Very good news as of this morning. I’m happy to report the proposed $27M taking from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund did NOT happen. The revenue package that passed this AM (Thursday) no longer included previously targeted easement money.

For Lehigh Co. this means our remaining committed funds are SAFE. So, the 13 holdover 2017 County Farms that were in danger of losing their funding will now move forward with preservation. And we remain in excellent shape to continue to move down the 84 farm waitlist over the next two years.

I want to thank the Association of farmland preservation directors for providing the factual information to back up our argument that the funds targeted were indeed not “surplus” but rather funds already committed and encumbered towards the intended goal of preserving farms! I’m hearing that our advocacy made a big difference.

I want to personally thank PA State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie for taking the time to listen. He met with me last Saturday and heard our concerns. Today, he reached out to let me know the “raid” was off. And later it was confirmed by the Dept. of Agriculture and State Association of Farmland Preservation Directors. Again, this is very good news for our community!

The goal of a no tax increase and debt free budget is important. I am rooting for that. We are taxed enough in this state. That is a goal I completely support. When this issue was initially brought up I said there has got to be a way to do that without impacting the critical farmland preservation program. Turns out there was! And I thank the Taxpayer Caucus for keeping their eyes on the prize but also listening to constituents. Government works best when elected officials are in tune with the people.

While this isn’t completely over yet we’re in very good shape. The budget process continues. Now the Senate and House must agree on a final package. I understand the State Senate is still proposing a budget that includes debt. I’m hopeful that is avoided in the final package.

Farmland Preservation Funding Letter

Rep. Ryan Mackenzie
Ryan Mackenzie <>

State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie,

I found this published list of targets that confirms your intent to raid designated farmland preservation funding. While I appreciate your work to deliver a revenue package without a tax hike, I need to argue strongly against targeting the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund. Largely because the preface and many assumptions laid out in your budget overview are incorrect. Specifically two of the criteria in the outline establishing why programs are targeted do not apply to our program. 1.) “There would be no impact to operations of the fund.” and 2.) “Funds showed recurring unused balances.” As a strategy this makes sense. But these criteria do not apply to the Conservation Easement Program. In short the facts are: Less farms would be preserved in the immediate future and the program does not carry unused funding. 

First, this budgeted money has been coming from a dedicated revenue source, (cigarette tax revenue), since 1993. A second dedicated source was added in 2005. These funding sources have been in, and ought to remain in a silo.

Second, as I understand it, the crux of this budget is to target special funds that essentially “squirrel away” money beyond what is needed to operate for the current year. However, the agricultural easement program carries an encumbered balance by design. In fact the enabling legislation was drafted specifically to allow for that.

The reason is obvious to anyone familiar with the program. As I certainly hope you know, preserving farmland can easily take more than a year to accomplish. A typical farmland preservation transaction across the state includes an application, an appraisal, title work, surveying, preparation of a sales agreement, approval by the county and state preservation boards and then settlement before any money is spent.

Consequently, prior to the recent August meeting of State Land Preservation Board, there was a balance of approximately $58 million of unspent state preservation funds. That includes funding from 2015, 2016 and 2017. State law allows three years for these funds to be spent. The $58 million balance is encumbered money. It is not a surplus.

So rubber to the road, how will removing this money impact Lehigh County? Right out the gates, we have 13 farms totaling 700 acres that are holdover applications from last year. The preservation of these farms is dependent on dedicated monies waiting to be spent. If this revenue is cut from the budget, most of these farms will not be preserved. This will certainly anger not only the current program applicants who are anxiously waiting to be paid for selling off their development rights, but it will create distrust and doubt among other farm owners who are considering joining the program. It will also be a betrayal of the county taxpayer who have committed money to the program on the promise that the state will also ante up.

The Lehigh County program currently has almost $2.2 million worth of farmland development rights approved by the State Board but waiting to receive the participating checks from the state. Another $1.3 million in development rights purchases are in the county preservation pipeline.

This totals almost $3.5 million worth of county development rights, most of which will not be preserved if your proposal to cut the dedicated state contribution is enacted.
The state money is not just “sitting there”. It is already encumbered and allocated to be spent for the farmland preservation goals supported consistently by supermajorities of PA voters. Every single dollar allocated will be spent to that end.

