Chester County

Senator Dinniman to Hold Public Rally for Education – April 27th

Note that there has been a date change for the Education Rally — Senator Dinniman will hold rally on April 27, 7 PM on the Chester County courthouse steps.  Although some of the readers on Community Matters have suggested that Sen. Dinniman public rally is nothing more than a politician seeking the limelight.  Personally, I think it is refreshing to have an elected officials willing to get involved and represent those that elected him. 

 This past fall marked Sen. Dinniman’s retirement from teaching at West Chester University, having served as a professor for 30 years.  Regardless of your personal political sway, it is obvious that Sen. Dinniman is someone who supports education, the students and their families.  Doing nothing more than complaining about Corbett’s proposed public education cuts is not going to get Harrisburg to listen . . .but the voices of many cause them to listen! Write or call your state officials. I support making your voice count and plan to attend this rally!  Below is the latest press release from Sen. Dinniman.

Dinniman to Hold Rally for Education on April 27th – Public Rally Set for 7 PM on the Steps of the Chester County Courthouse

WEST CHESTER (April 11) – State Senator Andy Dinniman announced today that he will hold a rally for residents opposed to Governor Corbett’s proposed budget cuts to education on Wednesday, April 27 at 7 p.m. on the steps of the Chester County Courthouse (corner of High and Market Streets) in West Chester.

“Governor Corbett’s significant and widespread cuts to education will be disastrous for students at all levels and even more devastating in the years to come,” Dinniman said. “We know that cuts to basic and early education mean increased local property taxes, larger class sizes and less individualized attention and specialized programs. We know that cuts to higher education mean significantly increased tuition and fees, greater student borrowing and debt and more people on the unemployment rolls.”

Governor Corbett recently proposed a $27.3 billion budget that calls for cutting education funding across the board, including the following:

  • A $550 million cut to funding for public elementary, middle and high schools, including an $8 million cut from the Coatesville Area School District, a $2.5 million cut from the West Chester Area School District, and a $2.9 million cut from the Downingtown Area School District.
  • A $260 million cut to funding for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and early childhood education programs.
  • A 50 percent cut to funding for state colleges and universities, including a $26 million cut for West Chester University, a $182 million cut for Penn State and $100 million cut for Pitt.

“We know that by investing in education, we are investing in our future and that is precisely what is at stake here. These cuts will set Pennsylvania back decades and undermine all of our efforts for long-term economic growth and prosperity,” Dinniman said. “That is why I want everyone – current students and their families, teachers and school employees, college professors and university staff members, high school seniors and prospective students – to come out on April 27 and make their voices heard. We need to stand together and ensure that our message is loud and clear.”

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Property Values are Falling & Real Estate Taxes are Soaring Across the US . . . What’s the answer?

Here’s an interesting read in Bloomberg Business Week – thanks to a reader for supplying the link.

The article, “Property Taxes Reach the Breaking Point . . . Local governments are raising property taxes to plug budget gaps as home values fall – and voters are getting sick of it” discusses rising property taxes and decreasing real estate values throughout the country.  According to the article, because about one in four of residents mortgages are ‘under water’ across the country,  many local governments and school districts are forced into increasing property taxes to meet budget deficits.  However, the problem as we are acutely aware is that much of the country’s home values have fallen dramatically.

Historically, local governments have depended on property taxes as a stable revenue source.  Nationally, approximately 50% of property tax revenue goes to fund school districts.  How does a school district provide adequate school funding without raising property taxes beyond the scope of an individual’s ability to pay? The article looked at specific states and their property taxes – and how local governments are balancing the needs of school budgets (and deficits) with the increase in property taxes issues.

In 2010, New Jersey residents received the distinction of paying the highest average property tax in the US – an average of $7.576 (an increase of 78.7% since 1999!).  Surveying all 3,100 counties in the US, residents in Hunterdon County, New Jersey paid the highest median real estate taxes per year — $8,216.  As a direct result of increasing property taxes, in 2010, New Jersey capped the property tax increase by local governments at 2 percent.

