Melissa Shusterman

Contested Primary on April 28: Five Candidates (3 D’s & 2 R’s) on Ballot for Sen. Andy Dinniman’s Seat in 19th Senate District

Democratic State Senator Andy Dinniman is not seeking re-election, announcing his retirement a couple of weeks ago. The Senator has represented Chester County’s 19th Senate District since 2006 and we learned that he has endorsed Don Vymazal (D), his governmental relations advisor to succeed him.

Following the news of Sen Dinniman’s retirement on February 7, and subsequent endorsement of Vymazal, two other democrats added their names to the list of candidates seeking the position  … Rep. Carolyn Comitta, former two-term West Chester mayor and currently serving state representative of the 156th District and Kyle Boyer, a first-term member of the T/E School Board and chair of its Policy Committee. Whereas Vymazal received the endorsement of Sen. Dinniman for his seat, Rep. Comitta (D-156) received the endorsement of Gov. Wolf for the position.

At the Chester County Democratic Committee held a couple of weeks ago, Don Vymazal garnered the most votes and received the party’s endorsement.  The endorsement process requires a 65% threshold and voting was as followed:

First Ballot:
Carolyn Comitta – 25%
Kyle Boyer – 27 %
Don Vymazal – 47%
(Rep. Comitta Eliminated)

Second Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 36 %
Don Vymazal – 63 %

Final Ballot:
Kyle Boyer – 31%
Don Vymazal — 69%

Once Chester County Democratic Committee make their endorsements, often times the other candidates will drop out of the race before the primary election. But not this time; both Boyer and Rep. Comitta are staying in the race for Chester County’s 19th Senate District and will appear on the April 28 primary ballot.

It should be noted that  incumbent Rep. Comitta (D-156) did receive Chester County Democratic Committee’s endorsement for state representative. My assumption is that should Comitta win the primary election as her party’s choice in both the senatorial race and the state representative race, she would need to make a choice.  I am not completely certain about how the process works, but presumably Rep. Comitta cannot be listed as a candidate for both races in the November general election.

After nearly thirty years in public office, replacing Sen. Dinniman is no easy task.  And given the number of important issues facing Chester County – education, pipelines, environment and land development, etc. – where  Sen. Dinniman has been front and center for the community, the selection of his replacement is all the more important.

For instance, as minority chair of PA State Education Committee, Sen. Dinniman has led various initiatives to ensure quality education programs and reduce the cost of education. Although he has championed many causes during his tenure as an elected official, advocating for our children and their education has remained a high priority.

As most of us know, T/E School District has recently received massive national (and international) attention regarding its policy decision that involved the police in the recent threat assessment of a kindergartner with Down Syndrome.  As soon as the matter surfaced, Sen. Dinniman weighed in with a lengthy letter to the T/E School Board, questioning how the threat policy is being carried out. Although his statement is now widely shared, the reading of the letter by an audience member was not permitted at the last Policy Committee meeting. (Click here to read Sen. Dinniman’s letter).

T/E School Board director and chair of its Policy Committee Kyle Boyer is a candidate for Dinniman’s senate seat. Should the school district’s threat assessment policy and the police involvement in the handling of the 6-year old with Down Syndrome impact Boyer’s chances in the primary election? For the record, T/E School District Policy 5401 Student Discipline remains under review by the school board.

In addition to the three democrats on the ballot for the contested 19th Senate District seat held by retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman are two republicans. Republicans Kevin Runey and Amber Little-Turner also filed petitions to run in the 19th district. Runey is in the healthcare industry and is a Supervisor in the London Grove Township. Little-Turner from Coatesville is a real estate investment professional.

With five candidates (three Ds and two Rs) vying for the seat of retiring Sen. Andy Dinniman, the contested primary race will be interesting.

In another local race, State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157) is seeking reelection. Rep. Shusterman is running unopposed on her party’s ticket and has no counterpart on the Republican ballot for the April 28 primary election. In addition to Rep. Shusterman, the Chester County Democratic Committee also endorsed Tredyffrin Township resident Chrissy Houlahan, incumbent for the 6th Congressional District.

For further information on all the local candidates, please check their social media sites.

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Trust’s 15th Annual Historic House Tour Raises $35K for Historic Preservation!

On behalf of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, I am thrilled to announce that our 15th Annual Historic House Tour this past Saturday raised $35,000 for historic preservation and the completion of the Jones Log Barn – Living History Center.

There are many people to thank but first we thank the owners of the “Stars” of the tour, the wonderful historic homes in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships featured on the tour — “Blackburn Farm”, “Deepdale Farm”, “Brook Wood”, “Sarah Fry House”, “Brookside” and St. John’s Presbyterian Church and Carriage House.

