unanimously passed an ordinance to allow the much-debated open space tax referendum on the May 16 Primary ballot.

If the referendum is adopted by the residents' mandate, there will be a real estate tax increase of one mill, which is a property tax of $1 per $1,000 of real estate value.

Board chairman Bill Sellers said that this was simply the first step, and that passing this ordinance only places the referendum on the ballot.

"We have to have the question on the ballot," Seller said. "We're not approving anything."

"We're asking for your opinions," board member Zeke Hubbard said.

The amount of money the tax is expected to generate annually is $275,000. These funds could only be used to purchase open space and nothing else.

"There was some speculation that the township would use the money for [something frivolous]," Sellers said.

The township also instituted a "sunset clause" in the referendum, which limits the length of the tax increase. According to Sellers, when and if the township decides on a piece of property to purchase for open space, the township will secure a loan or bond and purchase the land immediately. The township will then use the open space tax collected to pay off the borrowed amount.

According to a Frequently Asked Questions document being circulated by the township and the open space committee, the sunset clause allows that the "tax increase will end when all obligations arising from the purchase of real property interests for open space benefits incurred within five years of the effective date are satisfied."

"When the residents vote to approve this referendum, it will allow us to borrow cash [to purchase open space] and to get it at a good rate," Sellers said.

The township elected to go with a millage increase as opposed to an earned income tax when it became clear that the residents were overwhelmingly against the earned income tax at a meeting nearly two years ago.

According to Open Space Committee Chairman Sandy Retzlaf, the referendum will also allow the township to apply for grants to match its funds when purchasing land.

"It opens up a lot of doors that we don't currently have," Retzlaf said.

Retzlaf and the supervisors are planning to hold public education sessions with Pocopson residents who have additional questions about the referendum and how the funds will be used. Retzlaf encouraged residents to either stop by the township office on Denton Hollow Road to review the ordinance, attend one of the upcoming public meetings, or check out the township's Web site for additional information.

Retzlaf said the open space committee will also construct a copy of the ordinance, currently strewn with legal terms, in "plain, simple English" for residents to consider.

"There will be plenty of opportunities to learn more about it," Retzlaf said.

Retzlaf and Tara Tracy of the Brandywine Conservancy worked together developing an open space priorities map for the township, demonstrating which available properties would best be used for open space, although the township has nothing in mind for immediate consideration. Of Pocopson's approximately 5,320 acres, there are currently 1,900 acres available for preservation, according to the open space FAQ.

The Conservancy's consultation fee -- approximately $13,000 -- will come out of the open space committee's existing budget. According to Retzlaf, that amount is offset by a federal grant, which reduces the township's commitment to about half, or roughly $6,500.

If the referendum passes, Pocopson will join the many other townships in Chester County that already have open space taxes on the books, including Lower and Upper Oxford, Kennett Township, and New Garden, where the referendum for a 0.125 percent earned income tax increase was just voted in last May.

Open space land preservation is allowed by a state law -- Act 153 of 1996 -- that also limits the township's ability to actually "own" land. Under Act 153, the land must be available for public use -- either as passive or active -- and also allows "properties purchased fee simple must generally be offered for public resale within two years of the acquisition date [and] subject to specified conservation easements."

For additional questions concerning the open space referendum, please call the township office at 610-793-2151.

comments powered by Disqus