007. Not gonna happen – and I know, 2010 is not 2007.

    John, were you overserved at a holiday picnic?

    [Reply]

    Anonymous Reply:

    Choices are not always easy when it comes to budget financing — in lieu of EIT discussion, how do you propose that BOS handle the township budget. I don’t see how more cuts (such as fire funding) is possible. Please provide us with your corrective measures to fund the budget.

    [Reply]

  15. An income based tax was the subject of a tax study commission and at least two large public hearings at VFMS in 2006-07 – I attended both. There was NO public sentiment for such a tax at those hearings, as reported on the TTDems website. The passion against an EIT was strong across the board, including among retirees, who might be expected to benefit. In Easttown, they had a public hearing to consider an EIT last October – again, there was widespread opposition and instead they implemented a 12%! real estate tax increase for 2010.

    Tredyffrin real estate taxes have increased at less than 2% annually over the past 10 years. People don’t see the utility of $4 million+ in new taxes on themselves and their neighbors. As John P. said last week, “Taxes are the mother’s milk of big government”. In my opinion, an EIT is DOA.

    BTW, the fireworks were great – thank you, Shire.

    [Reply]

    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    While the tax study commission may have been “politically flawed”, how come not a single person stood up at two large public hearings, in support of an income-based tax? In my opinion, if a Supervisor candidate wants to commit political suicide, he/she should say, “I support an EIT” or even “I think we should look at an EIT”.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    I guess that suggesting that EIT should be discussed in an open, public forum as a possible revenue source . . . was ‘political suicide’ on my part, according to you Mike. I believe people need all the facts and information before making a decision. With the EIT discussion, I decided to go find a post I made back in December and take the discussion to the front page.

    [Reply]

  16. I’ll weigh in here now that it appears we are back on topic. Maybe we can all be more patient with each other — lots of preaching happening here and while some call it debate, it is more like oratory…

    Anyway — I have to agree with Mike. You may think there will be a revisint of the EIT, but given the general mentality of our ruling class, “NO NEW TAXES” is likely to be the standard we all bear. And that’s not only because of the 157th election. Fact is our millage rates are too low for the services we expect — including school taxes imho — and with the bond ratings we have, the township will pretend to keep spending down ( like the TESD) and will borrow some money to fund one-time non-recurring expenses (that’s how the TESD will ultimately deal with PSERS == but will pretend they aren’t using bond money for that by equating it to “reserve” funds).

    And that’s not so bad anyway. It’s a bit like taking out a HELOC to pay off a huge tax bill….

    But there is not much political will or interest in either group (BOS or TESD) to take the first leap. The school board may do it (especially if they cut a deal with the township) because their elections seem to be so under the radar by comparison. But not with Lamina or Olsen doing the talking — too much bad blood there relating to the Wilson Park fights. Kichline might be able to bring them all together (former relationship with TESD as she worked for the same firm as their lawyer?) …. but absent the whole Act 1 dog and pony show, I seriously doubt it will come about. Kevin G posted here previously — if he is still reading, maybe he can weigh in on how much interest (and what the complexities are) of the TESD board doing it…

    [Reply]

  17. Pattye:

    In my opinion, your position to even look at the EIT hurt your election chances. I’m pretty sure that there were voters that heard your position at the debate, or televised, and eliminated you from consideration. Rightly or wrongly, the reality is the opposition is that strong – 88% against in ’07. Also, despite some who deny it, most would contend that there was an open, public forum at that time.

    A candidate ignores this sentiment at their own peril.

