The Homestead program is about the long term

Last night after a year of consideration we passed the homestead exclusion ordinance. Here is an overview. I proposed this program in January. After having to do some leg work to get it considered (initially told we couldn’t do it) the board finally adopted the ordinance last night.

One item I wanted to clarify is the program is not a reduction of the millage rate. Some statements made last night could lead people to believe that. It does reduce the tax bills for homeowners it doesn’t for renters, commercial or industrial properties. This is important to understand.

The millage rate in Lower Macungie remains at .33. There was no reduction. What we did was enact a program to lower tax bills of primary residences for those enrolled in the program.

SHORT TERM: With Homestead the reduced bill is based on a reduced assessment. The average Lower Macungie tax bill goes down 19 dollars. This is a good thing. We do our part, the county does it’s part and the school district holds the line. It all does add up. Just like small tax increases over multiple taxing bodies adds up, small overall reductions do also.

I get why some focused on the short term. Framing it as a “tax break“. Politically makes sense for those trying to justify spending 13% of our entire township budget on synthetic fields. But it doesn’t help outline long term benefits. Because focus last night was on short term political narratives the programs long term benefits weren’t explained well. The long term potential is the true value of the homestead exclusion program. To cash in we need to stay focused on that.

LONG TERM: Long term fiscal sustainability means the township must balance the books. Revenue on the positive side. Liabilities on the negative side. Lower Mac continues to build out strip shopping centers and Industrial warehouse properties. These types of land uses create massive liabilities while generating pound for pound very little in revenue/acre. (see example below) The rezoning of 700 acres of farmland (farmland generates net positive revenue – High ROI) to allow warehouses and strip commercial (Very low ROI) will cost the township more in the long run. The beauty of homestead is that if maxed out it allows us to give a 50% reduction on homeowners tax bill.

As the township balances the books as a result of proliferating low ROI land uses homeowners should not have to pay increased taxes because of dumb growth decisionsTo do this we need to:

1. SHORT TERM – Part 1: Adopt homestead exclusion. (We did this last night)

2. LONG TERM – Part 2: Adjust the millage rate and max out the homestead reduction (2015)

With homestead exclusion after we max it out a resident who owns a home in Lower Macungie should always pay a 50% discounted tax bill (via 50% reduced assessment). While we still collect 100% of revenue from industrial and commercial uses.

Residents are intelligent in Lower Macungie. I don’t believe in feeding them talking points. Yes, 19 dollars in your pocket is nice but homestead is a long term play. That’s why I proposed it. Again, I get why some hi-jacked the message and crowed about it last night. Made for a tidy narrative as they tried to justify 3.3 Million in synthetic fields. Great political play. But unfortunately since the program wasn’t really explained in detail the bigger picture benefits were glazed over. This is what’s important. The 19 dollar bill reduction was a bonus. A good thing. But my goal is much bigger. Long term resiliency.

Bottom line: After the one time windfalls of growth is gone the township will eventually need to “balance the books”. Homestead makes sure residential properties aren’t shouldering the burden created by Industrial warehouses and Commercial strip malls. 

Distribution warehouses are one of the lowest ROI land uses for a local community.

Warehouses do not generate enough revenue to cover the liabilities they create. This includes increased need for police protection, specialized fire equipment, massive road improvements and general wear and tear, and low ROI per acre of land lost.

Warehouses do not generate enough revenue to cover the liabilities they create. This includes increased need for police protection, specialized fire equipment, massive road improvements and general wear and tear, and low ROI per acre of land lost.

To address the long term in 2016 I will propose a full 50% homestead reduction with .50 to .66 mil property tax rate: (the Millage should be increased in conjunction with maxing out the homestead % but more work needs to be done to determine how much)

  • Under proposed .66 mil property tax if you own a home at the township average of around 250,000 dollars your tax liability is 165. (Remember, that is local LMT tax not school or County)
  • Under a homestead exclusion program that grants a 50% assessment reduction on a primary residence the assessed value (for purposes of tax calculation only) is cut in half to 125,000. Therefore the tax bill is also reduced by half to 82.50. (Current level)
  • Meantime Commercial properties such as a distribution warehouses valued at 24,000,000 pays the full assessed value at .66 mil which would be 15,800. This is double the 2014 bill of 7,900.00.

