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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, November 13, 2015

Williams Township Introduces Miraculous 60% Tax Cut

L to R: Vince Foglia, George Washburn and Ray Ahert
As most of you know, I love chaos and misery. That's why I was willing to risk driving on windy and pitch black roads to the Williams Township Municipal Building last night. Though I got what I came for, I'd be remiss if I failed to fill you n on some very nice things at that meeting. Like the Miracle league. And a budget for next year that seems like a miracle - one that actually includes a substantial tax cut.

George Washburn, Chairman of Williams Township's Board of Supervisors was unhappy two years ago when a news headline screamed "Williams Township passes 2014 budget that includes a 60 percent tax hike" just two years ago. That hike was necessary because the Township was playing hardball with Chrin landfill at the time, and expected revenues to drop precipitously. The tax rate went from 2.25 mills to 4.0 mills, which is still pretty low.

Well the Chrin war is finally over, and at the November 12 Supervisors' meeting, Washburn was only too happy to introduce a 2016 Budget that reduces taxes 60%, from 4.0 to 2.25 mills.

A mill is $1 of tax on every $1,000 of taxable property value. So a home assessed at $100,000 can expect a $250 tax bill instead of the current $400.

"The reason we're able to do this is the settlement we worked out with Chrin," explained Washburn, as someone in the back of the room applauded.

The Budget is scheduled for adoption in December.

Richard Agretto and Bob Lammi of Miracle League
In other pleasant news, Bob Lammi and Richard Agretto of the Northampton County Miracle League thanked Supervisors for an annual $3,000 contribution to help fund a baseball program at the Charles Chrin Community Center for developmentally challenged kids  Lammi, Agretto and Dave Colver, in the height of the Great Recession, were able to cobble together $750,000 to build a rubber baseball field for kids of all ages. They started with 85 kids and have grown to 300 athletes.

After making his presentation, Lammi remarked, not just about the fun that developmentally challenged kids have, but the thousands of volunteers who help them. They include cheerleading squads, high school baseball teams. These athletes walk away knowing that the developmentally challenged are still kids, just like them.

"We're thriving," said Agretto, whose program now includes Fall ball and night games.

Holding the plaque in one hand, Washburn said the award is not for the Supervisors, but all the residents of Williams Township.

Now on to the real reason for my presence. Yet another open space scam. Last month, Williams Township Supervisors finally pulled the plug on a $319,970 handout to wealth management specialist and real estate flipper Michael Glovas in exchange for a "conservation easement" on the 72 acres surrounding his palatial estate at 590 Browns Drive in Williams Township. The bullshit application was based on an appraisal revealing that most of the land was either too rocky or steep for development.

Now Supervisors are poised to kill another grant they already approved - an $86,868 conservation easement on 18 acres at yet another cliff. Because there's been no settlement on this grant, Supervisors can still back out of the deal.

This case involves not one, not two, but three appraisals. The property owner didn't like the first appraisal, so the Land Preservation Board spent $3,000 for another. Then another $3,000 for a third appraisal.

Incredibly, the appraisal establishes value by comparing this wasteland, which includes a major power line and practically no road frontage, to farmland. Vince Foglia pulled out comparable after comparable, sode, according to Solicitor howing that the appraiser, instead of comparing garbage land to garbage land, was determining value by looking at thriving farms.

Washburn appeared to be visibly upset at what he saw. "It's not even close to comparable," he stated. "How can we justify spending money on that? This is illegal."

And that's another problem. Though the state DCNR allows the use of two appraisals that are within 15% of each other, there are three appraisals in this case, and the low appraisal was never disclosed. That also presents some problems under the Second Class Township Code, according to Solicitor Jonathan J. Reiss. He advised that the Township is barred by law from paying more than a property is worth, and must go by the lowest appraisal or the average of several appraisals.

Land Preservation Chair Bob Schmidt asked Supervisors to table the matter a month so they can look at the information in their own appraisals. Washburn agreed but instructed Schmidt that "I want an honest answer. I don't want to hear [that you used farming comparables] because it is zoned agricultural."

In addition to the appraisal problem, Foglia handed Schmidt a list of 68 subdivisions approved for development in Williams Township, and suggested that preserving that land would be a "more effective use of taxpayer funds." He recommended open space advocates to redirect their energies on land "most susceptible to development." He wants them to focus where development is likely or already approved."

He derided preservation efforts on undevelopable steep slopes, calling it a "cash cow" for a "preservation industry" who seems to be most interested in preserving their own jobs.


Vince Foglia said...

Thanks Bernie for disclosing the scam to me in the first place. The PA legislature said that taking money via taxes from some folks to pay others to not develop land is allowed, but only under strict controls and transparency. Every time I disclose the facts, I get attacked. As you saw, one LPB member accused me of 7 or 8 wrong things I said, and apparently wanted our solicitor to take action against me, but then could not name one thing. One way or another the Morrow preservation will be an example of how keeping secrets is done for a reason-they don't want to show the scam. Hopefully, we will not have to pay grant and expense money back to the DCNR and county when they or auditors see what was hidden from them and the details behind our grant applications. Somehow, folks don't understand that state and county grants are not free, they too come from us taxpayers.
Vince Foglia

Anonymous said...

Miracle League is a terrific asset to Northampton County. Thanks to Rick, Bob and all others involved in this awesome program!