    Mike

    [Reply]

  18. Wow — lots of talk about a topic that has never come close to being a reality. I’m a decade behind, but my anecdote to offer here is how the school district approached the topic before Act 1 shenanigans and false ceilings on tax increases.
    We did research and identified that oly 20-25% of property owners had kids in school, but 60-75% of people with earned income had kids in school. I don’t even know the date any longer, but it was about 10+ years ago and we filled Conestoga with people so totally opposed to our even continuing the research on any kind of tax study that it died in its tracks. I was shocked. Senior citizens that would have benefited (when Carole Rubley was looking for property tax relief ideas) came out in large numbers — “don’t put your hand in any more pockets” was the common refrain…someone wrote above about No new taxes — and that was most certainly the litany. GHWBush promises no new taxes and lost a federal election for going back on that idea (from an all-time high in popularity). The tax increase he approved made complete fiscal sense — but it was political suicide. Anyone who remembers me on the school board knows that I could care less about political noise — but even I pulled back from the tax discussion because I had never seen such passion against an idea that seemed to make so much sense — taxing the users. It wasn’t until a few years after that at another hearing about expanding the high school size that we saw a similar backlash — and the irony then was people wanted to stop the renovations because 1) they were too expensive AND 2) they wanted a second high school instead (at probably 3 times the renovation price). I stayed on the board long enough to get the high school renovations approved, and resigned — because it was clear then and clearer now that this community is economically divided — we can call it Ds and Rs, but that was not relevant to school board issues in the 90s — it was about demographics.
    I coined a phrase then that the community had two kinds of residents — Tax payers and Tax eaters. People with kids in school receive far more in services than they pay in taxes. Non-school people effectively subsidize the education system (at the time 80% without kids in school). . We did a financial model that demonstrated that you have to pay approximately 25-30 years of school taxes to fund a single child through the system (based on the millage being about 1% of property values — still essentially true).

    I offer all this year — and then will retreat back into the shadows — to try to illustrate that the debate has really never taken place. Politics actually got more important as these issues became more and more obvious. Party affiliation simply drew the lines — “I’m for that” or I”m against that.

    You can talk all you want about the BOS and their budget — but it’s still 12.5% of your school taxes (approx?). The district budget went up .5 mills this year, to 17.97 mills for the school district. The township stayed at 2.23 (with 2.34 projected for 2011, 2.46 for 2012, 2.58 for 2013 and 2.71 for 2014. Tredyffrin forecasts). So friends — the township budget forecasts will not go up as much through 2014 as the TESD did this year….48 forecast vs. .5 actual).

    So we can stop citing 2007….but 2011 is going to be about what we are willing to spend — not just about how we capture it. Thanks for reading.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thanks Andrea — it’s been awhile, appreciate your remarks! I’m going to take your comment and post on the front page under todays post, I’d like to get more discussion going there. Pattye

    [Reply]

  19. In addition to the 2007 voting results and public hearing anecdotes, Andrea further confirms what I said earlier re the strong feelings against an EIT, or even an EIT study. For the candidate that listens to John and insists on wading into the EIT morass, let’s just say your opponent will be very pleased.

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  20. 1. If you read Andrea’s post, she is referring to the first EIT discussion, in the early 2000s, when she was on the Board. In ’06-07, there were two large public meetings with open/transparent discussion at VFMS – I was there at both – were you there, John? I spoke, and heard the discussion, the questions, and the animus for an income-based tax. A report on those meetings from the TTDems website:

    “17 November, 2006: At the public hearing last night, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association presented “The Act 1 of 2006: Homeowners Property Tax Relief Act” as being an opportunity to shift part of the school tax burden from the current property tax to an income-based tax.”

    “About 200 people attended the session tonight, and every citizen who spoke before the Tax Study Commission, asked them to keep the current property tax system and not to recommend switching to a Personal Income Tax or an Earned Income Tax.”

    “Citizens speaking before the Tax Study Commission tonight repeatedly asked them to not make any recommendation to switch systems.”

    I understand that very similar sentiments were expressed when Easttown considered an EIT in October, 2009.

    2. I have expressed ethical concerns in several earlier posts – you apparently choose to ignore the existence of those comments.

    3. In 1990, the sewer fee was $225/year, sometime in the 90s it was lowered to $200 and it’s now $250 – I can live with an 11% increase over 20 years. BTW, Easttown charges $450.56 per year.

    [Reply]

  21. The point is, John, while you say, “I simply favor an open/transparent discussion on the EIT”, when two public forums were provided, neither you nor your enlightened brethren who understand the the wonders of an EIT better than us, the “willfully ignorant”, never said a word and didn’t even show up. The TSC sat on the stage, ready to discuss and answer questions, and there were two audience microphones for your “open/transparent discussion”, you never said word – not about the loveliness of income-based taxes, the evils of real estate taxes, the folks who only work here, the millions that will “come home”, the intellectual flaws, the proxy for a bigger GOP agenda,… nothing. Then the voters spoke, 88% AGAINST.

