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Growth concerns widespread in Franklin Co.

September 16, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As houses sprout up where corn and soybeans once grew, township and borough officials are looking to Franklin County's state legislative delegation for the tools needed to manage growth that is taxing schools, roads, public services and utilities.

Elected officials from most of the county's 15 townships and seven boroughs met Thursday in Chambersburg for a municipal summit on land use. A number of them voiced support for a package of legislative recommendations put together by a committee of the county's Council of Governments.

If enacted, the recommendations would allow municipalities and school districts in designated growth counties to adopt building excise fees to fund public improvements. Municipalities could also adopt residential growth moratoriums when development exceeds the ability of schools and local governments to provide services.

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The local officials got the opportunity at the summit to question the four state representatives and the state senator for the county.

"We are fearful of unreimbursed growth," Tuscarora School District Superintendent Thomas Stapleford said. He said proposals to build almost 1,000 homes near Whitetail Mountain Resort would require "an additional elementary school for us."

"If we build a 3,000-student high school, we've got to have the roads to support it," said Rick Vensel, the business manager of the Chambersburg Area School District.

"On the books, in one form or another, are 2,000 to 3,000 lots ... either sketch, preliminary or final plans," Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher said. The township has an impact fee for new construction to help pay for road and recreation improvements, but that needs to be extended to cover municipal services and schools, he said.

"The development needs to pay its fair share of the costs they're creating for the community," Christopher said.

Don Grell, executive director of the Pennsylvania House Local Government Committee, said there are two bills in committee that would allow expanded impact fees and moratoriums.

State Rep. Stephen Maitland, R-Franklin/Adams, said he is working on a proposal based in part on the Council of Governments' recommendations. He said counties with annual population growth rates of 0.75 percent or more over a three-year period could be designated as growth counties, allowing local governments and school districts to adopt impact fees or excise taxes to fund improvements.

Maitland estimated about 20 counties in Pennsylvania would qualify.

"From a practical political perspective ... it's a lot like tax reform," said state Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Franklin. Everyone wants tax reform, but it falls apart in the legislative process, he said.

Fleagle said similar measures have not stopped growth in Maryland's Washington County, but warned that setting fees too high might "shut down things that make jobs for people."

While Maitland has not yet introduced a bill, state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, said, "Steve's is probably the most likely to see the light of day." Kauffman said he doubted the other bills would make it out of committee for a vote.

"You cannot end growth," said Antrim Township Manager Ben Thomas Jr., a member of the committee that drafted the recommendations. "But it's important to have growth where there is infrastructure, where the schools can support it financially ... and where our transportation system does not turn to gridlock."

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