Monday, December 22, 2008

Imposing Open Space Tax will cut your taxes?

The proponents of an open space tax have always argued that imposing an increase in taxes via the open space tax will in the long run lower overall taxes for our Township. While there are other arguments that could support and open space tax, like preserving valued scenic vistas and preserving historic farms and sites, imposing an open space tax is not going to drop your overall tax bill. This argument is at best inconclusive and more probably just the opposite.

First let's present the proponents position: If you impose the open space tax you will save money in the long run on infrastructure costs and services and have fewer kids utilizing the school district as well. This will in turn lower your township property tax and your school district tax. Basically, less people, less taxes.

Next, let's tackle the school district claim. The obvious flaw in this argument is that the school district includes eight different municipalities many of which have been growing at a very rapid pace. So while Wallace has grown less than 6% in population since the year 2000, the school tax has ballooned from 17.750 mils to 24.850 mils. That is a 40% increase. The slow growth of Wallace did not translate into a savings on the school tax bill, because townships like Uwchlan, Upper Uwchlan, West Bradford, and East Brandywine have been pumping lots of new students into the Downingtown School District. Wallace could lose residents and the school property tax would still go higher and higher. We are too small a piece of the pie.

So, does a smaller population translate into a township having lower township property taxes? Logically, this does not even hold up. Many of the services a township provides require certain facilities, equipment, and personnel whether the township is big or small. Just to run a township there is a minimum amount of each of these categories that is required; the more population the more income taxes and property taxes to spread across many of these areas of the budget.

Let's pause for a moment, remember we are dispelling a property tax proponent myth here, we are not proponents of more development. In fact like just about everyone in our township we would have liked to shut the door on development right after we moved into the Township. That might have precluded many of you from moving in. Sorry, but you get our point.

Notably, before discussing the local property tax versus population, 4 of the 5 highest taxed townships in the county have the open space tax - EAST BRANDYWINE TWP (2.5), FRANKLIN TWP (2.75), SCHUYLKILL TWP (2.9),
LONDON BRITAIN TWP (3.52). Next, when you look at township taxes for the townships in Chester County, more specifically the Downingtown School District you will find there is not a definitive correlation between population and local real estate taxes. Other than the fact that by far the two most populous townships West Bradford (18,430) and Uwchlan (12,146) are by far the least taxed 0 mils, and .09 mils respectively. Meaning West Bradford has no property tax and Uwchlan for all intents and purposes has such a low millage rate they also have no property tax; whereas, East Brandywine (6,485) and Wallace (3,433) townships, with fractions of the same population, have the highest taxes 2.5 and 2.4 respectively. Now thankfully the BOS has eliminated property taxes going into 2009. But, these are 2008 statistics and they show that the supposed tax savings that the property tax proponents claim as gospel does not hold up when you put the numbers to it.

So we can resurrect the debate, but let's not resurrect the old illogical argument that raising taxes will saves taxes.

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