Get Ready for Higher Taxes

Starting in Londonderry?
By Steve Todd

The room was packed. Attendees lined the back wall and sat on the edges of tables at the Dec. 6 meeting of the Londonderry Township supervisors to speak their minds about the township’s proposed real estate tax increase.

Board Chair Ron Kopp said, “This is what we would like to have seen in August,” when the board asked for public input into the 2011 budget. The budget includes significant tax increases, but lays out a threeyear plan for overdue expenditures.

Manager Steve Letavic identified needs, including “$1.7 million to bridges and culverts in the next one to three years. We lost over $100,000 in earned income tax revenue in 2009. We have not kept pace with equipment replacement. We have not done a road overlay in seven years.” Letavic’s only good news: “This budget is a three-year plan. It is not anticipated that we will be back here next year” for another increase.

The board then voted unanimously to set a new municipal real estate tax rate of 3.0 mils – 2.5 mils to the general fund and 0.5 mils to the fire department. Assuming a constant school district tax rate, this will bring total local real estate taxes in Londonderry Township up to 21.1 mils. (See current taxes in chart below.)

Resident Andrew Howarth noted, “I don’t want to see my taxes go up, either. This is what we get for refusing to let taxes go up for 14 years.” Others saw it differently.

Susan Williams suggested balancing the budget by cutting two township staff positions: “Lay those two people off. We laid seven off at work. You can’t keep raising taxes, its unsustainable.”

John Prader thinks the Sunset Golf Course has “been a dead horse since we took it over from the government. Sell that golf course.” This opinion was met with sustained applause and was echoed several times that night.

Ron Martin said “We’ve got to stop unfunded mandates. Our fancy, schmansy school districts who decide we need fancy football fields. And why stop at one, when you can have two at just twice the price?”

Indeed, school taxes are the largest component of the total local real estate tax, and a percentage increase in school taxes has a larger impact on the total tax load.

For example, Derry Township School District has discussed the possibility of a 3% increase along with other measures to increase revenues, including charging students to park at the school.

Edgewater Zoning Reversal

On Nov. 1, the supervisors rejected a zoning amendment proposed by the Edgewater development owners to change the residential density in the R2 district, a 500-acre area including the contentious Lytle Farm property.

Recently, however, they advertised to reconsider the vote, and on Dec. 6, they overturned that rejection.

Before the vote, Supervisor Andy Doherty grilled the applicant's consultants. Citing the Lower Dauphin Comprehensive Plan recommendation that lots of 1/3 acre should coincide with 30% open space, he questioned why the amendment would allow lots of that size to only have 15% open space. "I don't believe it is anywhere near consistent with" the Comp Plan, Doherty stated. "We respectfully disagree," countered Edgewater's attorney Mark Stewart.

Resident Andy Howarth, who spoke against the amendment at the Nov. 1 hearing, spoke against reconsidering it: "I'm very confused why we are going through all this again. It is in total contradiction to what we just hashed out over at Lytle Farms. It makes no sense to me: same lawyers, same engineers, arguing the exact opposite of what they did for Lytle Farms."

Howarth's claims notwithstanding, this time the matter passed on 3-2 vote. This vote apparently overturns the 2-2 vote of Nov. 1. Anna Dale joined Doherty in dissenting, as she did on Nov. 1.

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