All this is part of a long term plan to address underlying fiscal sustainability. But we have to stay focused. Another part is farmland preservation. Want to lower taxes? Preserve farmland. #saveitorpaveit. Preserving farmland is the number one quality of life issue in the township. By committing to it among many benefits we avoid having to build more infrastructure, provide more services, and we do our part to keep enrollment in EPSD stable.

Camp Olympic – A how to guide to developing a park.

I’ve been critical of the Quarry Park synthetic field proposal. More so than any one critique of the actual plan for me it’s more about how I think local gov’t should spend taxpayer money on park improvements. Although I have said that for me synthetic fields are very far down the list of my park priorities.

With the Quarry synthetic fields we have a proposal that materialized seemingly out of nowhere as a 3.3 million line item. As it stands now looks like this will be approved with Commissioners Lancsek, Conrad & Higgins supporting. Myself & Doug Brown have concerns.

As an alternative to that type of windfall reaction budgeting (in other words how quickly can we spend “found money”) is the way we purchased and incrementally developed the entire 120 acre Camp Olympic based on a master plan and funded through grants, public private partnerships, volunteers and incremental funding. Contrasting these two projects shows two very different philosophies of how you plan and fund major park improvements.

Camp Olympic:
Since purchase of the 120 acre park and subsequent adoption of a master plan over 4 years we’ve incrementally secured funding for improvements. Much of that in the form of grants. Each year one or more components were addressed. Over time some aspects of the plan were scrapped. Others added as we tweaked and adjusted based on feedback. Many improvements were considered and prioritized over time by our volunteer parks and recreation board.

First we upgraded the access driveway and bathrooms taking care of basic infrastructure needed to support more intense uses.

Next, we sold auxiliary buildings that didn’t fit into long term plans. Then through a private/public partnership via a generous donation from Bear Creek Mountain Resort we began designing a disc golf course. Construction will begin next year. Clearing of the course will be done by volunteers through the Lehigh Valley Disc Golf Club working with our public works dept.

Camp Olympic disc golf course is the result of a volunteer group spearheading the effort. Bear Creek Mountain Resort donated the baskets.

Camp Olympic disc golf course is the result of a volunteer group spearheading the effort. Bear Creek Mountain Resort donated the baskets.

Last 2 years our volunteer EAC has spearheaded tree plantings funded by grants reinforcing the parks overall theme as a conservation park. CO offers some of the best publicly accessible fishing spots in the township.

The park is now interconnected with adjacent homes through the volunteer efforts of an Eagle Scout who constructed a trail connection as an Eagle Scout project.

Over time we’ve secured grant monies for an eco park and BMX pump park. (Both coming next year!) We designated an area for community gardens. This past year rented 40 plots out to residents. Finishing the year we’ll use green futures funds to refurbish pavilions, the bridge and barn and access to the upper facility will be improved with a new loop road.

In the future as we continue to carry out the parks and rec comp plan the park may be a location for a potential dog park.

Additional adjacent land could be acquired in the future as well. This land is identified by the CO master plan and could be used as active parkland with the potential for Soccer or multi use fields with the added benefits of additional parking, another trailhead and access off of Lower Macungie Rd.

In every measurable way, Olympic has been a prime example of how you plan, develop and fund a 120 acre park. The multiple facets of the park serve many varied interests and are the results of many stakeholders working together for years. by incrementally executing the plan staff was able to identify varied sources of funding and support. 

What’s a PUMP PARK? Check this video out:




Every neighbor & LVPC opposes Rt. 100 rezoning on BOC agenda Thursday

This Thursday the Board of Commissioners will consider a rezoning request at the corner of Rt. 100 and Spring Creek Rd. The owner of the property has requested a zoning change from Semi-Rural to Commercial. This is the property where currently trucks are stored. (a grandfathered use). The owner has not told the township what specific use they are seeking.