Can you guess which county in Pennsylvania has the highest median real taxes paid by its residents . . .  Chester County!  Below is the real estate property tax information provided from Business Week for Pennsylvania:

  • Most property tax paid in Pennsylvania: Chester County                           
  • Median Property Taxes Paid on Homes: $4,011
  • Median Home Value: $328,900
  • Taxes as Percent of Income: 4.12%

The property tax problem is interrelated with the local school districts and includes an inequity and inadequacy inherent in real estate property taxing; and therefore filters into the problems funding public education.  And today funding public education is the central problem.  For years, property tax has provided the major funding source for public education but is that the solution for the 21st century? 

Is a property tax capable of adequately or fairly funding the school districts, especially given the current declining real estate values? To offset Corbett’s proposed budget, which includes major funding to public education, what is going to be the answer?  The bottom lines for budget deficits require school districts to either lower expenses (or rely on fund balance) or continue to raise property taxes. And as we read in the BusinessWeek article, Chester County currently has the distinction of the highest property taxes of all counties in Pennsylvania.

Discussions on the T/E School District budget will continue on Monday, March 28, 7:30 PM at Conestoga HS.  The Budget Workshop will update on the current status of the 2011-12 school district budget.  The meeting will focus on the budget process and discuss remaining potential budget strategies to close the budget deficit.  Click here for the agenda.

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Gov. Corbett’s Proposed Budget Indicates -9.69% Change in State Public Education Funding for T/E School District

The dust has begun to settle on Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget.  Although most areas of government were not exempt from cuts, the decrease state funding to higher education and school districts may have the greatest effect on local residents. 

In reviewing the governor’s budget proposal for public school funding, Sen. Andy Dinniman offered the school districts current state funding vs the proposed funding.

The table below from Dinniman’s website (www.senatordinniman.com)  is interesting because it focuses specifically on the state funding to our local school districts, including TESD.  The statistics indicate the current funding for public education versus the funding contained in the governor’s proposed budget.  The decrease in state funding ranges from $446,269 in the Great Valley School District to Downingtown School District’s $2.9 million.  The funding loss is due to Corbett’s proposed elimination of the Accountability Block Grant and Education Assistance programs.

Although Tredyffrin Easttown School District is grateful not to be in the $2 million + budget cut category of West Chester and Downingtown school districts, we are far from exempt.  According to the table below, TESD proposed decrease in state funding equates to an approximate  -9.69%  change or $479,569.

“Governor Corbett’s proposal for basic education will be disastrous for our Commonwealth’s public schools,” Dinniman said. “Full-day kindergarten classes, reduced class sizes and after school tutoring programs are at risk of elimination.”

“The difficulty is that while the governor can wave the flag and say, ‘We’re not raising taxes,’ he has written a script that will mean significant local property tax increases and much heavier burden on local taxpayers, and that is indeed troubling,” Dinniman said.

It will be curious to see if Corbett’s significant budget cuts to public education enters in to the discussion at tonight’s TESD Finance Committee meeting. The Finance Committee is at 7:30 PM in the Tredyffrin/Easttown Administration Office (TEAO) at 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700 in Wayne.  Click here for the Finance Committee agenda.

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A Penthouse View of Historic Market Street for Chester County Elected Officials . . . Rent $3.1Million per year

Based on Chester County’s recent lease negotiation with a private developer, no one would believe that we are facing the same economic challenges as the rest of the country.

The administrative offices of Chester County are moving from West Chester’s historic courthouse to a new privately owned 6-story office building on W. Market Street starting on March 18. Why the move . . . did they outgrow the courthouse office space . . . did they tire of their historic offices and long for the ‘new-car smell’ of new offices? 

The county’s elected officials including commissioners, county controller, county treasurer, county solicitor, Recorder of Deeds will be leaving their courthouse offices behind for this new location.  The lower 2 floors are parking for county employees and the upper four floors is office space in the new building. The Tax Assessment office will move to the third floor and the County commissioners and row officers will enjoy offices on the sixth floor, overlooking historic Market Street.