    And now you want ANOTHER chance to grace us with your knowledge of the utility of the EIT, although you then minimize anyone who would actually say something at a public forum, as if we can read your or anyone else’s mind. You want the Township to go through this exercise again. Will you actually show up and say something this time or will you merely stand on the sidelines and cast aspersions, as per your normal practice?

    [Reply]

  22. Mike and John

    Let’s go to your own corners for a moment….

    John — I understand the point you are trying to make, but I think you failed to consider why I made my comments — that this community is not INTERESTED in hearing about any new revenue sources. People do not trust government, and any opportunity to increase revenue is threatening to the notion of limited government. The TSC was not chaired by Tom Colman to my knowledge — just the BAWG and some cost-cutting TESD committee was — and their results were not time-sensitive to my reading.

    My point is that even in the late 90s, when we were trying to have a “talking” meeting to consider the options of alternative revenue sources (it was not a hearing or even a motion to consider), we were overwhelmed — a full Conestoga auditorium — by people who were loud and adamant about no new sources of taxes. Private school parents said they pay enough — parochial school parents said they pay enough — senior citizens said they didn’t want any new ways to get to their money. People with kids in the schools said they knew what their property taxes would be when the moved here. We (the TE Board) explained at great length that our budget process is undertaken independent of our revenue analysis — that we budget expenses and then calculate what the revenue streams (and rates) must be to meet the budget. (that was before these artificial budget limits and referendum stepped in). We had charts about the breakdown of the population and how it would be revenue neutral to the community — but would reallocate where the money came from (the larger representation of people with children in schools vs. property owners)…and the debate was simply a non-starter.
    So I have to take Mike’s position that this community has had countless opportunities to consider other tax methods…it would be the height of hubris for the BOS or the TESD to presume that an EIT is the right outcome when the voters are clearly and consistently opposed.
    The fact that some calculations are that $2.7 million leave our residents and end up in other townships is unfortunate, but it’s also part of the decision people make when purchasing a home…or renting office space…or making educational decisions in Tredyffrin. Owning a home is the most obvious choice — and it results in a property tax burden that continues to be relatively cheap in relation to other communities — for pretty good outcomes. We can harp on the Sewer fund increase, but you can also read Mimi’s treatise on why they recommended it. The cost of living here is simply what it is — and it’s fairly predictable.

    Transparency is only valuable if the audience understands the conversation. 3 terms as a school board member and I can promise you the audience and sometimes the board glazed over when we tried to explain the rationale of keeping taxes relevant to spending (as opposed to offering “zero” increases in taxes when spending was going up …relying on transfer tax and other unstable sources of revenue). As I said above — you can and do focus on the BOS deliberations because that’s where your interests lie (relating to OLK)…but the school tax increase this year alone is more than the projected increase in Tredyffrin through 2014. I’m not saying that means good or bad management — but it does mean the community has to accept some pricing mechanisms associated with quality of life. Living here has some fixed costs…not sure how else to conclude.

    Okay — DING. The round can continue….I’m back to my seat.

    [Reply]

    Township Reader Reply:

    How can a “new source of revenue” be inevitable when the current source (property taxes) is one of the lowest in the area? The school taxes are 8 x the township taxes….the two combined are less than 2% of a property’s value….I don’t see inevitability….the state may continue to tax income — eventually the state may reduce school taxes by doing what many other states have done — state-wide contracts, equalized funding etc.

    [Reply]

  23. Very well said, Andrea. You describe our community as it is, although some can’t seem to accept that. I particularly like:

    “this community is not INTERESTED in hearing about any new revenue sources.”

    “People do not trust government, and any opportunity to increase revenue is threatening to the notion of limited government. ”

    “it would be the height of hubris for the BOS or the TESD to presume that an EIT is the right outcome when the voters are clearly and consistently opposed.”