Over the past 2 weeks the township has received letters from 3 neighboring municipalities and the LVPC. Macungie, Alburtis and Upper Milford all basically say the say thing. Pump the brakes on this rezoning until regional planning partners can get our heads around the traffic issues that will be associated with current and pending development projects along the Rt. 100 and Rt. 222 corridors. No one has said outright that this property should never be rezoned. But rather that now is not the right time to consider it.


Borough of Macungie signed by Chris Boehm - Manager

Borough of Macungie signed by Chris Boehm – Manager

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VBLOG – Lower Mac Quarry Park: Understanding the 1 time windfall

How does a township justify a property tax increase (first in a decade) and then one year later include in a proposed budget line item of a 3.3M to fund a proposed synthetic regional field at Quarry Park? The answer lies primarily in 3 one time windfalls that led to one time additional monies this year. They can be categorized as:

-Real Estate Transfer Taxes
-Hamilton Crossings Recreation Fee money
-One time budget transfer of a surplus from the Solid Waste Fund. (refuse bills)

Whether or not spending this money on synthetic fields is the right decision is a topic for later this week. Here were some initial thoughts I had.

This video deals with explaining the 3 sources of 1 time money that led to a discussion about spending 3.3M at Quarry. Before we discuss spending or NOT spending the money it’s important to understand how we got it.


Quarry Park

Last night at the first budget workshop the Board of Commissioners (BOC) for the first time since the plan was unveiled engaged in a dialogue about the 3.3M quarry park proposal. It’s safe to say at this time Commissioners Higgins and President Conrad seem to be in favor of the 3.3M line item. Myself and Commissioner Brown expressed reservations. Commissioner Lancsek was quiet and did not speak directly on the topic. Here is the express times coverage. 

I outlined the project in my agenda preview for the 9/18 meeting when the concept plan was first unveiled

I spent two weeks since conducting what I felt was essential due diligence meeting with: Township manager and staff, fellow Commissioners, LMYA President, Township Parks & Recreation board and many residents.

I am comfortable saying at this point I do not support the budget item as proposed today. There are number of factors why. Neither the Parks Board or LMYA has come out saying turf fields are an immediate priority. I also believe that expenditures of this magnitude warrant more than just a few weeks of public discussion. And lastly, I prefer these sorts of big ticket concept plans being funded incrementally over time in phases. This way we can install an improvement, gauge it’s success and then if warranted continue to execute the plan by funding more improvements. It’s safe to say considering an expenditure of this magnitude in such a short time frame would be unprecedented.

Additionally, it’s important to understand that for a long time now the twp. has been VERY supportive of our park system. Over the years we have made significant investments on an annual basis. We continue to do so year after year. In fact on average since 2003 the township has spent 333,000 dollars a year on park land improvements.This doesn’t include: Staff, LMYA & Lazors contributions, the township parks programs ect.

I challenge anyone to find another Lehigh County municipality who consistently spends on average more per year than Lower Macungie. I contend today the greater need for the parks system isn’t land improvements but rather addressing ongoing maintenance and staffing issues. For years now the parks board has requested additional dedicated parks staff. Personally I take that a step further and believe we need a FT or PT manager position specifically for parks. There is some logic in considering this a pre-requisite to building a regional athletic complex. Administration of a new complex was a concern raised by LMYA and the Parks Board.


That being said, it is important to understand where the money has come from allowing this conversation at all. Primarily it is the following one-time sources.


  • A transfer of money from the solid waste fund
  • Real Estate Transfer Tax Associated with Jaindl Warehouses. To date we have collected 120,000 with another 60,000 expected soon totally 200,000. This is from the first 3 of 7 warehouses associated with the Spring Creek debacle. There is a possibility for up to 4 more though only 3 so far have come through land development.
  • Hamilton Crossings Recreation Impact Fee. (in lieu of orginally proposed bypass ballfields) Approx 600,000


These include but are not limited to items such as:
Playing fields, upgrades and courts for: Basketball, Tennis, Pickleball, Baseball dugouts
Playground equipment, Parking areas, Pavillions, Pool Slide and other pool improvements
Crosswalks, Ampitheater, Fences, Bathrooms, Hills at Lockridge community center
New gym floor

This is just a small sampling of the many items improved or built over the last decade or so. I support continuing this level of spending on our park system augmented with developer impact fees whenever possible.