We do know the price tag for their new digs.  The county is paying $3.1 million in rent for the first year; increasing by $31K each year for the length of the 20-year lease. The lease option is $37 million for the first 10 years.  At that point, the county could purchase or extend the lease for the remaining 10 years.  I am not sure how this lease agreement would work . . . the county will not own the building but will pay rent.  I don’t see any economic or tax benefit to this arrangement.  If the county needed more office space, why not either renovate existing county-owned space in the courthouse or use bond money to build an office building.  At a minimum, the county would benefit from ‘owning’ rather than ‘renting’ their office space.

The county’s elected officials including commissioners, county controller, county treasurer, county solicitor, Recorder of Deeds will be leaving their courthouse offices behind for this new location.  The lower 2 floors are parking for county employees and the upper four floors are offices in the new building. The Tax Assessment office will move to the third floor and the County commissioners will enjoy offices on the sixth floor, overlooking historic Market Street.

As an aside, I did some research on the property owner of the new office building . . . J. Loew & Associates, a commercial real estate developer from Downingtown.  Based on the vast availability of office space listed on their website, J. Loew appears somewhat overextended with their available rental commercial real estate. In a quick analysis, I counted that the developer currently has over 30 office buildings, warehouse and retail complexes available for lease.  In addition, some of the available office space is very large corporate office buildings in the Great Valley. 

I guess a 20-year lease agreement with the county of $3.1+ million a year helped ease some of the pressure for J. Loew & Associates.  Think about it, the company finances and builds the Market Street office building in West Chester, rents it to the county at a profit and [if the county decides at the end of 10 years] turns around and sells it to the county for a profit.  Savvy business negotiating.  Also when researching J. Loew & Associates, I discovered another interesting fact.  The business partner of J. Loew & Associates, Eli Kahn, donated $25K to the Chester County Republican Committee over the last four years.  All so very interesting.

Many of our Chester County officials were elected on campaign pledges of no tax increases and many of those individuals seeking election or re-election continue similar austerity promises.  How will these same individuals now rationalize this lease agreement?  Are taxpayers going to pay for our elected official’s penthouse view of historic Market Street?

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It’s Official . . . Asst DA Pat Carmody Will Not Challenge Tom Hogan for Chester County District Attorney

Following last month’s Chester County Republican Convention, there was much speculation whether Assistant DA Pat Carmody would challenge endorsed Republican candidate Tom Hogan for District Attorney in the May primary.  Today, in an email to friends and supporters, Carmody made his decision public; he will not challenge Hogan.  Here’s an excerpt from the Carmody’s email:

” . . . Although disappointed I will not be your District Attorney, I have decided not to challenge Tom Hogan, the endorsed candidate. I have been loyal to the DA’s office, the Republican Party and the people of this county for many years. I look forward to continuing to work at the Chester County District Attorney’s office as part of a team working with the police fighting for crime victims. I will fully support Tom and all the other candidates in the upcoming primary and fall elections. We have an excellent group of candidates and it was an honor to be part of the process with them and to interact with all of you. . . “

I have spoken with Pat Carmody several times and had the pleasure of meeting him at the Republican Convention.  Chester County residents have been lucky to him in the District Attorney’s office for the last 27 years.   He’s one of the ‘good guys’ and I wish him well! 

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Community Matters – in and around Tredyffrin

Community Matters . . . in and around Tredyffrin

In one of the biggest property deals since the start of the global financial crisis, the Australian company Centro Properties Groups has agreed to sell its 588 US shopping malls to private equity giant Blackstone Group for $9.4 billion.

The local connection – Centro owns Chesterbrook Shopping Center and Valley Fair Shopping Center! I assume the existing retail leases in these shopping centers will pass with the transfer of sale.  Many folks are looking forward to McKenzies Brew House restaurant plans for the old Charlie Brown location at Valley Fair Shopping Center.  Here’s hoping that Blackstone will breathe new life into Chesterbrook Shopping Center and find a tenant for the empty Genuardi’s grocery store.  And let’s not forget that this corporate sale could mean significant transfer tax revenue to the school district and the township!

In case you missed this one . . . in order to make shelf room for new products, the Pennsylvania State liquor stores is having special discount sale, starting today.  Approximately 400 items have been marked down to clearance prices until they are gone.