A wonderful day with perfect weather (for those that are counting, that’s fifteen straight years!), I also thank the Trust Board of Directors, who were assigned to the houses and had oversight of the volunteers (all of who are so appreciated!). Speaking of volunteers, I’m proud to say that we had 28 student volunteers from Conestoga High, many whom are seniors and members of the National Honor Society.  There were two additional students who volunteered their musical talent (piano and violin) at the library for house tour ticket pick-up.  PA State Representative Melissa Shusterman (D-157) presented the Trust with a House citation in honor of our 15th Annual Historic House Tour.

And finally, I thank the generous sponsors of our annual historic house tour  — we applaud their support of historic preservation in the community and them for their financial contribution. Please review the following list of sponsors and thank them when you see them! Without the sponsors, the volunteers and the wonderful historic homeowners, the historic house tour would not be possible — much thanks to all of you!

Pattye Benson
Chair, 15th Annual Historic House Tour
President, Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust

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2,300+ Change.org petition signatures, GoFundMe exceeds goal & State Rep Warren Kamp (R) & Democrat opponent Melissa Shusterman make statements opposing digital billboard in Paoli!

The community’s voice of opposition over Catalyst Outdoor Advertising’s proposed digital billboard in Paoli continues to grow louder! After hearing that our Tredyffrin supervisors were considering the digital billboard proposal at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave (and demolishing the historic Clockworks building) my social media campaign to inform the community went in to full motion. And based on the overwhelming response, you have to believe that the Board of Supervisor Chair Heather Greenberg and her fellow supervisors are getting the message —  residents do not want the billboard or the Clockworks building destroyed in the process.

Over the years supervisors have lamented that they don’t hear from the public – Not the case this time! Over 2,300 people have signed the Change.org petition opposing the digital billboard. (If you oppose this proposed digital billboard and have not signed the petition, please join us by clicking here)

Reasons given when signing the Change.org petition range from safety and concern for distracted drivers to changing the small town appearance and not wanting to see another historic building destroyed in our community. Tredyffrin resident Jennifer Whip left this comment when signing the petition; “Tearing down an Okie building to put up a digital billboard is a double negative. We are willing to tear down a beautiful, historic building in order to put up an ugly, distracting billboard at a dangerous intersection in an era of too much distracted driving. We are privileged to live in a beautiful community that has learned to use and repurpose its historic buildings for the benefit of generations to come. No one is going to cherish a billboard.”

The GoFundMe exceeded its initial goal of $1,000 in less than four days! As a result of the community’s generous contributions, lawn signs to “BAN Digital Billboard in Paoli & Save Historic Clockworks Building” have been designed and ordered and will arrive late next week.  Based on the number of people who have asked me for a sign, a second order may be needed. Printed material will also be available starting next week. If you are interested and able to contribute, you can find the GoFundMe link by clicking here.

In addition to Savvy Main Line and Main Line Neighbors recent articles about the community push-back over the digital billboard under consideration, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Erin McCarthy called for an interview and photos were taken in front of the Clockworks building. For those that remember the Covered Wagon Inn saga, it was déjà vu standing in front of another of our historic township buildings with hopes for a similar outcome! Taking the photo at 4 PM, the Inquirer photographer received an up close and personal idea of the congestion of this intersection – and that’s without the construction of a 20 ft. high digital billboard and its blinking messages!

With the mid-term election coming up in 2-1/2 weeks, the local political campaigns are in overdrive – I was surprised to learn that the community effort to stop the digital billboard and save the Clockworks building was recognized by PA State Representative Warren Kampf (R) and his opponent Democrat Melissa Shusterman on their Facebook campaign pages. Typically Warren Kampf has not weighed in on local supervisor issues, but is making an exception in the case of the digital billboard, opposing it 100%

On her Facebook campaign Facebook page,  PA State Representative Democrat opponent Melissa Shusterman is also clear in her opposition to the digital billboard under consideration by our township supervisors.

If there was any question or doubt as to where the community stands on the issue of the digital billboard and the demolition of the historic Clockworks building — Tredyffrin township supervisors should be receiving the message loud and clear!

There is an important Special Election on the November 6 ballot — registered voters in Tredyffrin Township will be choosing an at-large supervisor to fill a vacated seat on the Board of Supervisors.  Given the current situation with the proposed plans for a digital billboard, lack of historic preservation ordinance and transparency issues, the selection of the new supervisor is extremely important to this community!

In my next blog post, I will discuss the supervisor candidates, Judy DiFilippo (R) and Mark Freed (D). and offer their responses to three timely questions which I posed.

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PA House Bill 1213 – An answer to ‘Spot Assessments’ or tying the hands of school districts and municipalities? State Rep Warren Kampf (R-157) and TE School District take opposing sides

In the last few days, local residents have received notices from the TE School District and State Representative Warren Kampf (R-157) with opposing views on PA House Bill 1213.

