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Points from the President

September 01, 2006, 12:00 am

About two years ago, the Borough of Robesonia worked with Heidelberg and North Heidelberg Townships and the Borough of Womelsdorf to form a Joint Zoning Plan. It took several years of work to put this together. The reason we did this was to try and prevent the mass building that was taking place in neighboring municipalities. Some people think that building more homes means more tax money. I guess these municipalities think there is some advantage. They do increase the tax base, but they forget about the long range costs. More roads to plow and maintain, more police services needed, more street lights to pay for, etc. The biggest loser, though, is the school district. In the Conrad Weiser School District, if a new home is assessed at $100,000.00, they would pay about $2400 in school property taxes. But if that house has one kid, it costs about $10,000.007 year to put a child through Conrad Weiser so the district is losing about $7,600 on that one home with one child. Who makes that money up? The taxpayers! All of us without kids and all the businesses in the district.. Plus we have lost a lot of prime farmland that can never be replaced! Now, back to our joint zoning.. In Pennsylvania, the government says that all zoning districts need to include a place for everything in their zoning plan. That means we need places for an adult book store, a massage parlor, a landfill, high density residential housing and just about everything else you can think of. But if you do a joint zoning plan, you can keep the high density housing out of the townships, because the boroughs have at least some place for it. This way you don't take away valuable, productive farmland. You allow a place for the adult book store and the massage parlor in the middle of North Heidelberg Township. Most of these types of places want to be along the highway where it gets a lot of exposure. So, if we put it on some back country road, its very unlikely someone will want to build it there because its so out of the way. But, according to state law, as long as you put it somewhere, you are okay. So, that's a little background about joint zoning. Now, back to the present.. The representatives of the two townships and two boroughs put a lot of time and thought into our Joint Zoning Plan. Now the Attorney General of Pennsylvania is suing us over 4 provisions that mainly apply to farming in North Heidelberg Township. The fact is, not one of the provisions he's suing us for is illegal. Let me just give you one example. Some farms are going to what is called "intensive agricultural operations". What that means is they are expanding their operation from say 100 head of cattle to 600. Those cows will generate a lot more manure which, of course, smells and draws flies. The township wanted the building housing those 600 cattle to be setback from neighboring property lines 500 feet. There is nothing in state law that says how far or how close a barn can be from the property line, but the Attorney General apparently thinks that is too prohibitive. Of course, if he lived next to a farm with 600 cows, it probably wouldn't be far enough! So we are being sued because we are a part of the joint zoning. I want you to know that we had a meeting with one of the Deputy Attorney Generals, and at that meeting we were supported by all three County Commissioners and Clyde Myers, who is the Penn State agricultural agent. All we asked for from the Deputy AG (which we had previously asked for from his boss) was more time to work this out. Because of "the law", the process to change this could take up to six months, but Tom Corbett, the Attorney General, refused to give us an extension. Some people believe this is all politically motivated. They think the Attorney General may have higher political aspirations and wants to be able to tell the farmers of Pennsylvania "Look what I am doing for you". He might think he's doing something good for the farmers, but he's screwing the rest of us. One of the main reasons for the joint zoning plan was to help farmers by keeping large residential subdivisions from being built near their farms. If this plan goes down the tubes because of this stupid lawsuit, we're all in trouble!

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