Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Our Open Space Program Needs More Scrutiny - Part Two
The person who first noticed this problem is a Williams Township farmer named Halden Ballek. He is more comfortable on his tractor than with the suits in a meeting room. He went to Vince Foglia with his concerns, and together, they have forced some changes But they have miles to go before they sleep.
Open Space advocates had argued that getting a handout from the government for development rights is not enough. Getting a preferential assessment under which 90% of your property taxes are eliminated is not enough either. They wanted more. And they got it in the form of an outright tax freeze from the land of midnight payraises. A Millage Freeze Law (Act 4) was adopted in 2006 under which there could never be a tax increase in preserved property. Not ever. But in order to be effective, it would have to be approved by every municipality and school district, as well as the County. Otherwise, Nazareth and Wilson taxpayers could see their own taxes go up while some gazillionare in Williams Township pays a pittance. In other words, and as required by the Pa. Constitution,* taxes must be uniform.
Northampton County adopted a law that imposed a millage freeze on preserved parties, but the language of its own ordinance makes clear that, before taking effect, every other taxing district in the County had to approve it, too. Some did. Some have not done anything. Despite this failure, the County imposed a millage freeze on what are now about 240 preserved properties. When taxes went up this year, their taxes remained frozen at the lower rate, and without the consent of the taxing districts. in effect, people of limited means in Glendon and West Easton are now funding the land barons.
Foglia has had several meetings with the County over this issue, and so far, has got nowhere. The matter is supposedly now in Phil Lauer's hands. He is the Council Solicitor and is also the very Williams Township lawyer who at the last Council meeting spoke highly of preserving land in Williams. While Lauer ponders the merits of Foglia's argument, the County has caved on a subissue.
When properties are preserved, there is usually a homestead and sometimes other tracts that are excepted out. Those properties were receiving the low taxes and the millage freeze. The County has agreed they must be taxed at their fair market value, and has designated X and F parcels of lands receiving favorable taxation and those that don't.
According to Foglia, even with these news assessments, the taxes are artificially low.
I'll continue this story on Wednesday.
* Pa. Const., Article VIII, Section 1