What is HB 1213 and why does the school district oppose the bill and why does our state representative support it?

In summary, the PA House Bill 1213 would establish that school districts and municipalities may not appeal the assessment of property based on purchase or sale of the property.

When the HB 1213 first surfaced last year, the TE School Board passed a resolution in May 2017 opposing the proposed legislation, believing that it would restrict the District’s ability to initiate property tax assessment appeals. In its February 2, 2018 newsletter, the District restates its opposition to the bill, stating the following:

HB 1213 is harmful to Pennsylvania schools for a number of reasons:

  • HB 1213 restricts a school district’s ability to initiate property tax assessment appeals.
  • If commercial or residential properties are permitted to pay taxes below the market assessment, remaining taxpayers will pay higher taxes to maintain school programs.
  • The bill maintains the property owner’s ability to appeal their assessment, setting up an unfair system. To date, TESD has lost property tax revenue in excess of $5 million through taxpayer-initiated appeals.

Over the past four years, TESD has successfully appealed properties that were undervalued based on economic factors using market-based sales data and the courts have agreed. These TESD-initiated property assessment appeals have produced almost $600,000 in new property tax revenue to fund the District’s educational program.   Lost revenue opportunities may lead to program cuts for students, increased fees for families, or higher taxes to property owners who already pay their fair share.

As sponsor of PA House Bill 1213, State Rep Kampf has previously stated that, “As the law now stands – without the enactment of House Bill 1213 – some of our state courts have given the 500 school districts and more than 3,000 local townships and municipalities in Pennsylvania the power to pick any single property and appeal its County assessment. As a result, they can (and do) challenge the assessment of a single property and, in the end, they raise taxes on that property owner alone. This is called spot assessment.”

Kampf challenged TESD’s latest newsletter as “misleading and plainly incomplete explanation of the bill” with his release of ‘Setting the Record Straight on House Bill 1213’ to residents yesterday, making the following points:

1/ The Pennsylvania Supreme Court this summer unanimously ruled that school districts were not allowed to target only commercial properties for spot assessing. This means that, if school districts undertake spot assessments, from now on they must do so to every type of property – including homes like yours and mine. Which home is picked is up to your school board to decide. That I know of, T/E has never spot assessed a home, but now—because they apparently have chosen to go forward with the practice—they must by law also target homes.

2/ House Bill 1213, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, would limit spot assessments by school districts to protect all property taxpayers from unfair targeting. Again, a spot assessment is where the school district targets and reassesses only your property, but does not reassess your neighbor’s even though your neighbor’s property is also under-assessed. Quite simply, spot assessment is inherently unfair and could even be maliciously undertaken if a school district chose to do so. The district is under no obligation to reassess all properties in a neighborhood or commercial district. They can simply pick one property and spot assess it alone.

3/ T/E says in its email it opposes HB 1213, which means they are going to start picking some homes for spot assessment. I would venture to say, since Chester County has not had a reassessment since 1997, virtually 80% of our homes are under-assessed, many significantly.

Your school district has decided that it will follow a path resulting in significant increases in valuation and property taxes for only select homeowners; these homeowners could see school property tax increases of 100%, or even 200%.

As we learned in recent arguments in the Supreme Court, it is also clear that very few school districts across the state follow this practice in any way. They either keep costs within the existing tax base, or they raise taxes on all properties, but they do not target individual properties.

Apparently, T/E finds it more important to obtain revenue than it does to protect you. I am further shocked that our school district would say such a practice is acceptable to them given that the amounts the school district admits to raising from this practice in the past equal 1/2 of 1% of their total annual budget.

4/ The school district also made a conscious decision to withhold in its email important information about HB 1213 as it is amended today. Currently, the legislation (at the request of school districts) allows a school district to try to raise the assessed value of a property if the property owner had previously obtained a reduction of that assessed amount by their own appeal. This addresses any issue of fairness.

In closing, Rep Kampf stands behind the PA House Bill 1213, stating that he “cannot sit by and allow school districts to target certain properties and create both a risky atmosphere in which to own a home, and an unpredictable place to make an investment.”

So … As a Pennsylvania resident, do you support or oppose the proposed legislation?

Do you believe that without the enactment of PA House Bill 1213, that (as Pennsylvania residents) we are at risk for “spot assessment” by our school districts and local municipalities?

Or, do you believe that the passage of PA House Bill 1213 would tie the hands of school districts and municipalities to challenge under assessed property taxes, therefore making it more unfair to the average homeowner?

Couldn’t the problem be solved with regularly scheduled property assessments?  On a personal note, my husband and I have purchased several investments properties on the South Carolina coast in the last couple of years — in South Carolina, property assessments are routine, every 5 years, eliminating the need for proposed legislation, like PA House Bill 1213.

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