    [Reply]

  24. I’m coming into the midst of many related threads here without reading all the comments, but there are a couple of points to make:

    1. To Andrea’s comments about the old modus operandi:
    “We (the TE Board) explained at great length that our budget process is undertaken independent of our revenue analysis — that we budget expenses and then calculate what the revenue streams (and rates) must be to meet the budget.”
    That’s how we got into the pickle of school district property taxes increasing over 50% in the last decade – budgeting with no regard for the ability of the community to pay. It seems that the only way for the taxpayers to get control is to impose tax caps – eg Act 1 for school taxes in PA (and thankfully TESD’s refusal to ask for exceptions), and Governor Christie’s proposed 2% in New Jersey.

    2. Re the EIT: to recap points I’ve made here in the past – the situation is very different today than it was in 2007, when the option was positioned by the TSC as a PIT with associated collection costs, but the reclamation of taxes already paid and going outside the school district was not quantified. The question for this Fall should be: “Do you want to pay for, say, $5 million of contractual compensation increases and expenses deferred from previous years, through:
    a) A property tax increase of $5 million
    b) An EIT plus a property tax decrease netting $2 million (plus the $3 million already paid by residents to other Townships)
    c) Reduction of programs and teacher/admin jobs
    d) A combination of some or all of the above (and which)”
    I know voters whose choice would not be predicted by their vote in 2007.
    [This is couched in terms of the school district, but the township can (and should) share in the decision process and the revenues].

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Ray
    Appreciate your take, but I will take exception to the notion that we are in a pickle because the taxes increased without regards to the ability to pay. That is a conclusion not supported by the facts — and my explanation was never meant to reflect spending without regard to cost….it was meant to reflect that expense budgets were essentially developed and any additional revenue stream (EIT, PIT) would have meant a concurrent reduction in real estate taxes, as we were not looking for new sources of revenue (e.g., increased) but ALTERNATIVE sources of revenue.

    I bored this blog before with calculations relating to the relative costs of living here — equalizing taxes bsaed on a house market value (independent of the price paid)….and TE came out lower than Radnor or Lower Merion (schoolspending.info) That used prior year information.

    If we look at raw numbers for this budget year just completed —

    Tredyffrin Township 2.23 (Easttown: 3.7697)
    County 3.965
    School 17.97
    TOTAL: Tredy 24.1650 Easttown 25.7040

    Lower Merion: (Montgomery County)
    Township 3.2
    County: 2.695
    School 22.2895
    TOTAL: 28.1845

    Radnor: (Delaware County)
    Township: 3.3411
    County: 6.1800
    School: 20.8611
    Total: 30.3822

    A house that has a fair market value (sells for) $500,000 would be assessed as follows: (fair market value x CLR%)
    TE — $265,000
    Radnor – $306,500
    Lower Merion $270,000

    The rest of the math is up to you to do — but I think it is prudent to observe — as I have before — that the tax burdenon Tredyffrin residents is well below our neighboring (competing) communities. The decision to move here — absent income tax calculations (which presumably is factored into the decision to move here) results in a pretty good deal.
    Now — increases relating to contracts — that’s a subject I would love to discuss, as I have been very troubled by the process and the presumptions made by all parties about “what came before.”

    As to JP’s statement that Radnor doesn’t need an EIT because they have a mercantile tax — this is the cost of a homeowner to live in these communities — which is what most of our discussion is based on.

    But that’s a song for another day.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Ray –Sorry. I hit send before I commented on your EIT review. I believe it is quite accurate — because all an EIT or anything else is, is an ALTERNATIVE source of revenue…but no one ever believes that. They see it as a new and expanded source (not expecting — as few governments ever do — that any tax decrease would result to offset the new source). When you say people would change their minds, the reality is that more people would see an increase than would see a decrease…even if the numbers would even out….which is why I personally think it is unlikely to see a true change in attitude. I’d be happy to be wrong, but I personally still feel that the price of your house and living here in your house can and should reflect your ability to live here — and your demands on the community. What you make has very little to do with the services you get — but what you BUY (a home) does. Sigh.
    Thanks.

