Concerns raised over decline in taxable properties in boro

By on March 15, 2017

Ephrata Borough Planning Commission member David Hunt expressed concern that the number of taxable properties within the borough continued to decrease.

“To see the loss of a building that I paid taxes on for 50 years torn down and I’m sure the new business will not pay taxes on that concerns me,” said Hunt.

Hunt also questioned what tax arrangement Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital has with the borough, at Monday’s borough council meeting. He noted Wellspan York’s arrangement to make a payment to the municipality in lieu of taxes (PILOT).

“Not sure what their agreement is here in Ephrata but what bothers me is that we have nonprofits doing retail business similar to what a regular profitable business might, but not paying any taxes to the borough,” added Hunt. “These organizations are just as much of a hardship on resources, roads, sewers, electric (and more).”

In the course of his work with the planning commission, Hunt noted that he and his associates had bent over backwards to get business started. However, he added that when you begin to see things going the other way, it really starts to hurt.

Council member Vic Richards explained that it was not simply a matter of taxes, encouraging Hunt to consider the many trade-offs some of these groups were bringing to the community. He added that some groups had actually made contributions to the borough which exceeded what their taxable contribution might be otherwise.

“I watch what is happening to the small business,” replied Hunt. “I just hate to see them evaporate.”

In other borough council news, Mayor Ralph Mowen reiterated that a fire tax is not eminent but simply something which he requested council look into. The mayor, along with this correspondent, has heard from a number of residents in response to his proposal at last week’s meeting. However, Mowen was concerned that some residents had misread that the tax had already been enacted.

“I think some got ahead of the curve on this,” said Mowen. “We have simply instituted a study to see if this makes sense. It could be a year or longer before anything happens.”

Mowen added that talk of a fire tax might be a moot point if the percentage of residents contributing to the fire company were to jump from the current 16 percent to something closer to 50 percent.

Before any new tax could take effect, staff would first need to take a close look at other municipalities where such a tax was enacted to see how it was done. In addition, some public hearings would need to take place before even a draft ordinance could be proposed. Then, once proposed, the public would have a thirty-day period to review the proposed new ordinance before a vote to ratify it could take place by the full council.

Borough manager Bob Thompson concurred that the process is by design slow and steady. He stated that the borough must follow very strict guidelines for not only how a tax may be enacted but how the proceeds from those taxes can be used.

“The borough solicitor and I have not yet had the opportunity to sit down to talk about this further,” said Thompson.

A key concern is that this wrong perception that a tax is already enacted may further erode the sparse 16 percent of residents who currently contribute. Another concern is that some who currently contribute may stop doing so thinking the fire tax was enough of a contribution.

But even if such a tax were to be enacted, Mowen and Thompson said it would not likely even go into effect until 2018 at the earliest.

“Those who contribute to their local fire department should continue to do so without fear of contributing more than most,” said Mowen.

Nancy Harris, Planning and Engineering Manager, noted that key function of the commission is to guide that growth through a document known as the SALDO or Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance.

This year marks the seventieth year the commission has guided borough growth and development since it was created in 1947. What originally was twenty pages and cost a nickel has today grown to one hundred eleven pages and costs $20.

“Subdivision is the creation of new lots or property lines,” explained Harris. “Land development involves construction of buildings and improvements. Land is a valuable natural resource. Development defines the character of communities.”

Harris explained that SALDO regulations help achieve certain objectives, from offsetting municipal costs by having developers pay for improvements, to protecting the municipality from unplanned & poorly designed development. Those regulations also ensure a decent quality of life for citizens

Four of the five members of the commission were on hand for the meeting. Collectively, the five members have served 134 years between them.

Chairperson William Rohrbach has served 47 years. Vice Chair Roger Leed has been on the commission 5 years. Joel Callilhan has served 19 years. David Hunt has served 42 years while Lola Mowen has served 21 years.

Among the key functions of the planning commission, the group helps to control growth, promote economic health, improve the quality of life for citizens and develop plans for the future. The planning commission is charged with implementing policies that provide foundations for the community, overseeing the growth and development of the community and ensuring that all growth and development are considered and coordinated. In addition, the commission develops sound policy recommendations for implementing positive change within the borough and advises it on matters relating to planning and community needs.

The job is not easy and the task is not small. Planners must constantly take into account such elements as efficient transportation, providing adequate quality housing within a vibrant, growing economy. They must also consider the overall health of the community, preservation of landscapes and the protection of natural resources.

If that were not enough to keep the all-volunteer team extremely busy, Harris explained that the planning commission is also responsible to assist in preparing the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance and recommended amendments while administering SALDO regulations.

Harris also explained that on occasion the planning commission must work to remedy some Relief from Requirements (also known as modification or waiver). In such cases, a remedy is sought that meets the requirements of SALDO while at the same time providing some reasonable degree of relief from an undue hardship. However, she also explained that in considering such situations, the planning commission also has a responsibility to not overlook what might be in the best public interest.

Council member Rick Ressler voiced his support of the fire departments, pointing out that there was no way the community could pay for the level of service provided by both the Pioneer and Lincoln Fire companies.

  • Development Activities Committee Chair Linda Martin told council that as Downtown Ephrata Incorporated (DEI) was reviewing last year’s brew fest, which was held on one of the hottest days of the year, it was determined the group would like to purchase four large umbrellas to use for shade in the Whistle Stop Plaza. While DEI will purchase the umbrellas, they are asking that the borough handle the placement and removal of the umbrellas and their four-hundred pound bases once a year. The umbrellas are intended to be used not only during the brew fest but for other activities at Whistle Stop Plaza throughout the year. When not in use, the umbrellas would then be closed and chained shut to assure they are properly protected. Council unanimously agreed to authorize borough personnel to work with DEI as requested.

“At four-hundred pounds of sand in the base, once they are placed for summer they cannot be picked up and taken,” added Mowen.

  • Ephrata Borough Council took the precautionary step of enacting a state of emergency on Monday night, effective at 9 p.m. This was just as the first flakes of snow began to fall, but in consideration of the estimated 16 inches or more forecast.

For his part, Police Chief William Harvey reassured council that he had already met earlier in the day with his Emergency Management team, including representative from the police, fire, EMT’s, road crews and the Ephrata Hospital to be sure all concerned were adequately prepared for the pending storm. Borough Manager Bob Thompson said measures were in place to keep borough hall open for regular business hours to field calls from concerned residents.

For additional information on Ephrata Borough please visit their website at www.ephrataboro.org. Gary P. Klinger is in his second decade receiving your feedback and questions via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com.

 

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