Last night was the Board of Supervisors Meeting. Notes of the evening included Mike Heaberg’s swearing in as new supervisor by Judge Jeremy Blackburn; recognition of the 300th anniversary of the historic Baptist Church in the Great Valley and certificates of appreciation for volunteer service to Grace Keffer, Bob Haver and Molly Duffy.

By Board of Supervisors appointment, a Sidewalk Subcommittee was formed in March 2010 to look at resident’s wants and needs of sidewalks in the community.  The process included public meetings, resident sidewalk survey, observations and discussion and Sidewalks Subcommittee chair Tory Snyder presented the findings and recommendations last night at the Board of Supervisors Meeting. (Here is a link to the recommendations). Surprising some of us in the audience, supervisor Phil Donahue made a motion for the board to accept the Sidewalk Subcommittee recommendations and move it to the Planning Commission to create a draft ordinance.  Michelle Kichline seconded the motion and it passed unanimously. Hat’s off to the supervisors for this progressive, proactive show of support for the community!   (As an aside, the Sidewalk Subcommittee Green Routes Network recommendation includes St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk in the plan.)

In addition to crafting a draft ordinance in regards to the Sidewalk Subcommittee recommendations, the Planning Commissioners is drafting an amendment to the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance to give the Board of Supervisors final land development authority.  Although there is a Public Hearing on land development authority scheduled for March 21, it was agreed there would be no final decision on that matter until after the sidewalk ordinance is resolved.

I was notified of a an updated ‘Best High School in Pennsylvania’ list and am pleased to report that Conestoga High School continues to receive high marks.  Each year, “Newsweek” magazine ranks the nation’s top 1,600 high schools–that’s only six percent of all public high schools in the country. This ranking helps parents and educators set standards for themselves. In 2010, 33 high schools from Pennsylvania, including Conestoga High School, made the list. These schools received high marks from both “Newsweek” and “U.S. News & World Report.”

According to the eHow.com 2011 update, “Conestoga High School is ranked as the No. 502 high school in the nation by “Newsweek” and as No. 79 by “U.S. News & World Report.” It offers more Advanced Placement courses than any other high school, public or private, in Pennsylvania, and had 37 National Merit semifinalists in 2010. . . “   Congratulations Conestoga High School and Tredyffrin-Easttown School District!

Speaking of Conestoga High School . . . the curtains go up tonight on the student production of Phantom of the Opera.  The show will run March 1 – 6, click here for ticket information. Phantom is one of my all-time favorite musicals –  best wishes to the cast & break a leg!

That is it for now.  I look forward to your thoughtful comments and please email me at tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com if you have news or thoughts to share.

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Republican DA Candidate Tom Hogan to have Democratic Opposition . . . Attorney Sam Stretton throws his hat in the race!

As of today, the recently endorsed Republican district attorney Tom Hogan has himself a challenger for the county DA position.  At Saturday’s Chester County Democratic Convention, West Chester attorney Sam Stretton was endorsed as their party’s district attorney candidate. He will oppose Tom Hogan for the district attorney position.

What do we know about Sam Sretton?  We know that he has been practicing law in Pennsylvania for 35 years and has his own law practice in West Chester.  Stretton handles many trials in Philadelphia and the surrounding area but his primary office is located in Chester County.  According to his website, his practice emphasizes trail and appellate work at the state and federal levels, juvenile law, criminal law, judicial and attorney disciplinary proceedings, election law and first amendment cases. There is some other interesting local news about Stretton, showing his penchant for community activism.

If you are like me, and have followed the ongoing saga of the Barnes Foundation, you may have noticed that the art gallery is back in the news.  Hoping to turn around the 2004 decision to move the Barnes Foundation from Merion to Philadelphia, a petition was filed this week with the Montgomery County Orphan’s Court Judge Stanley Ott.  Representing the ‘Friends of the Barnes Foundation’ is the newly endorsed Democratic district attorney candidate, Sam Stretton.  Stretton seeks to examine information that was unavailable to Judge Ott during the 2003-04 hearings.  He claims that there are indications of misconduct on the part of the then PA Attorney General Michael Fisher.  The details of Stretton’s petition can be found in the Friends of the Barnes Foundation press release.

