The Van Wyck News
|Volume 6 Number 11
||A Voice for Freedom||21 June 2014|
|County Council vs Schools
The Current Battle
At the 9 June 2014 County Council meeting when introducing the development agreements Chairman McCullough indicated that the MI Homes Development Agreement included a payment of $500 per house to the County for the benefit of the School District. Mr. McCullough further indicated that provision had been made by the Planning Commission that the School District be given an opportunity to suggest within the next 30 days a contribution level different from $500 as more representative of the cost of constructing a new school. Mr. McCullough closed by saying that this opportunity had been made available to the school district, that the response of the School District was to refer the matter to their attorney, that County Council could not wait, that progress was coming and that County Council would approve these Developer Agreements with the $500 number which is what had been offered.
Mr. McCullough's version of the story turned out to be incorrect. The Planning Department and Development Agreement Committee had decided not to transmit the Planning Commission decision to the School District.
On 10 June 2014 I contacted Dr. Gene Moore, Superintendent of Schools concerning this situation. Dr. Moore indicated that he had received no communication from the County regarding this matter, and would be happy to talk to County Council or the Planning Commission if the matter were brought to him. I had discussed the situation with Dr. Moore shortly after the Planning Commission meeting at which the provision was inserted into the MI Homes Developer Agreement, pointing out that changing the $500 number to $15,000 would provide the School District with about 50% of the cost of building the new schools required by the development, leaving the School District to finance the other 50%.
I made a FOIA request for copies of the document transmitting this provision of the MI Homes Developer Agreement to the School District, any delivery receipt and any reply received from the School District.
I received the following from Steve Willis on 11 June:.
“There is no documentation on this matter. The reply on the Mattamy proposal indicated they needed to study this matter with their legal counsel, which is still underway. They were able to determine that an attendance guarantee was out of the question. As Chairman McCullough indicated at the meeting, the Development Agreement Committee took the suggestion from the Planning Commission regarding contacting the School District under advisement and determined they were not waiting on the School District to complete a review on the two matters presented last night. I feel certain the Committee would accept input from the School District for future projects at such time as they complete their work.”
The action by the Planning Commission was not a suggestion, it was a condition of approval. The motion was made originally at the 20 May Planning Commission meeting by Mr. Holt but failed for lack of a second. The motion was revised by Mr. Pappas to include the provision of the 30 day time period for School District response and then passed by the Planning Commission as a condition of the approval of the MI Homes Development Agreement. I attended the meeting and was under the impression that the Planning Department would send a letter to Dr. Moore the following day. I called Dr. Moore, described what had been done and advised him to expect the letter which the Planning Department and the Development Agreement Committee chose not to send.
Failure to transmit this information to the School District is inexcusable. The MI Homes Development Agreement is entirely different than the Matamy Homes Development Agreement and the information received on one has nothing to do with the Planning Commission decision on the other. Council is playing King of the Hill with the School District in a situation that has the potential to destroy this county.
Three Council seats and four School Board seats are up for election this November. One Council seat is contested. All school board seats are non-partisan, the filing period begins 1 August and ends 15 August. Mary Ann Hudson, Director of Lancaster County Elections will be glad to help at 803-285-2969. I'll help too, but it is your kids who will be hurt from this nonsense.
County Council vs SchoolsResidential developers need good local schools and good County services for their houses to sell and the new residents to be happy. The County and the School District are both suffering from the long term emphasis on homebuilding in Indian Land that has led to a property tax base that does not expand its revenue as fast as it expands its need for services.
What Needs to Happen
Over the last few months the County has begun asking developers to pick up part of the capital cost for emergency services and property owners to pick up the long term cost of maintaining roads and landscaping via developer agreements. The school system has been included in this program, but only at the level of $500 per house, a pittance compared to the $30,000 per pupil average cost of building a new school.
Up front it might seem reasonable to ask developers to pick up half of this cost, or $15,000 per house. This is, however, serious money, representing 4% of the price of a $375,000 home and will certainly be passed on to the homeowner. Questions such as who has to pay and how will it be guaranteed that the money will be spent to provide good local schools will have to be answered.