    [Reply]

  25. Good points, Andrea, but I’m not at all convinced that the value of the house one lives in is well correlated with demands for government services. Direct drivers would be things like the number and age of the inhabitants of the property, length of adjacent roads, crime incidence, proximity to fire hazards, and so on. We’re not going to tax on that basis (although activity fees for students is a shift in that direction), so we need to find something that seems fair. The result has been to find a basis that correlates more with ability to pay than with demand for services, and that is relatively stable – ie property taxes.

    Now, property owners are under stress: 12.5% of mortgages nationwide are late or in foreclosure. So it seems to me only prudent to diversify the base, keeping with the principal of ability to pay – ie shift a little to an EIT. And that has the added benefit of reclaiming the $3 million leaving the Township every year.

    Here’s the way I look at whether we’re getting value for money: what is the expenditure per resident for police and fire, per road mile for public works, per student for schools, per resident for township admin, etc. (Maybe adjust for a few other variables). I think that Tredyffrin and T/E compare with our neighbors pretty well on those measures (but need to work on keeping it that way!).

    The tax rate falls out as a function of the appraised value. The value of a house is driven by the value to the particular buyer of all the amenities and the costs of all the liabilities associated with the house. That’s a complex equation – maybe the buyer of that $500K house in Lower Merion values the neighborhood more, wants an older house and has lower commuting expenses that together offset – for them – the higher taxes? Not easy to just look across taxes paid.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Wow – again the EIT thread! I have weighed in at several other places on this blog, so I won’t repeat all the detail, but, in summary:

    1) The TSC process was not flawed. It was limited by ACT 1 in what it could and could not do, and it discharged its duties properly. Alleged GOP control is bat puckey.

    2) I do not agree that the EIT got “short shrift” in the TSC report. EIT vs. PIT was discussed and the PIT was recommended as more “fair” in – pay attention now – THE CONTEXT OF TAX SHIFTING UNDER ACT 1.

    (This was not about general revenue enhancement using the EIT available under the Act 511 Local Tax Enabling Act, it was tax shifting under Act 1).

    3) The Act 1 process was not set up to be the debate about EIT that some now want. HOWEVER, at the TSC meetings, open to the public (which I attended) and the TWO large public hearings (Mentioned by Mike – which I also attended) there was considerable discussion of all of the issues surrounding both types of income tax. I heard all the stuff about money “coming home”, who had an EIT and who doesn’t, Philadlephia Sterling Act, etc. To claim that none of this was discussed is just not true. I think the public got all of that, and they still did not care. See # 4 –

    4) Mike and Andrea are right – overwhelming opposition to ANY form of income tax, EIT or PIT.

    5) Why? Because nobody beleived it would remain about tax shifting (reducing property taxes by and equal amount of income tax revenue) but rather, people believed that eventually, it would only result in more taxes and higher spending overall – they do not trust government and did not believe in the “reduction” promises, despite the clear terms of Act 1 that all revenue from the EIT or PIT imposed under Act 1 had to be used to reduce property taxes, NOT for increasing revenue to the general budget – i.e., Act 1 was “revenue neutral” and the income tax money would not add one additional dollar to the school district budget.

    6) The reason PIT was considered to be more fair by the TSC was because there are (accoring to records) lots of people in T/E with “unearned” income. So people with huge investment dollars would pay nothing under an EIT but they would under a PIT. Since the PIT taps a broader tax base, a LOWER rate would be needed to fund the minimum Homestead Exclusion under Act 1, thus minimizing the tax burden by spreading it across a broader tax base. Thus, the PIT made more sense in the context of Act 1. All of this is in the TSC report, by the way.

    7) It is true that 2010 is not 2007, and it is reasonable to look for a public discussion of the EIT again. But, as Andrea and Mike point out, the HUGE opposition would have to be overcome, and that means overcoming the perception I discussed in point #5 above.

    8) Andrea points out that school proerty taxes are relatively low in T/E. PA Dept. of Ed keeps statistics on equalized mills and T/e ranks somewhere around 470’s out of 501 school districts in PA in terms of having some of the lowest taxes (i.e., 501 is the lowest on that list).

