Taxing question about Crebilly

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File photo: As indicated, the green area shows the 206 acres Westtown Township wants to buy, and the brown shows the acreage Natural Lands would conserve through easements. 

The overriding question is whether Westtown Township residents want dedicated open space taxes that would help preserve Crebilly Farm. To that end, Westtown supervisors held an informational meeting Monday night to discuss the possible taxes, pros, and cons.

On the Nov. 8 ballot is the question asking if residents want an additional 0.08 percent added to their 1 percent Earned Income Tax and a bump of another 0.42 mils on their property taxes, bringing that to 3.92 mils. That money would be used for the township’s share of preserving and maintaining Crebilly.

The specific question to be asked is: “Do you favor the imposition of an increase in the earned income tax at a rate not to exceed eight one hundredths (8/100th) of one percent (0.08%) and an increase in the real property tax at a rate not to exceed 0.42 mils ($0.42 per $1,000 assessed valuation) by the Township of Westtown to be used to purchase interest in real property for purposes of securing open space benefits and for transactional fees incidental to acquisitions of open space property; retire indebtedness incurred in acquiring open space; and the expenditure of funds for any purpose relating to the acquisition, planning for acquisition, preservation, improvement and maintenance of open space or for an open space benefits?”

Westtown’s current earned income tax is 1 percent but would go to 1.08 percent if the referendum passes. The current township property tax of 3.5 mils would go to 3.92 mils.

Last September, Westtown Supervisors denied conditional use approval for a proposed Toll Bros. development for 319 new homes on the property after the township solicitor announced that Toll was no longer the equity owner. This past April, the board voted to enter into an agreement of sale for the 320-acres site. The township is interested in buying 206 acres while Natural Lands would conserve an additional 102 acres.

To make that happen, the township needs to raise $20,600,000, or $100,000 per acre. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural resources has already granted $2 million to the township for that. But to raise the rest, supervisors are looking to increase taxes dedicated to the project. Township manager Jon Altshul said the township would need to borrow $7.5 million for the upfront cost of the land and for new conservation easements on the west side of the farm. Altshul also said the taxes must be approved as part of the agreement of sale.

The remaining funds would likely come from county, state, and federal grants, plus private donations.

Originally, the larger plot was believed to have been 208 acres, and the four-parcel portion was 104 acres. However, a land survey done earlier this month reduced both of those pieces by two acres, according to Altshul. Of the remaining 14 acres, a member of the Robinson family (the property owner) lives on 10, and another four are netted out for rights of way, Altshul added.

During the meeting, Altshul and Natural Lands Vice President of Conservation Todd Sampsell explained the basics of the proposed plan for the property, though there is still no formal plan.

Sampsell’s bottom line was direct, “Without the referendum, the project will not move forward,” adding that there are two other developers — not Toll Bros. — who have made offers to the Robinson family.

After Altshul and Sampsell made their presentations, residents John Embick and Brian Walsh made brief presentations for and against the referendum, respectively.

Embick ran through a litany of rhetorical questions reflecting the reasons to preserve the property as open space, reasons that had been discussed repeatedly during the last six years since Toll Bros. first proposed to develop the farm.

“The opportunity to preserve Crebilly is a rare one,” Embick said. “And the opportunity not seized likely won’t come again. So, the opportunity should be considered carefully by the residents. There are only two choices to be made here, Crebilly will either be developed with a bunch of residential homes, or it will be preserved. If you fail to pass the referendum, you will have made a choice. Crebilly will be developed.”

Brian Walsh spoke about numbers during his presentation in opposition to the referendum, saying the idea is wrong.

“It’s not affordable…The interest on a 30-year bond [or $7.5 million] is going to be over $12 million. The payment on the loan principle at the end is the original $7.5 million, which puts us up to almost $20 million that we’re actually paying for our portion of Crebilly,” Walsh said.

He added that maintenance cost would come to more than $7 million over the course of the 30-year bond.

“We’re saddling ourselves, our children and, in some cases, our grandchildren with a ridiculous amount of money. Would it be nice to preserve Crebilly? Absolutely. Maybe I’d like to buy a new car every month? Maybe, But I can’t afford that, so you make decisions based on what you can afford. This is not affordable.”

Walsh said the township already has $13 million in bond debt.

The session continued with residents making comments and asking questions, most of which reflected that particular resident’s position on preserving Crebilly as open space. Many of those people — and including Supervisor Dick Pomerantz ‑at the dais — were wearing T-shirts calling for Crebilly to be saved.

Another informational meeting is scheduled for Oct. 24.

The township has a FAQ sheet regarding the referendum on its website.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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