The Chester County district attorney race just became more interesting. A few days ago, I was thinking that Republican candidate Tom Hogan would not have any opposition.  The Chester County Democratic Convention changed that scenario today.

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Chester County Commission Political Buzz

Gosh, things are buzzing at the Chester County Commission this week! There was the application deadline for the interim County Commissioner position vacated by Carol Aichele, who left for a job in Gov. Corbett’s administration. The deadline was Monday, January 30 at 12 noon – but at the close of business on Friday, there were zero applications received at the Common Pleas Court of Judges. 

An article appeared in the Sunday edition of the Daily Local advertising the fact that there were no applications.  Apparently, the notice did the trick and created a last-minute crush of interest!  By the 12 noon deadline on Monday, there were 39 applications received for the vacancy!  Upon review, six were removed from consideration because the applicants were Democrats and the appointment will go to a Republican.  Although the judges hope to shorten the list, it looks like the interview process is going to be quite the undertaking!

Another item out of the County Commissioner’s Office. . . there is some unsettling news circulating about Republican Commissioner Terrance Farrell’s re-election campaign. This past November, he held a kick-off fundraiser, “A Pint of Chester County” for his campaign.  The emailed invitation encouraged recipients to become sponsors with a suggested donation range of $250 – $2,500.  When I received Farrell’s invitation, I found it curious that I was on his email list. Never having donated to Farrell and not knowing how they had my address, I emailed Farrell’s campaign but never received a response.

Today, I learned that my receiving Farrell’s email invitation was not an anomaly and some people are none too pleased, including State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester).  Farrell’s fundraising email invitation was sent to government and personal email addresses, including Sen. Dinniman. Farrell emailed the fundraiser invitation to Sen. Dinniman’s district office. 

Senator Dinniman’s staff sent Mr. Farrell’s campaign a letter stating that he was allowed to send political mail to a state senate office.  Dinniman reported that his office received complaints by at least three other individuals, all Democrats complaining that Farrell had sent them the fundraising invitation to personal email accounts. Farrell’s response to accusations of misusing emails for his re-election campaign —  he was just keeping his constituents informed.  Whoops!

Things are really getting interesting for county races . . . from DA candidates to the Common Pleas Judge candidates and now the news about the County Commissioner candidates.  It will be curious how the hyperbole plays out at the County Republican Convention on February 15.

Speaking of politics . . . so, you think you know where you stand, politically speakingThink again.  A friend sent me this short test and the results may surprise and give you food for thought.  You will be asked just 10 questions, and it instantly tells you where you stand politically.

The results will show your position as a red dot on a “political map” so you will see exactly where you score.  The most interesting thing about the quiz is that it beyond the Democrat, Republican, and Independent.

The Quiz has gotten a lot of praise . . . The Washington Post said it has “gained respect as a valid measure of a person’s political leanings.”  The Fraser Institute said it’s a “fast, fun and accurate assessment of a person’s overall political views”.  Suite University said it is the “most concise and accurate
political quiz out there.”

I took the test and was not surprised to score a ‘Centrist’ label for my efforts.  According to the Quiz website, . . . “a Centrist prefer a ‘middle ground’ regarding government control of the economy and personal behavior. Depending on the issue, they sometimes favor government intervention and sometimes support individual freedom of choice. Centrists pride themselves on keeping an open mind, tend to oppose “political extremes,” and emphasize what they describe as “practical” solutions to problems”.

Take the Quiz — it’s fun and will not take you more than 5 min. It would be great if you would share your results!  Here is the link for the Quiz:
http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz

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One of Tredyffrin’s Own Heading to Harrisburg . . . Gov-Elect Names Carol Aichele to Cabinet

Today it was announced that Gov-Elect Corbett has named Carol Aichele, Chester County Commissioner to his cabinet.  Carol has been named the new Secretary of the Commonwealth.  This position is responsible for overseeing the state’s election system and monitoring 800,000 licensed business and health professionals. In his praise of Aichele, Corbett spoke of her role in securing three Triple A bond ratings to Chester County for its financial management practices. Her appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Great Valley resident, Aichele has served as one of the three-member Board of Commissioners of Chester County since her election in 2003.  She was re-elected to that post in November 2007.  Her current term runs through 2011 so presumably, there will need to be a County Commissioner appointed to fill the vacancy. Any suggestions?