In conclusion, I encourage you to come to our next county farmland preservation board meeting to learn more about the process and how the proposed budget directly impacts our preservation efforts and runs completely contrary to the county’s preservation efforts and progress. I’ve also included a list of resources for you below that demonstrate the broad public support for farmland Preservation in Lower Macungie and other communities you represent but also the greater Lehigh Valley.

Ron Beitler
Treasurer – Lehigh Co. Agricultural Preservation Board
Vice President – Lower Macungie Twp. Board of Commissioners

Southwest Regional Comprehensive Plan
Renew LV farmland preservation survey
Lehigh Co. Farmland Preservation Board

State House preparing a Raid of Farmland Preservation funding

Supporters of Farmland Preservation. Please take a moment to read this.


Because of the predictability of a stable designated revenue stream, Pennsylvania has distinguished itself as a national leader in farmland preservation, having preserved more farms and more farmland than any other state in the country. As a member of the Lehigh Co. Farmland Preservation Board we receive updates of the ongoing process to resolve PA’s budget shortfall as it relates to the program.

The latest we’re hearing is that a revenue package being discussed in the House would not only raid the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund (a dedicated stream of cigarette tax revenue) but could also retroactively take funding away from Counties that’s already been allocated in this and prior years. This is the only state funding source for preservation. 

In addition to targeting the dedicated revenue source, we have been warned the legislature is also targeting the fund balances. Prior to the August State Farmland Board meeting, there was a balance of approximately $58 Million of State funds. That includes funding from 2015, 2016 and 2017. Understanding why there is a fund balance is important. The State Board is permitted, by law, to spend those funds over three years. Since preserving a farm can take more than one years time the law was written to give Counties three years to spend state funds. While this makes it look like the money is a “surplus” or “just sitting there.” it’s not. That money in Lehigh Co. is allocated to farms ready to be preserved. The process just takes time. Again, once a farm is selected and an offer is made to a landowner it’s only the beginning of a long process that must be completed before the “check goes in the mail” so to speak. A typical transaction often includes an appraisal, title work, survey, agreement by lien holders, approval by the county and State, as well as time for the farmer, their family and advisors to fully consider this permanent decision. Frequently, it takes more than a year to complete the preservation of a single farm.

Remember, not only is all this money already allocated to farms Lehigh Co. we also have an extensive wait list. So in short, robbing this funding will mean less farms preserved over the next few years. This is extra concerning right now because of the current multi-year commitment from Lehigh Co. to fund our local municipal match program. All the work to secure local funding and planning done by local municipalities could be up-ended. Lower Mac has already and likely will continue to take advantage of the municipal match program. But that opportunity would be limited if the coffers are raided. This would directly hurt a lot of collective and collaborative efforts between Lehigh County and municipalities like Lower Mac, Upper Mac, Lower Milford and Upper Milford.

I wanted to get this information out ASAP. Moving forward, next week I will spearhead a letter writing campaign to state leaders asking them NOT to RAID preservation funding. This crisis has been largely self created through decades of mismanagement of the state budget. The state house returns to session on September 11. (yes they are taking a break in the middle of a budget crisis). During that time, they need to hear this is unacceptable. 

Sadly, raiding dedicated funding sources is unfortunately not a new scheme. As many of you know the state legislature has been doing this for years with the gas tax. (which of course was just increased) by dipping into it for now many purposes beyond from it’s original intent.

Stay tuned for more information on this and how you can help.

Thank you,
Lower Mac Commissioner.
Lehigh County Farmland Preservation Board.

The Kirby Farm in Lower Macungie Twp. was preserved this year in part with state funding. The same funding that has been targeted by the legislature to balance the budget.



Not as front and center in the broader conversation are that two state troopers died yesterday in Charlottesville. Their deaths are no more or less tragic than anyone else’s but the circumstances surrounding them ought to be discussed.

Lt. Cullen and Trooper Burke died yesterday while performing their jobs in response to White Nationalist scumbags who decided to interject themselves in a LOCAL issue. More specifically, a LOCAL decision to relocate a statue ( important to note – built 60 years after the end of the civil war and during the height of Jim Crow laws) and rename a city park.

