Handi*Vangelism, EASD and Akron agree to PILOT payments

By on July 19, 2017

At Monday’s Akron Borough Council meeting, Handi*Vangelism’s vision of a faith-based camping facility for disabled individuals took a giant step toward becoming reality.

With two council members absent, the five members present voted unanimously for a resolution to accept Handi*Vangelism’s payment in lieu of taxes proposal. Council President John Williamson and Borough Manager Sue Davidson signed an agreement containing the details of how the PILOT will work.

Handi*Vangelism Ministries International provides a week-long camping experience for people with a variety of health issues. Many of the campers are wheelchair bound, and each camper is assigned a staff member for one-on-one care for the week. The camping program is the most visible part of their ministry. They also work with abuse victims, provide grief counseling and other services for parents who have lost a child, and they have some mental health programs, as well.

When HVMI first proposed buying the Westview Golf Course on Rothsville Road for its facility, property taxes were an immediate issue. Taxes on the property currently are $11,232, with $8,487 payable to the Ephrata Area School District, $1,264 for Akron Borough, and $1,581 for Lancaster County.

Organized as a 501(c)(3) church, HVMI is exempt from federal and state income taxes. Many nonprofits also claim exemption from property taxes. Because its funding would have been hardest hit by taking the golf course off the tax rolls, EASD took the lead in negotiating with HVMI, which was represented by Lancaster attorney Robert K. Weaver. Akron agreed to accept the results of the EASD/HVMI negotiation. The county has yet to agree to the arrangement. If the county doesn’t agree, then the year-long process will have been for naught. There has been no indication, at least at borough council meetings, that the county will nix the deal.

Weaver said HVMI hopes to close on the property in October. In the past, the purchase of the property by a charitable nonprofit would have removed it from the tax rolls. A growing number of local governments have been bringing increasing pressure on charities to “voluntarily” sign PILOT agreements. These agreements are often for just part of the revenue lost by taking a property off the tax rolls.

In HVMI’s case, the organization has agreed to a PILOT amount that is equal to the amount that is being paid now. In other words, assuming that even with the county-wide reassessment next year, HVMI’s total tax bill will be the $11,232 the current owner is liable for.

HVMI’s plans for the property include a number of structures that would not be taxed if this were a standard nonprofit transaction. The charity’s plans also call for the construction of three residences for the use of full-time and transient staff. Under the agreement already accepted by EASD and, on Monday night by Akron Borough, these houses and the land they occupy will be fully taxable. As those houses are built, Weaver said, HVMI’s tax bill will increase to as much as $35,000.

The HVMI experience increased the Akron community’s awareness of PILOT programs. Council studied the impact exempt properties have on the town, and discovered that there are about 25 nonprofits, none of whom have been submitting PILOTs. Borough Manager Sue Davidson recently mailed a letter to all those organizations requesting PILOTs. She said she had thus far received one $500 check from Akron Mennonite Church.

In other business, Akron native Mike Zell gave an account of recent developments in his plan for a Broad Street playground reunion on Thursday, Aug. 3, beginning at 6 p.m. He has been sharing his thoughts with readers of The Ephrata Review for the past two months or so, but wanted to emphasize to council that he and his informal committee are hoping to see many of the same faces that hung out at the playground in the summers of the 60s, 70s and into the 80s.

Zell, a Manheim Township teacher, was a playground leader from 1975-79. Nok Hockey, gimp creations, APBA baseball, tetherball, volleyball and other activities will be available. Zell said they’ve invited leaders and participants from other playgrounds to join in, but said he doesn’t know if they’ll have six people, 60 or 160.

Zell was asked how he thought a playground program would go over with today’s kids. Electronic devices and online games certainly would keep a lot of kids out of the mix, Zell said, but it was his second answer. His first answer was, “Air conditioning. People didn’t have air conditioning back then,” he said. “It was just as hot inside as outside, so you might as well be outside, face to face with other kids, doing things.”

Akron Lions member Jeff Sherk, who did much of the organizing for Akron Day in the Park, said the borough staff and police department had done an outstanding job on the Saturday, June 10, event at Roland Park.

Sherk also inquired about the Air BnB situation within the borough. Davidson said she had recently compiled a list of Air BnBs in town, and that only one had applied for and been given a license to operate. She said she expected the borough zoning officer would be checking out any unlicensed Air BnBs and issuing citations where appropriate. The borough’s zoning officer duties are performed by Code Administrators, Inc., from their home office at 4340 Oregon Pike, Ephrata.

Douglas Evans approached council some months ago to inquire about the possibility of a handicapped accessible path from Colonial Drive, through Colonial Park and connecting with the rail trail. After that discussion, Councilman Nathan Imhoff initiated a GoFund Me drive to raise money for the path. At Monday’s meeting he held up a sheaf of engineering drawings. Imhoff said the project is slowly coming together, and when it is completed, the path will be macadamed, rather than covered with stone, as had originally been planned. The fundraising website can be found at gofundme.com/colonial-park-access-path-to-trail.

Akron residents Michael and Robyn Hodgson are part of an effort to promote Pennsylvania House Bill H 772, and Senate Bill S 22. The bills are aimed at curbing the rampant gerrymandering that goes on after every 10-year National Census. They believe that gerrymandering is a political scam designed to protect the party in power. The Hodgson’s asked council to adopt a resolution backing the two bills currently sitting in committee in Harrisburg. Council took the resolution under advisement. For more information, Michael Hodgson can be reached at michaelhhodgson@gmail.com. There are also several websites devoted to the issue, one of which is fairdistrictspa.com

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