Alternate Proposal & Priorities

Lastly, at the end of the meeting President Conrad challenged those who expressed concern to “bring alternative proposals to the table on Oct. 29″. I found that a bit alarming since it almost reflects a philosophy that since we have extra money this year we should quickly figure out a way to spend it. I disagree with that thinking. 

There is another alternative. That is not spend the money at all this year. Again, we do not have to spend the money. Politicians so quick and eager to spend public money is a part of the problem with gov’t at all levels.

But Conrad has asked for alternative proposals. If the board insists on spending this money then here is a list of items I prioritize higher.

1. Open Space Acquisition. There is a mandate for this. I ran very clearly on a preservation platform defeating 2 incumbents by large margins. Secondly, the 20/20 visioning plan, the Parks Comprehensive plan and other webpage surveys all show an overwhelming majority supports open space preservation. I believe open space preservation is a strategy we must employ to keep taxes low over the long term. I outline that here.

2. Infrastructure improvements. The ACT 209 plan identifies intersections that are failing under current conditions and also ones likely to fail under future development. Not having to spend money on certain major capital improvements directly relates to item number 1. But there are a number of problem intersections today. Brookside and East Texas Rd. & Brookside and Indian Creek are two. These are two priorities for me.

Above represents 2 areas unrelated to park improvements that I see as higher priorities today. All these items have been the topic of extensive conversation over the past few years. However, since Conrad requested I am prepared to propose a specific alternate plan relating to this years budget which would include:

1. Budgeting the Hamilton Crossings Rec Fee money to lights at Quarry in 2015. This in my mind represents a responsible start to exploring upgrading Quarry. I support spending all the collected recreation fees on Quarry. This is approx 600,000. The responsible way to fund a comprehensive plan is  to do so incrementally over time. This sets the wheels in motion to get our regional field, but to do so in a more fiscally responsible way.

1a. Expanding the Quarry Turf concept plan to a full comprehensive plan for the whole park including a dog park. This ensures more residents benefit from Quarry upgrades.

2. Budgeting for a Dog Park in 2015. This is a relatively (compared to turf plan) low cost item. This is also an item that has been “on the radar” so to speak for nearly 2 years. The Parks Board has had a dog park point person for well over a year. There exists a resident group that expressed support for the project and a Facebook group with over 100 members who are actively lobbying for a dog park. Approx 25,000

3. Budgeting for either a FT or PT parks manager to hold an admin role. I consider this a pre-requisite to any major expansion of our park system. Esp any expansion that would enter us into the realm of managing regional parks. This manager should be hired and in place before construction of any admin heavy uses like regional park or dog park.

4. Open space preservation “lock box” of Jaindl funds. “Banking” the approx 200,000 (with potential for up to 500,000 upon build out) in one time real estate transfer taxes gained Jaindl warehouses to an open space preservation fund. I feel very strongly about this. This is money generated from the loss of 700 acres of farmland. All Commissioners including those that supported the rezoning expressed “regret” at losing the land. So I see this one time money associated with that project as a chance to recapture open space in other areas. To me, this is a no-brainer. After having lost 700 acres, a goal should be to preserve 700 acres elsewhere. The recent EAC whitepaper identified some potential targets. This includes 4 tracts with the potential to be developed with over 1,100 units. This would roughly equal about 3,500 new residents.

Surplus. Planning for fiscal sustainability. The remaining money should not be spent this year. It should be held over undesignated in surplus until the board sets it’s policy on the homestead exclusion which I proposed in January as a way to reduce the tax burden of homeowners through an assessment reduction. At that point, we will have a much clearer picture of the township finances moving forward.

The above plan addresses long standing needs. Sets the Quarry plan wheels in motion, but “pumps the brakes” on spending 3.3M+ in one budget cycle. It also sets us up to be able to manage a regional facility in the future. And lastly, by “banking” the rest of the surplus it allows us to understand the impacts of the Homestead property tax assessment reduction. This will allow for a clearer picture of township finances moving forward. 



