By Carla Lucas , Correspondent
On the May 17 primary ballot in Franklin Township is this question: Do you favor the imposition of a tax on the earned income of township residents by Franklin Township at the rate of one half of one percent (.005) to be used to preserve, conserve, and acquire open space property interests, open space uses, and farmland?
Normally in an off-year primary election the voter’s attention and enthusiasm are minimal as throughout most of the region local municipal races (school board and supervisor seats) are the main focus. But not in Franklin Township, where citizens have organized — both pro and con – to educate the public about a referendum on the ballot asking voters to accept a .5 percent earned income tax (EIT) dedicated to open space preservation. At stake is the Township’s ability to provide new funding for future open space conservation opportunities.
Franklin Township’s Open Space Program
A decade ago Franklin Township was becoming one of the fastest-growing communities in southern Chester County. Farmlands were being developed into residential subdivisions at a rapid pace. The township’s natural resources and rural character were being threatened with over a thousand new units plus commercial spaces working their way through the planning process. With the likelihood of highly-congested roads, extreme demands on the Township’s water sources, and new sewage treatment plants discharging into the White Clay Creek there was a public outcry for change.
In 2002 the voters accepted a real estate tax dedicated to open space ($50 per $100,000 of assessed property value). With this funding, about $140,000 per year, Franklin Township’s Open Space Committee worked with willing landowners to apply for county, state, and federal grants to conserve the land in a variety of ways: conservation easements, agriculture easements, purchase of lands for public preserves. Each of its applications received funding because the Township had funds, approved by its residents to contribute.
Since the original referendum was passed, 1,169 acres of open space were successfully preserved in Franklin Township. This includes two large preserves not owned by the Township: the 145-acre Peacedale Preserve owned by Natural Lands Trust, and 466 acres of the former Strawbridge property south of Strickerville Road that is in Franklin Township (purchased by the Conservation Fund and donated to the state, now part of the Big Elk Creek @ White Clay Creek). Four preserves totaling 199 acres were acquired through the Open Space program and are owned by the Township. An additional 359 privately-owned acres are now preserved in both agricultural and conservation easements in perpetuity.
For each dollar of Franklin Township’s Open Space fund put toward these open space acquisitions an additional $3.21 came from county, state, and federal sources.
A common open space funding option for townships is to obtain a bond and use the open space funding to pay back the bond over time. Franklin Township obtained a $3 million bond, at an interest rate of 2.87 percent, of which over half has already been spent on acquisitions. With new open space grants being processed the rest of the bond funds will soon be used. Without a new funding source from the community, it will be hard to obtain more grants and conserve more land.
The economic downturn and crash of the housing market created new opportunities for open space preservation in the Township as the developers of approved subdivisions worked with the Open Space Committee to receive conservation funding and preserve the lands instead of developing the lands, as is their right. Major properties which once had approved plans for development which could be left as open space include the Echo Hill plan (major commercial and residential plan along Route 896 near the village of Kemblesville), and the Ford Farm on Appleton Road(housing development).
Keep Franklin Rural
Friends of Franklin Township are asking its neighbors to vote yes in order to “Keep Franklin Rural” through a door-to-door campaign, website (www.FriendsOfFranklinTwp.org) and Facebook page (search Friends of Franklin Township). This group of community volunteers, many also serve on the Township’s Open Space Committee, are emphasizing the reason the funding is needed, the consequences for not approving the additional EIT, and helping individuals understand their personal tax consequence if passed.
“People seem to view new open space as a good investment,” said Teddy Price, one of the Friends of Franklin Township’s leaders. “We want people to understand what this tax is, calculate how much they might pay and come to their own conclusion” as to whether this additional tax is worth it to keep the rural character of life in Franklin Township a reality.
Among the reasons for voting “yes” are that open space protection:
・ Invests in the long-term; future generations will also reap the benefits of land conservation now.
・ Helps avoid tax increases, with less infrastructure, fewer children in schools, and the less water/sewer services.
Benefits our health and that of wildlife.
Means more recreation opportunities.
・ Preserves agriculture.
No New Tax Hike
According to David Galligan, a group of citizens concerned about tax increases in general and in their community are encouraging voters to vote “no” on May 17.
His barn at the corner of Route 896 and Route 841 currently sports a no tax hike sign and others are popping up throughout the community. These concerned citizens are also going door-to-door explaining their position on the open space tax referendum. Their website www.mytaxburden.net features a tax calculator to help people understand their individual consequence if the new tax were enacted.
They are asking the question: where are my tax dollars going? This group believes private ownership, not the government should dictate open space. They are opposed to the debt the Township incurred with its open space program and do not think the funds were wisely spent.
“Everyone wants open space but what are we paying for and what are we getting?” said Galligan. “It’s eye candy for townships.”
What’s the bottom line for me?
Calculating how this new EIT will affect each taxpayer, if passed, is an individual calculation. One thing both sides agree upon is the individual tax reality is complicated. “People in Franklin Township live and work in different places,” said Price. “It’s complicated further in Pennsylvania where dollars taxed where you work can go back to where you live.”
First, if the EIT is passed the real estate open space tax ($50/$100,000 of assessed value) will be repealed. Therefore, property owners on pensions with little or no earned income will most likely see a tax decrease.
Franklin Township residents who work in another Pennsylvania municipality that has already implemented the 1 percent EIT will not pay additional taxes, as the .5 EIT will be switched to Franklin Township’s coffers. Keystone Collections, the collector of the area’s EIT tax, has on its website (www.keystonecollects.com, click on Taxpayer resource, Helpful Link, and Tax Rate Look-up by Municipality) a list of townships who already collect this tax.
Residents who work in Philadelphia will not be subjected to this new tax because of the City Wage Tax they already pay.
For residents who work in Delaware, they will receive a credit on part of the income they already pay to Delaware. Depending upon the individual tax situation, the new EIT may or may not increase their total tax burden and their real estate tax will go down.
Because of tax reciprocity with New Jersey and Maryland, Franklin Township residents who work there will most likely have to pay the additional tax, but their real estate tax will go down.
Those opposing the tax agree it may benefit some, but it is pitting neighbor against neighbor.
Friends of Franklin Township are asking residents to invest in the future and accept a tax increase to allow the Township to continue its open space preservation program.