This group of mostly organized outsiders descended on a college town to agitate. They did so armed with chanting and torches. The outsiders were then predictably met with counter protesters. (Mostly local college students but also including out of town club wielding “antifa” members). Because of this catalyst and subsequent predictable chain of events – the town and state were forced to spend large sums of taxpayer money and dedicate resources including manpower to logistics and crowd control. While performing part of that duty two troopers died yesterday.
The city should have DENIED any permits for this event. While you have the 1st amendment right to be a scumbag in this nation, you do not have the first amendment right to command taxpayer resources for your protection because of the style in which you choose to express those rights. For example, when it includes an organized march, chanting and torches.
Apparently as early as Friday night demonstrations which included the white nationalists chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” were deemed by local law enforcement as unlawful assemblies. Bottom line is when a point is reached that the manner in which you choose to exercise your free speech becomes a public danger, then there is a public obligation to protect the community including the lives of the first responders. Whether on the fringes of the right (white nationalists) or the left (antifa for example) an organization that incites or promotes violence in public spaces should be labeled as domestic terrorists and prevented from organizing.

It appears the community did try to address the issue and move the rally prior to the event but a federal judge intervened. 
A federal judge on Friday granted an injunction allowing the far-right Unite the Right rally to be held in Emancipation Park in the shadow of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.” This seems to me like an unfortunate interpretation of “fire in a movie theater“. Free speech does not include that which would be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action. (riots, violence) The moment this permit was granted that exact scenario became likely. 

Aug 3rd agenda preview – Lower Mac Board of Commissioners

FYI I’ve been very busy with work and new baby lately so this week since we have a very short agenda I decided to do the preview on facebook live. You can check it out here!

Hope folks find these previews useful. (FYI, you should not need a facebook account to access since my page is public). If anyone has trouble accessing let me know. As always any questions let me know at

Here is the link to the agenda including details.

Topics include:

  • Proclamation for the retirement of Sharon Colson! (Happy Retirement!)
  • Intermunicipal liqour license transfer (Outback steak house)
  • Letter from Lehigh County Authority about stream monitoring
  • Manhole maintanance bid award
  • Update on proposed Cedar Crest and Minesite traffic signal (9:30)
  • Firefighter tax credits (10:30)
  • Dragonfly Ln.
  • Budget workshop schedule

No more subsidies for farmland development projects.

For the last few years, it’s been the philosophy of the current Board of Commissioners to not accept dedication of new public roads in neighborhoods built on farmland. The latest examples are the Stone Hill Meadows project and the proposed 17 lot estate plan over on the Farr Tract. The township is done taking on long term financial responsibilities for new infrastructure liabilities. The same goes for stormwater facilities.

Note: This doesn’t impact projects approved before last two years. Only new ones. If you live in a neighborhood built before this year and you have roads still maintained by the developer and the township is meant to take them over that’s still happening. This is only on new projects moving forward. 

New neighborhoods built on farmland must now have internal private roads maintained in perpetuity by newly formed resident HOA’s consisting of folks who buy homes in that neighborhood. This reflects the townships evolving smart growth philosophy. The township desires to guide new growth away from our remaining farmland and towards existing infrastructure and appropriate corridors where investments have already been made.

New subdivisions built on large parcels of farmland are no longer a desirable outcome in our township. Preservation is now the highest priority. Where we cannot preserve for whatever reason, developers must now take into consideration the full cost of maintaining roads themselves in perpetuity when figuring out financial considerations. Note: While we are no longer taking ownership of new roads, we are still requiring all new private roads be built to township engineering standards. We’re just finished with assuming new long term obligations.

Therefore in an effort to be entirely up front it’s important developers and landowners understand and account for this when considering due diligence for projects in Lower Mac.

The underlying rationale and basis for this viewpoint is the fact that new residential development costs us more in new liabilities than it produces in new tax revenue. When a subdivision is built the township gets new revenue. But the problem is with certain types of greenfield (built on farmland) projects – new costs always exceed new revenue. This includes items like road repair, sewer maintenance, and increased demand on public schools. Studies show a residential subdivision typically costs a community 1.30-1.40 in new liabilities for every 1.00 in new revenue. This is of course a losing transaction. The easiest way to address this at least in part is to refuse any new infrastructure we’re not under obligation to take.  And for the past year and moving forward we aren’t.

Further to this end I also want to explore ways we can ensure homebuyers considering units in new projects are informed of the responsibility they are entering into when they buy into a neighborhood with private infrastructure maintained by an HOA. That prime responsibility being the perpetual maintenance obligations of all new internal infrastructure. There are ways the township can accomplish this by requiring by ordinance notification during a purchase process. Realtors for whatever reason often don’t do a good job elaborating the long term maintenance obligations and new homeowners are caught flat footed.

