Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tredyffrin BOS Meeting: Proposed Zoning Changes, Fee Schedule Agreement w/TESD, Wayne Glen Conditional Use Application, etc. etc.

The Board of Supervisors have a full agenda for tomorrow’s meeting at 7 PM. Following the regular supervisors meeting, the public hearing continues for the Arcadia/Wayne Glen conditional use application.

On the supervisors meeting agenda are a couple of important zoning proposals are announced for discussion at the May 21 Planning Commission meeting. These proposed Zoning Text Amendments are substantial; and may significantly change a couple of areas of the township. Erickson Living is proposing an amendment to Tredyffrin Township’s PIP (Planned Industrial Park) district language to permit large campus-style communities of independent living, assisted living and nursing care at Atwater Corporate Park in the western Great Valley section. A preliminary discussion of this project took place at last week’s Planning Commission meeting with township planning commissioners and Erickson Living representatives and their attorneys.

The other proposed Zoning Text Amendment petition is by Benson Companies, LLC to create a Historic/Conservation Cluster Overlay district – this proposed zoning change is to be discussed at the May 21 meeting. I attended a community homeowner meeting with Benson (no relation to me!) and saw his concept development plans (one plan is by-right and the other a cluster housing plan) that the developer has in mind for a 7+ acre site in Strafford. Neither of these plans is acceptable in their present state for the historic property wedged between Homestead and West Valley Roads. Many of the township’s most prized historic properties are located on these two roads, adjacent to this proposed development project, including eight homes that have been featured on the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s annual Historic House Tour.

Without question, I support preserving the township’s historic resources. However, any type of historic preservation zoning change must be thoughtful and carefully created … not designed to meet the ‘spot-zoning’ desires of a developer! More will be written on this topic and the proposed zoning change prior to May 21 Planning Commission.

Back to the agenda for the Supervisors Meeting – I am delighted to see the “Motion to approve staff to seek bids for repair/replacement of the front steps at the Township Municipal Complex”. It’s about time! The disrepair of the steps and walkway in front of the township building is deplorable and the condition has deteriorated for years. Is it because the supervisors and township staff use the ‘back entrance’ that they don’t see what the public sees – It looks awful, not to mention the safety hazard! I hope that there’s a timeline for repair along with this motion.

Another item on the agenda is the permit fee schedule between the township and TE School District. Given the planned school district construction projects (fencing, maintenance building, school additions, etc.) any agreement between the township and the school district should have significant discussion. Ray Clarke is particularly interested in this agenda item and provided the following comments:

The current CM discussion about planning, zoning and permits for fencing in Chesterbrook and the Maintenance and Storage facility on Old Lancaster Road touches on an important matter that all Tredyffrin residents and taxpayers should be aware of before the Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday.

At its March 23rd meeting, the School Board approved a Letter of Understanding with Easttown Township for a custom permit fee schedule – “$104 plus reimbursement of all associated time and material costs” for both renovation and new construction, but at the same time “permit fees for new construction projects shall be negotiated and agreed upon by the Township Manager and Superintendent”. So that’s confusing, but anyway, the intent seems to be to give the School District a discounted rate. The standard Easttown permit fee structure is generally $104 plus 2% of construction costs.

So now the Tredyffrin BOS agenda for Monday April 20th has the following agenda item: “Motion to approve the permit fee settlement agreement between Tredyffrin Township and Tredyffrin/Easttown School District”

If this “settlement agreement” has the same form as the Eastown agreement, there are a number of questions beyond the confusing language.

  1. All the TESD facilities are in Tredyffrin except for two elementary schools. So a give-away that is immaterial for Easttown is significant for Tredyffrin. We have seen the huge drain on resident and township time imposed by the District facilities.
  2. “Time and materials” is usually code for variable direct costs; any agreement that included that language would leave all the management, HR, accounting, engineering, healthcare, pensions, information systems, vehicle, debt, etc. costs completely unreimbursed. Permit fees should be set to cover full costs over the complete range of business cycles.
  3. These expenses would be borne by the taxpayers of Tredyffrin to the benefit of the taxpayers of Easttown. Every $1,000 discount means a transfer of $250 from Tredyffrin taxpayers, given the relative sizes of the tax base. Moreover, that discount is at least six times more material to Tredyffrin, with its less than $20 million budget, than it is to TESD with its $124 million budget.
  4. One third of those Tredyffrin taxpayers are commercial enterprises. Patch just reported that Tredyffrin has just been lauded for its “overall business friendly tax environment”. Does the Township want to discourage commercial developers by making them pay inflated permit fees to cover School district discounts?
  5. Since permit fees are likely paid from the TESD Capital Fund (repaid over the life of the project), this subsidy is not only from one township to another, it’s from currentresidents tofutureresidents of that township.