    9) But – the issue of funding is not going away. Andrea is right again – the issue of how much we are willing to pay and how are we going to raise it is an ongoing problem. And, as Ray and others who favor an EIT point out, there is a limit to what people are willing to absorb. An EIT is seen by advocates as a way to reduce the property tax burden or overall tax burden by, among other things, bringing dollars home from other townships. But I see problems overcoming the opposition to an income tax and I’m not sure in the long run the EIT would be enough to solve the problem.

    10) This brings us to the question of unfunded mandates and lack of state funding. That is a very long topic, but for the present, let me just say that Harrisburg created this monster (PSERS, etc.) and frankly, only Harrisburg can solve it. Some of the local political pressure needs to be directed towards H-burg.

    11) The alleged GOP “control” which supposedly tanked the EIT discussion (in Act 1!) is illusory, note that the T/E Democrats also officially took a position opposing any income tax. I am sure the 88% who voted no included a lot of Dems as well as R’s . . . .

    Finally, the TSC report is irrelevant to the current discussion of a general EIT for the Township and or School District under Act 511. Bashing the TSC misses the point – it was not charged with an analysis of an general revenue EIT, only the limited property tax releif scheme under Act 1, so of course you won’t find twenty pages of detailed analysis of an EIT in the TSC report. It is not relevant. I agree the EIT debate has not yet been had – but, see #4 and #5 (above) . . . . . . . . .

    Regards to all

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Ditto to Mike’s comments. Now — what’s the answer Kevin ??? :)

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    I wish I was that smart. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but – I think a lot of the problem was created in Harrisburg and therefore only Harrisburg can solve it.

    They pass on an endless number of expensive unfunded mandates, while at the same time capping the local district taxing authority. How do they think that is supposed to work?

    PSERS is just one example – they changed the multiplier. So they should either change it back or provide more state funding.

    I also think Act 1 should be repealed. It is poorly conceived and poorly drafted, conceptually flawed, and all around a bad deal.

    Also, a real hard look at mandates would be nice, with an eye towards helping local districts contol costs. For example, the waiver T/E got on the Conestoga project which allowed us to use only one prime contractor (instead of four which was mandated by the state) saved the taxpayers millions. I believe they took away that waiver, so the next time we won’t be able to save that money. Does the public know that on every construction project, school districts must use four contractors?

    How about busing to private schools? We are required to bus all private kids to schools within a ten mile radius of the district. Last I checked, there were 119 private schools on the list which T/E is obligated to bus private school kids to. This is a logistical nightmare. (Not every school has a T/E kid or kids in it every year). This costs a hell of a lot of money. (our transportation budget is over $4 million a year, and I don’t have a break-out for the private costs, but I would guess there is at least half a million in costs, maybe a million). I know private school parents pay taxes too, but ten miles? Could they make it five?

    How about YSYM (“Your Schools, Your Money”) If I remember correctly, this law was supposed to make the finances of school districts more transparent and accountable, but what I remember is that we suddenly had to start keeping two sets of books, with two different accounting methods, and were require, for the first time, to “depreciate” desks, buildings, equipment, etc, like a business. That o course makes NO SENSE for a public school district. I beleive the cost was $60,000 annually for additional accountants to keep these books and make the extra reports that were required.

    How about the cost of state testing? No Child Left Behind also? I think there’s at least a million bucks a year right there. Do our kids really get any benefit from all of that?

    There are no doubt many other mandates which could be eliminated without conpromising education quality at all.

    How about an increase in the state education subsidy? In the late 70’s it averaged 50% of the cost of public educatio, today it is about 35%. T/E of course, as an “affluent” district gets only about 11 or 12% from the state, and less than 1% from the federal government. Pennsylvania ranks almost at the bottom of states in terms of state funding form public schools. Why? We are not among the poorest states.

    Now, I’ll be the first to admit that everything I said above is extremely unlikely to happen.

    As you say – sigh . . . .

  26. Excellent, detailed recap of the salient points and the history of the EIT discussion, Kevin – thank you.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Thanks, Mike – I always find your comments valuable. Regards

    [Reply]

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