Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Did the School Board Make a Mistake?

The recent board decision to accept the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) offered by Pennswood Village drew some sharp criticism from the public. An angry Flowers Mill resident chided the board by saying "I can't see how you can go home tonight and face yourselves." Another citizen said the board should have challenged Pennswood Villages claim of tax exemption. You can read this Courier Times article for more details.

It's easy to understand why people are upset. Pennswood Village pays Neshaminy about $650,000 each year in school property taxes. Under the PILOT agreement, that amount will be reduced to $550,000 next year; $450,000 the following year; and $350,000 in the final year of the agreement. Who gets to make up the difference - YOU DO! So the question becomes, did the school board drop the ball by not challenging Pennswood Village's tax exemption?

Despite the understandable frustration of the public, the Neshaminy School Board made the right call. If they refused to accept the PILOT offer, Neshaminy's operating budget would have been in the red by $650,000 instantly. It's better to get something than nothing.

Yes, the school board could have chosen the path of litigation and challenged the State's ruling that led to Pennswood Village's tax exemption, but that would likely have taken years in court and carried a hefty price tag with it - again, to be paid by Neshaminy homeowners.

And when considering the board's wisdom in accepting Pennswood's offer, remember that they approved the decision unanimously (8-0); for our oft-dysfunctional board to be in total agreement says that the facts clearly show discretion to be the better part of valor. Board President, Rick Eccles, said it best: "It's unfortunate that we're being put in this situation . . . but it was a business decision."

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but the problem here isn't Neshaminy or Pennswood Village. The real problem is our antiquated method of funding education through property taxes. Harrisburg owes us a better solution than that, but don't hold your breath.

And give the Neshaminy School Board a pass on this one - they made the correct decision.

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