Of course, we won’t know until Monday what this agreement actually contains, but it seems to me to be important for anyone concerned with keeping Tredyffrin’s value for both residents and businesses should attend Monday’s meeting, find out what’s being “settled and why the Township would entertain giving the School District special treatment, and then voice their opinion before any BOS vote.

It’s worth noting here that another agenda item is:

“Motion to adopt Resolution 2015-11 to approve paying agent to call the 2020- 2023 maturities of the 2009 General Obligation Bonds”

Once more we see prudent financial management from the Township to the benefit of taxpayers, paying down debt from fund balance and only borrowing against actual needs, such a contrast to the School District. Which makes any agreement as an enabler of the unconstrained district spending all the more inexplicable – so let’s hope I’m jumping to conclusions.

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  1. Thank you Pattye and Ray for highlighting this permit fee agreement on Monday’s BOS Agenda. Tredyffrin residents should attend this meeting (7pm) – especially if you don’t want to be paying Easttown’s share of school expenses and taxes any more. The details of this new agreement have not been shared with the public yet and the ramifications could be significant.

    Tredyffrin’s current agreement with the T-E School District is a money loser for Tredyffrin and its taxpayers since it provides steep discounts to TESD. I am anxious to hear what Tredyffrin has been able to negotiate with TESD. TESD should be paying the same rates as all other commercial/institutional parties. Permit/inspection fee structures are established at rates that cover the Township’s costs (including overhead) so that the Township breaks even on average – recognizing the variability in permit requests from year to year. Any discounts to the fee structure create a deficit for the Township that must be made up by raising our taxes. That’s typically not a problem if the school district serves only 1 township. However, TESD serves both T and E and more than 90% of all the school buildings and property (playing fields, support buildings) etc… are in Tredyffrin. Thus any discounts on permits and inspections for these buildings and properties will be made up 100% by Tredyffrin taxpayers. So Tredyffrin is paying what should be Easttown’s share of TESD costs.

    Tredyffrin already pays for the road maintenance, snow removal, street lights, police, etc… around these properties.

    This should not be a Tredyffrin vs. Easttown issue. The fairest option is for both Townships to charge the School District for the full cost of services provided and then we all pay via our School Taxes. The Townships don’t make or lose money and all taxpayers are treated equally.
    Let’s hear if Tredyffrin has succeeded in negotiating a fair agreement with TESD.

  2. At last night’s Tredyffrin BOS meeting the form of the agreement was revealed – and approved – but that did nothing to assuage taxpayer concerns that it is not in their best interest. Indeed, many hearing about this for the first time seemed to get a better grasp of the impact than many on the Board that have been working on it for months.

    We were told that the difficulty arises because of a current agreement that is is just like the new Easttown agreement that charges time and materials. Unlike the five year term of that agreement, though, Tredyffrin’s has no expiration date. The result has been wasted overhead to collect the time and material data, and minimal fees charged.

    The new agreement eliminates the calculations and subjectivity and provides the District with a 70% discount to the fee schedule. That this is an improvement speaks to how bad the current agreement is.

    That the BOS find this acceptable remains inexplicable, however. We heard many times that the 30% fee can be considered to represent Easttown’s contribution, proportionate to the relative tax bases. But of course Tredyffrin taxpayers contribute 74% of that 30%!!

    I gather that the agreement is not yet final (the Solicitor added some commentary about being subject to language changes), but it’s final enough that the BOS would not even consider a proposed amendment from Mrs. Richter to limit the term to five years.

    It’s a shame that neither Easttown or Tredyffrin townships, nor the School Board, can stand up to whatever forces are at work here, and follow the rules in a fair and equitable way that makes economic sense.

