(11/1) The case of a Giant mistake. At a recent candidates' forum, a question was posed about cooperation and possibly consolidation of municipalities. The four candidates (on the ballot) all
agreed that cooperation to save money was a good idea. The question was given to us in advance, so I decided to do some homework, and illustrate the problem of consolidation. Since consolidation requires a majority
of voters in both municipalities voting for it, I thought that looking at a business that had left the Borough of Gettysburg for neighboring Straban Township would be a good way to show the different tax rates in the
Giant Food Store left downtown Gettysburg in 1999 for the lower taxes and more land to be had in Straban. When doing this research, I discovered the Giant mistake. 21st Century assessed the
fair market value as being 12,889,200. The property sold in October 2010 in an "unheated" (read declining) market for $19,850,000.- 50% more than it was assessed for! The lost tax revenues for Gettysburg School
District- over $70,000 a year. Now, I looked at this property to point out that the tax paid to Straban was $1300 while if the same property were in the Borough of Gettysburg it would owe over $45,000. Down to earth
numbers, a house assessed at $100,000 pays Straban $10.10, the same house in the Borough pays $352. A huge difference- and a tax burden- that the voters of Straban would never agree to.
The difference in assessments shows the need for competent assessors whose work is reviewed. The difference in municipal taxes illustrates a need for the County to intervene. The fact that the
Borough pays for police protection, has the recreation park where Straban kids play, houses the fire department that protects Straban, all point to opportunities for the county to provide a little fairness. If the
County takes over the contributions to the fire companies, then the type of fight we have seen in Mount Joy Township will be no more. The fact that 80% of the Rec Park users reside outside of the Borough could be
fixed by the County establishing regional (unpaid) rec boards. The County can and should move to provide tax fairness. These are not new uses for taxpayer money; it is the same amount of money being spent on vital
programs being raised more fairly. Many hands make light work as the old saying goes.
But the problem is actually greater than one Giant mistake. The current commissioners relied on "experts" to make their decisions. The commissioners knew or should have known that a "perc
required" half acre lot in Carroll Valley was not worth $30,000. But they trusted the experts of 21st Century. The Giant mistake was caused by the county not checking 21st Century's work. In the land swap with ISP,
they should have known that the land that was received from ISP was not nearly of equal value as the land given. Heck, even 21st Century told them that the land values were that ISP was getting 3 dollars in value for
every dollar it was giving up. They should have known that 50% of the land received drained directly out of the county and therefore was not worthy of the water bond money that was used to purchase the land given up.
Regardless of whether or not one thinks the concept of the swap was a good idea, the fact is financially, the county got the raw end of the deal. We need commissioners that will fight for good deals for our
taxpayers. We need commissioners that will spend every penny like it came out of grandma's purse.
Solutions. The commissioners need to listen to the public and to their staff. While the staff has to be held accountable for the outcomes, not just punching the clock, I know many of the
county employees would welcome the opportunity to rise to the occasion in an environment that encourages a job well done. We need to use the Office of Planning and Development to provide the professional expertise to
help our municipalities to plan so that they do not run out of water or create a traffic nightmare. The planning should also include the streamlining of the permitting process for appropriate businesses locating in
appropriate areas. The review process locally can take over one year and that delay causes companies to look elsewhere. We need to raise the pillow tax and use it to promote Adams County as a great place to locate a
business. The pillow tax should be used to promote off season tourism as well. This would help make many service sector jobs more stable and help local businesses through what is now a long winter.
We need to support local agriculture. It is obscene that Washington State apples are sold in Adams County. The Buy Fresh, Buy Local banner should be taken up by the county. The price of in
season produce should drop and the people of Adams County will eat better for less. Our farmers will find a strong local outlet for the "fruits of their labor" a win/win. Agriculture is the second largest industry in
Adams County after tourism, and it should be helped. It is critical for the viability of this industry that a minimum amount of farms remain. Right now, there are businesses that serve the ag community but if most of
the farms are plowed under and houses are planted, the businesses will be shuttered and the remaining farms will have to drive hours for the supplies they need. We need to work hard to keep agriculture viable in this
county, and remember it is also a huge part of the leading industry, tourism. Agriculture helps tourism with its many festivals and fairs but more importantly, it provides the bucolic vistas that keep people coming
back year after year.
We need commissioners that will use experts to answer technical questions only, not to provide the vision of the county. We need commissioners that will read the contracts that they are
signing to make sure that the vendor has to perform and perform well, or will not get paid. We need Commissioners that will actually take the time to study the issues confronting us, consider all sides, prioritize,
and then vote.
On November 8th, Adams County will elect three new commissioners for the first time since 1967. The job is a huge one. We need commissioners who will do their homework and keep us from making
any more Giant mistakes. We need Commissioners to work on good solutions. I pledge to be that kind of Commissioner.
Thank you, Paul Kellett
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