Some of these questions have obvious answers; those using Development Agreements will have to pay, the guy building his own home on his family's land will not. The Development Agreement is an appropriate tool to get the job done, but will have to be supplemented with an agreement between the County and the School District since the County will be negotiating with the developer and the School District will be spending the money.
The School District cannot agree to assign specific students to specific schools for a payment of money; such would be a violation of anti-discrimination laws. There is no reason, however, that the School District cannot agree to follow its current policy of building new schools near where populations of students are in an effort to keep student commute times small.
There is no reason that an agreement between the Developer and the County could not provide for a payment for the benefit of the School District in building new schools and a separate agreement between the School District and the County provide that the County will promptly pay the money to the School District where it should be held in a separate account and used to build new schools in accordance with a policy that will put the schools close to the students and keep student commute times small.
Note that this does not necessarily mean that new schools will go near developments. As developments build out, student demographics will change. As the School District runs out of capacity and needs new schools, it will need to look at student demographics at the time and try to place its new schools in a way that keep student commute times small for everyone. A large portion of the money required to build the school should be available in the escrow account.
In this way the developers get what they really need, which is good nearby schools and the School District has a policy it can live with and a financial problem that it should be able to solve.
Happy Summer Solstice!
Runoff Election 24 June
Same Polling Place and Party as 19 June 2014
4 July PartyThe Van Wyck Volunteer Fire Department and the Community Development Club will sponsor an old fashioned Fourth of July Party on 4 July beginning at 7 PM at the Community Development Center. Lots of fun things for kids will be available. Hot dog plates (hot dog and bag of chips) and drinks will be available.
1 July CDC MeetingThe Van Wyck Community Development Club will meet at 7:00 PM on 1 July 2014 at the Community Development Center. Final plans for the 4 July party will be discussed along with plans for the Celebrate Van Wyck Festival on 6 September. No CrimeWatch in July or August.
2015 County BudgetThe FY 2015 County General Fund Budget is coming in a $41.1MM, up from $33MM in FY 2012, $35MM in FY 2013 and $38MM in 2014. The property tax rate will rise to 78 mils, the maximum permitted under state law. County Council decided to forego the above the cap tax increase permitted by the carefully constructed Court Order, primarily due to fear of negative taxpayer reaction to the 1% sales tax increase to be votes on in November.
The main conflict in the budget was the decision to forget funding the second year of the Sheriff's five year plan, adopted last year, in favor of a new five year plan submitted by the Fire Service to get into the Extrication business. This comes as the bills from the previous five year plan to get the Lancaster Firefighters (10 full time firefighters working during the day) up and running. The Lancaster Firefighters program was funded mostly with grants, which start expiring in February 2015, leaving the County to start picking up the costs of this program next year.
The Sheriff's reward for achieving National Certification was to see Year 2 of his Five Year Plan left completely unfunded in favor of the new Extrication Program Five Year Plan Year 1 funding. Year two of the Sheriff's plan, which would have put an additional 10 deputies on the street, was left twisting in the wind.
There is a $232k item in the budget reserved for payment to settle a lawsuit in the July - September 2014 quarter. Identity of the lawsuit is being withheld under attorney - client privelege, although the fact that a lawsuit exists and the identity of the litigants is not priveleged information.
On a final note, Lancaster County's application to join the I77 Alliance, an economic development organization sponsored by the state, was unexpectedly turned down, freeing up the $40k allocated in the budget for dues. Rather than use that money to assuage some of the festering problems created by mismanagement, Council chose to create a slush fund by leaving the funds in the budget but withdrawing permission to spend them.
Scuttlebutt is that the reason Lancaster County was turned down for membership in the I77 Alliance is the unwillingness of present members of the Alliance to risk getting involved in past corruption in the Lancaster County Economic Development effort. Keith Tunnell, President of the Lancaster County Economic Development Corporation, avers that he cleaned all this up when he came aboard in 2006, and I have no reason to doubt that this is true. At the same time it seems that there are those who do not believe.
It might be a good time to let the Sheriff's newly established White Collar Crime unit and SLED have a good look and put this problem to rest either by putting some rotten apples in jail or by finding nothing after a truly exhaustive investigation.