    1. I struggle to see how this agreement is an improvement to the existing agreement. The existing agreement requires the fee schedule to be discussed/negotiated for projects whereas this ‘new’ version discounts the fees by 70%. Certainly the new agreement means that the school district and the township don’t have to discuss or negotiate fees. In that regard, it is a better agreement for elected officials, as there’s no requirement for the parties to talk. It was amazing to me how quickly that the audience members understood the economics of this ‘deal’ between the township and the school district, but yet some of the supervisors struggled to get it. And kudos to EJ Richter for trying to get the term of the agreement reduced from 10 years to 5 years. She made the motion and NOT ONE of the other supervisors seconded the motion. Wow, would that have been so hard??

      We will have to wait and see what happens at next Monday’s school board meeting (April 27) regarding the agreement. Here’s hoping that the fee schedule agreement is not buried in the school board’s consent agenda. When the draft school board agenda is sent to the school board members, any one of the them can ask for items to be removed from the consent agenda.

      1. This is a bad agreement for Tredyffrin Taxpayers (even if the Supervisors claim it is better than the previous agreement.) I was extremely disappointed that none of the Supervisors or the Solicitor could clearly explain why this new agreement was better than the previous deal.

        In the new agreement, Tredyffrin is giving TESD a 70% discount on permit/fee rates. Permit/inspection rates are established so that, on average, townships do not make or lose money providing these services. Here’s the simple math I provided last night to support why this is a bad deal for Tredyffrin taxpayers:

        Suppose a permit fee/cost is set at $100.
        With the 70% discount, TESD pays 30% = $30
        TESD is funded by Easttown and Tredyffrin property taxes and, based on assessed property values, this breaks down to 26% Easttown and 74% Tredyffrin.
        Easttown taxpayers pay 26% of this $30 = $8
        Tredyffrin taxpayers pay 74% of this $30 = $22
        Plus, Tredyffrin taxpayers must fully fund the $70 discount.

        Therefore, for every $100 permit cost:
        Easttown taxpayers pay $8
        Tredyffrin taxpayers pay $92

        The fairest agreement would be to charge TESD the full $100 cost.
        Based on their share of school taxes:
        Easttown taxpayers would pay their 26% share = $26
        Tredyffrin taxpayers would pay their 74% share = $74

        This illustrates that with the new agreement, Tredyffrin taxpayers will be paying $18 more than their fair on each $100 permit. ($92 vs. $74) This is a direct subsidy to Easttown taxpayers who end up paying only $8 versus their full share of $26.

        A term of 10 years – is much too long. The current re-negotiation was requested by Tredyffrin less than 7 years into the current agreement because experience indicated Tredyffrin was operating at a significant loss in providing permits to TESD. A shorter term would encourage re-negotiations sooner for an improved deal for all parties based on actual cost experience.

        All permit seekers should be treated equally. Why should TESD get a discount while homeowners and other commercial/institutional entities pay full rates? It might sound “nice” for a township to offer a discount to the schools but both Tredyffrin and Easttown taxpayers pay for the school system, thus any discount from Tredyffrin is simply a subsidy from Tredyffrin taxpayers to Easttown taxpayers. (Also, approximately 90% of TESD property is in Tredyffrin, so roughly 90% of all permits/inspections are handled by Tredyffrin.)

        I encourage all residents to ask their supervisors and school board representatives why they support this deal. The TESD is expected to vote on this agreement Monday (27th) at the SB meeting – 7:30 at Conestoga High School.

        1. Good summary Carol. So according to the math this “deal” is worse for every Tredyffrin taxpayer than if there were no concession given to TESD (contrary to the claims by the chair and the solicitor).

          In all of the time that Mike and team spent on this agreement they appear to have missed the mark and negotiated an agreement that benefits Easttown residents at the expense of the Tredyffrin residents.

  3. Hold on Whoops,
    To clarify, this new agreement is better than what we had. I am told that the net reimbursement rate from TESD was even lower! (It’s difficult to make a direct comparison since the payment structures are different.) It appears that TESD did not want to negotiate at all. Makes one wonder what their position is and what they think is fair.

    There are several benefits to the new agreement.
    1) A standard payment structure will reduce overhead costs. 2)It uses the same fee schedule that TT uses for other commercial/institutional applicants (without the discount) which can be updated.
    3)The base permit costs have been updated from the 2007 numbers.
    4) Separate negotiations will not be required for each new construction project.