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Be Careful What You Wish For . . . Bottom Dollar Food Coming to Chesterbrook

Back on July 30, I wrote the following article about the Bottom Dollar Food grocery store chain coming to the Philadelphia area and opening a store in King of Prussia.  In the article, Discount Grocery Store ‘Bottom Dollar Food’ Coming to Philadelphia Area. I commented on the differences between the newly opened Wegmans vs the ‘no-frills’ discount grocery chain, Bottom Dollar. 

Wegmans opening this summer, fell on the heels of the closing of Genuardi’s in Chesterbrook.  There are other empty stores in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center and those that have remained since Genuardi’s closing have struggled.  I heard that since the closing of Genuardi’s that the Hair Cuttery is loosing an average of $600/wk in revenue.  The emptiness is particularly noticeable at lunchtime. Many in the community have speculated and wondered as to the future of the real estate.

We don’t have to speculate any longer.  Today, I received news that Bottom Dollar Food has signed a 5-year lease with Centro Properties and will open in the old Genuardi’s location. (Not sure of the opening date).  When reviewing the location plans for Chesterbrook’s Bottom Dollar, I noted they will subdivide the Genuardi’s space.  Originally, Genuardi’s had approx. 38,500 sq. ft. of space but Bottom Dollar is only leasing 26,000 sq. ft leaving a space of 12,500 sq. ft. (next to Fitness Together) still available.  The original entry of Genuardi’s is now in the ‘available space’, suggesting that Bottom Dollar will move their entry location.

In the last paragraph of my July 30th post, I asked the question, ” . . .  would people rather see an empty anchor store in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center as opposed to some kind of discount store?”   And here we are 3 months later, with Bottom Dollar discount food chain coming to Chesterbrook!

In catching up on some of the local business news, I was reading about the local grocery market and was interested to read about a new grocery chain coming to the area, Bottom Dollar Food.

We know that Wegmans next step on their expansion plan is King of Prussia (I think the old golf course off Swedesford, correct?) so I was curious if our area would be getting one of these discount grocery stores.  Bottom Dollar Food is a discount grocer that’s part of the Food Lion store chain and has said that it will open 21 stores in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, creating 600 jobs.  A friend recently visited our new Wegmans and asked management how many employees in that location — yes, 600. 

This is a significant expansion for the Salisbury, N.C.-based Bottom Dollar Food, which has 28 stores in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. I did a bit of research on the company – they opened their first store in 2005, 5 years ago!   They seemed to have discovered a niche market-place by keeping their stores very simple in design.  One of the ways they are able to drive the prices down to bargain-basement level is by removing the fancy, expensive displays.  Interesting concept given Wegmans over-the-top approach!  They keep the isles wide, displays simple and have a color-coding system showing the various levels of mark-downs.  Special ’bargain’ areas in the stores are indicated with color-coded signage.  Kind of reminds me of the Syms approach – you read the price tag and the date determines the price.  The longer the item remains at Syms, the lower the price.

Bottom Dollar Food will open their first Philadelphia area store in the fall.  The president of the Bottom Dollar Food Meg Ham, reports that  “Bottom Dollar Food has great potential in the market as we believe it is underserved in the soft-discount grocer arena”.  Interesting.

However, the most interesting point of the article was the list of new store locations, including  197 E. Dekalb Pike, Upper Merion (King of Prussia).  Short of driving up 202 north and looking for the address, I’m wondering if that is the Genuardi’s store on 202?  I looked at all the stores on the list and unfortunately a Chesterbrook location was not on the list.  But that poses an interesting question, would people rather see an empty anchor store in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center as opposed to some kind of discount store?

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