East Penn switches to propane School Bus fleet

I was happy to see that this past spring the East Penn School District (EPSD) contracted with Student Transportation, inc. (STA) STA will be replacing longtime provider First Student. to provide bus service to the district. Replacing the diesel fleet STA will use 77 propane-fueled buses which are more environmentally friendly.

Here is a link to STA’s Facebook page.

Propane is cheaper and cleaner burning than diesel.  It's also produced locally here in PA.

Propane is cheaper and cleaner burning than diesel. It’s also produced locally here in PA.

An alternative to diesel, propane comes from natural gas and petroleum wells. Approximately half of the propane used in the_US comes from raw natural gas. Propane has many environmental benefits primarily due its cleaner burning nature. Propane busses also run much quieter. 

While propane busses get slightly less MPG, propane is just over 2x cheaper with the additional benefit of being produced domestically including a good amount right here in PA. 

When considering school transportation building smart growth walkable neighborhood schools is always best in terms of cost to taxpayers, student safety and fostering a sense of community. But when students must be transported by expensive busses we should strive to be as friendly to our environment as we can be. Today’s local production of natural gas here in PA + the well documented environmental benefits takes an already good decision and makes it a no-brainer.

Propane facts:

  • 24% reduction in Greenhouse Gas
  • 60% Reduction in Co2
  • 90% of propane domestically produced with a large amount right here in PA. (another 7% from our neighbors up north)
  • 40% reduction in cost
  • Positive ROI even without gov’t incentives



Lower Macungie Township Agenda Preview 7/17

FYI –  In these previews I may indicate thoughts on an issue, but it in no way means my mind is set. During a critical hearing for the Jaindl issue, a Commissioner spoke before public comment outlining he was voting to move forward the project regardless of what people said during public comment. That was wrong. Public debate was circumvented when the Commissioner indicated his mind was made up.

My hope is by blogging I open the door for conversations. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. I plan on doing everything I can to make sure residents have background information on issues. This is one mechanism to do that. I hope people find it useful. Please contact me at if you have any questions or concerns about any issues.


Plan Approval Life Church: This is the reuse project of Rt. 100 Roller Rink. Sad to see the Rink go, but happy it’s a Church moving in. This plan has been reviewed by the planning commission and planning committee and recommended for approval. The project uses the same building with major changes mostly on the inside. Although it was neat to hear the church is utilizing the old rink floor. The major difference you will see outside is a much expanded parking lot.

Plan Approval Spring Creek Properties: This is the first 3 of possibly 7 warehouses associated with the Jaindl Spring Creek development. Here is a link to all the history leading up to tonight…..


Traffic issues:
We have another letter regarding speeding in subdivisions. This and truck traffic are probably 1 and 1a most frequently rec’d correspondence. I’ll be blogging about this issue next couple weeks.

Another letter deals with East Texas and Brookside intersection. Another frequent topic of resident letters. This is a tough problem. Anyone who drives through this intersection can see there simply isn’t much space for adding turning lanes. That makes it an extremely expensive fix and there lies the problem.

Suggestion for additional school zone. This comes from one of our new crossing guards. Unfortunately, state law dictates where the zones can and cannot be placed. However, Sauerkraut lane issues have to be addressed. This will be tied into a post I make about general speeding issues in the township. Sauerkraut is especially important given it’s now a walking corridor for students attending WLES. I think we have to get creative here.

Unfortunately, the next letter deals with a negative response to a request to enact a truck brake retarder ban on Brookside. I’ve requested a copy of the study. My question is: Are there any parts of Brookside that may qualify? The study request focused on the length of Brookside. There may be portions where the grades are flat enough for a ban. If there are I suspect it’s near the residential portions where the ban is most needed.

Fire Chief David Nosal writes a letter thanking the the township for help with a dumpster fire. LMFD was responding to a fire off Hamilton Blvd and had trouble extinguishing due to extreme hear and the fact the fire was deep inside the very large dumpster. LMFD requested use of township backhoe to overturn the dumpster. The letter praises our public works staff for there quick off hours response and aid. EXCELLENT JOB LMFD and LMT PUBLIC WORKS CREW!