    It’s regrettable that we didn’t have a chance to review this agreement and have a thorough discussion of what its costs and benefits are prior to the BOS meeting and vote. Haven’t heard anything from TESD – anyone interested in fairness should be contacting the School Board prior to next Monday’s meeting when they are supposed to vote.

    It’s disappointing that Tredyffrin was able to achieve only a 30% reimbursement rate. I had expected a fairer deal with less of our tax dollars subsidizing Easttown.

  4. I understand that the proposed agreement is better than the current agreement. That is an entire other discussion, maybe one that Supervisor Olson could shed some light.

    My point was that both the Chairman and the solicitor claimed that the discount benefited the taxpayers of Tredyffrin by the fact that any fee charged by the township would have been taxed back to Tredyffrin taxpayers by TESD. First off that premise is purely conjecture, beyond that, even if TESD did tax the taxpayers 100% of the fees charged at least it would have been an equitable distribution compared to the deal currently proposed by TTBOS which benefits the taxpayers of Easttown at the expense of Tredyffrin taxpayers.

  5. It is a better deal. Consider the fact the district didn’t need to come to the bargaining table in the first place unless it needed something. In this case, there is likely some level of fencing the district will need permits for. Why do you think you haven’t seen permits yet? It’s because the agreement hasn’t been executed yet. Nobody asked that question on Monday Night. In not so many words, the BOS told you that.

    Make no mistake that when the agreement gets signed and if permit applications come in, they will be approved. Somebody at the meeting talked about an agreement between the school district and the neighbors. No such agreement exists. Never has. On the other hand, there a set of conditions on a conditional use that does exist. That agreement however, is between the district and the township. If you want to know why the district has put those attorneys off, that’s why. There is zero obligation for the district to spend $ talking with neighborhood attorneys based on a false premise that an agreement exists.

    Another point is that Mayock, Heaberg and DiBuonaventuro are beyond the political process. They are not running for re-election. And the BOS is 100% correct that procedurally, the issue isn’t ripe. There is nothing before the BOS. Therefore, all of the complaining, hopefully it was good therapy because it doesn’t change a thing.

    The notion that the discount is a bad deal for taxpayers is a false one. It’s a zero sum game. Is there a subsidy to Easttown? If there is, it’s immaterial. And as I understand it, Easttown provides the same kind of discount. Wouldn’t that be a subsidy to Tredyffrin?

    The gist of the complaint Monday night was losing access to the fields. In other words, the fences would inconvenience you. Calling the Township Solicitor a liar is not a great way to engender sympathy. For the record, the move with showing the 5 y/o’s picture was poor form. What 5 y/o would know anything about it without some strong coaching from dad? that was such a disservice to your cause.

    You all have to pick your battles. Right now, everything is a bottle with the school district. Hate to tell you, but most of the township won’t care. You can cite the false premise of safety. Unless you’re an expert on the topic, your opinion won’t be valid. Wasting taxpayer dollars? People are fighting a losing cause and the district is racking up legal bills to fight what are bogus claims. You can’t claim tax dollar waste at the same time.

    Face the truth that you simply aren’t getting your way and you’re mad. There is no legal basis for you to prevail on your claims.

  6. Sorry Observer, I need to straighten you out with some facts. There IS a legally binding agreement between Chesterbrook Civic Association (not “neighbors”, but a legal entity) and TESD, from 2002 whereby a “special exception” was granted by the TT Zoning Hearing Board to TESD in exchange for certain concessions made by CCA to TESD regarding the development of athletic fields on that site.. It is on the books, not some concoction by nervous neighbors. And, it doesn’t magically disappear after 13 years…unless TESD was just kidding when they entered into the Agreement. Any material change to this agreement, (and this is stated directly in the Agreement) must come before and be approved by the Tredyffrin Township Zoning Hearing Board..What TESD is proposing is indeed material..
    Go ahead and check on that guarantee you state above about fencing permits getting approved when they come in..
    Then check back with this blog.
    On your other point of conditional restrictions on site use of that land…are you referring to the Deed transfer? If so, I need to correct you again.. That Agreement is not between TT and TESD; it is between TESD and developer entity of Chesterbrook..whereby the restrictions were spelled out and designated ‘in perpetuity’.
    The one thing I might agree with you is the histrionics not contributing much.. however, people are passionate about this issue..and it is a community-wide concern.
    You seem pretty certain about residents just stamping their feet needlessly..Again, lets see how this unfolds..

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