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Bill would address systems affected by Franklin Co. growth

August 23, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - "The Mason-Dixon Challenge" has found out-of-state developers submitting plans for thousands of new homes in Franklin County, Pa., as they avoid impact fees in neighboring Washington County, Antrim Township (Pa.) Manager Ben Thomas testified Tuesday.

Water, sewer, road and school systems are suffering in the southcentral Pennsylvania county that grew 6.3 percent over the last five years, Thomas and others told the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Local Government Committee.

The committee held a hearing in Chambersburg to start formal debate that is supposed to hammer out the details of House Bill 2564 and take it to a vote. If the bill becomes law, the provisions would designate "growth counties" in Pennsylvania and allow them to increase the real estate transfer tax, enact impact fees and adopt temporary moratoriums on growth.

"In 2006, we have hit the population projections that were estimated for 2020. ... Most of these new residents are coming from south of the (state) border. The Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area now takes in Franklin County. The residents we are seeing are coming ... to Pennsylvania because the price of housing here is substantially lower than it is down there," William McLaughlin said on behalf of the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities.

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He said the bill's language that allows the realty transfer tax (currently 1 percent for homebuyers in Franklin County) to increase 1 percent would create an "inequitable burden on the first-time homebuyer."

"To be frank, our existing housing stock is the only affordable housing that exists in Franklin County," McLaughlin said.

In his written testimony, Stephen Black of the Pennsylvania Builders Association countered that impact fees, proposed at as much as $26,000 for a single-family house, would not be logical or fair, especially to someone buying a modest house.

"We object to the state giving school districts the authority to enact impact fees to cover local leaders' failure to use the Municipalities Planning Code to manage development," Black testified.

The Municipalities Planning Code has allowed Antrim Township to enact Conservation by Design, comprehensively plan as a region, zone for 40 years, preserve farmland, update sewage facilities, fund volunteer fire and emergency medical services, and study forming a regional police force, Thomas said.

"It still is not enough. We are concerned ... with the population growth (and) what will occur with 5,000 to 10,000 more homes," Thomas said. Those houses, with 1.7 to two children in each, could potentially double the school census, add to the number of emergency services calls and further congest roads, he said.

"Our population in 2000 was 12,500. We're looking to double our population in the next 10 years," Thomas said.

"We're pretty much at ground zero for development in Pennsylvania," McLaughlin said in welcoming the committee to Chambersburg.

In addition to Franklin County state Reps. Rob Kauffman, Patrick E. Fleagle and Stephen Maitland, who sponsored the bill, legislators at the hearing were Mark Keller representing Franklin and Perry counties, Scott Petri representing Bucks County and Mauree Gingrich representing Lebanon County. State Rep. Lynn B. Herman of Centre County, chairman of the committee, officiated.

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