Dept. Matters
Adoption of Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan. You can view the plan here! Many thanks to the consultant, steering committee, Parks Board and staff for working nearly a year (more then a year?) on this plan. Having a comprehensive plan is critical as it helps us to improve our park system on a township wide scale identifying strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and priorities. 

The solicitor will be updating the public on the pending Hamilton Crossings Litigation.

Not many action items on committees. Things will pick up next month.

One item is conceptual approval of a new municipal complex sign that will include a digital display. This has been a request of the community center a library for awhile now.

Gen Ad committee will be reporting on progress towards initiating the Homestead Act. I am very excited to report progress having attended the meeting. This was a proposal I made in January. Here is a review of the program which will potentially reduce property taxes for all owner occupied primary residences in the township.

A way to reduce primary residence taxes. Homestead exception. 

Young residents want walkability.

At last night’s meeting we had 5 letters that were very clearly a school (High School?) Social Studies project or something similar.

They were all in identical format and were physically mailed to the township which is what leads you to believe it was a project. They were also all very good. Thoughtful and thoroughly researched.

What was interesting is that 4 of the 5 dealt with walkability issues. When selecting a topic to write local gov’t about almost all decided to write asking for more walkability. This is in line with study after study that says young adults want to live in walkable/connected communities. 

It’s not surprising at all. Living on Lower Macungie Rd. and driving Brookside frequently you see scenes like the one below every single day. Whether it’s on foot, bike or here on a skateboard we have tons of walking on our corridors by young people in very unsafe situations.

In my opinion this currently represents a safety issue. Yes, we want to encourage more walking. But the fact is we already have ALOT of walking right now. Most of our arterial and connector roads are poorly equipped and fail miserably as complete streets. We need to think less in terms of “connector” and “arterial” and more in terms of Complete Streets and Boulevards. We need to work in partnership with Penndot to retrofit key corridor roads as multimodal complete streets.

Young adults walk daily on dangerous corridors in the township.

Young adults walk daily on dangerous corridors in the township.


Wrapping up TIF

The TIF for Hamilton Crossings passed tonight 3-2.

Brian Higgins yes
Ryan Conrad yes
Jim Lancsek yes
Ron Beitler no
Doug Brown no

The bottom line is this. The Township will be getting a new and much anticipated shopping center. One that I believe was a certainty with or without the TIF. And that is great news for residents. According to one poll, over 80% of residents support the project but not necessarily the TIF funding.

I shared this basic sentiment as I generally supported the project but had concerns with misusing a funding mechanism designed for distressed communities.

I sincerely believe the township could have and should maintained more revenue resources (100% of revenue instead siphoning off 50% back to the developer). This is revenue I believe we’ll eventually need over the course of the next 20 years to mitigate the giant strip centers inevitable and unpredicted negative impacts. These impacts are normal with rapid development of the type LMT will see over the next 20 years as LVPC predicts our population will continue to boom. These concerns relate primarily to traffic but also other issues as well. For example, this project will make it harder to rely on the state police. The traffic issue is compounded by the fact that the traffic impact fee did not apply to the project. The impact fee is designed to give us the resources to make future improvements. I honestly believe we ended up being the “dumb money at the card table” too quick to give away important resources better served dealing with future impacts.

Every land development of this type and magnitude comes with the good (more shopping options, jobs ect) but also the bad. (traffic, crime ect) The challenge for leaders is to mitigate the bad as much as we can. This is why I believe the decision to forfeit critical and much needed revenue (esp. in light of recent tax increases )was fundamentally shortsighted.

Huge part of smart growth is accounting for financial health over multiple lifecycles. It’s the longview. That means setting up the township to be financially strong over the long term. Its seeking net positive ROI beyond the immediate windfall. Tonight by passing TIF we failed to do that.

So to wrap this issue up we’re getting the new center…. But we were always getting the new center. We’ll just have less resources to insure its negatives don’t eventually outweigh its positives. And the developer will have a slightly more padded profit line. They are clear winners. But the community will have more local shopping options and the jobs that come with them. Like I said, +’s and -‘s. But overall inevitable progress forward.

After the vote I’m mostly disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to make a more compelling argument to get other Commissioners who voted yes to take a harder look at the big picture.

Learn more about Hamilton Crossings