To be clear, Lower Mac has a number of wonderful thriving and financially resilient HOA communities. Over the years many developers have proactively chosen HOA arrangements and sought private road networks for a host of reasons. This is especially prevalent in our fantastic over 55 communities. The overwhelming majority of which have rock solid long term finances and plan accordingly for the future to maintain their communities. One however in the past few years has made overtures to the township to “take over” their internal private road network. The answer from the township was of course no. Again, at this point in our growth evolution Lower Mac is finished taking new roads.



HB1285 would enable Lower Mac to completely eliminate residential property taxes

A currently proposed state constitutional amendment – in the form of HB1285 – would enable Lower Mac to completely eliminate residential property taxes for qualifying homestead properties.

Note: This is not the same issue as SB76 – School property tax elimination. That’s the Bill to completely eliminate school property taxes by shifting funding to increased sales and income taxes. That’s a separate conversation with unique and different pro’s and con’s. 

While SB76 addresses school taxes, it does not address any reform of local township taxes. To that end HB1285 would allow Lower Mac to expand our current reduction program and entirely eliminate municipal property taxes for residential homes in in the township. Therefore, in addition to SB76 I also support the constitutional amendment to expand the Homestead Exclusion.

If you recall, when I came into office one of the first major proposals I made was to institute the homestead exclusion. We did it to the max allowed over a two year phase in. The result was reducing and in some cases completely eliminating the township property tax for homeowners. 90% of residents over a two year timeframe got a reduction. HB1285 would allow the complete elimination. Something I would then immediately argue for should the amendment pass.

It is a long and tough process to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution. It takes a majority approval of two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly followed by an approval of the majority of voters. HB1285 has now been passed in two consecutive sessions, so I believe the next step is the voters. (I am confirming my understanding)

How would this work:
Currently, for some unknown reason the state Constitution only allows exclusion of 50% of the median assessed value of residential properties within the taxing district. Lower Mac has instituted that to the maximum currently allowed. While that has provided relief, it remains un-necessarily capped by the state. HB147 fixes that and amends the state Constitution to allow municipalities to entirely eliminate qualifying residential property taxes. Commercial and Industrial users including ultra impactful warehouses and also investment properties would still be subject to the townships very low property tax millage. (one of the lowest in the County)

This has been used successfully on the municipal end. With Lower Mac being a prime example. If this were to pass at the earliest possible point I would begin the budget conversations to eliminate residential property taxes entirely in Lower Macungie.

Here is a link to my original argument for initiating the homestead program originally. The program has been a success giving residents a needed break. While our taxes are already some of the lowest in the Lehigh Valley, we have to be aware of the cumulative impact including taxes from other governing bodies we can’t control. We must remember we don’t levy taxes in a vacuum.

Letter to state officials in support of stable farmland funding.

Lehigh County State Elected Officials,

I am writing to express my concern about the proposed budget in HB 218 and its impact on staffing levels at the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Farmland Preservation, which administers Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation program.

I trust you know how successful this program has been and how much the public supports it. Numerous surveys over the years have demonstrated broad support for farmland preservation, especially in regions like the Lehigh Valley where much farmland is being lost to development.

Under this program, Lehigh County has put together one of the top programs in the state, having preserved 281 farms over 22,000 acres. Statewide, more than 533,000 acres of farmland on 5,136 farms have been preserved, making Pennsylvania the nation’s leader in farmland preservation.. 

According to the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Association, an organization of all the county farmland preservation directors, HB 218 will likely cause layoffs to a Bureau staff that is already a barebones operation. The Association believes further staff reductions would render the Bureau unable to effectively administer the state’s preservation program.

Bureau staff provide essential services to the county. These include coordination of all the preservation deals and oversight of the stewardship of preserved farms, including guidance in legal defense and enforcement of preservation mechanisms. The bureau is invaluable to the county programs.

To be clear, I am not arguing for an increase in funding to the program, but rather for sustaining the current levels. I understand we’re in a time where relative to the state budget many programs are asked to do more with less. But further staff cuts will jeopardize the effectiveness of this highly popular and very successful program. Since the program intakes new farms each year the bureau already is doing more with less by default.  

State staff cuts today would come at a time when local municipalities in Lehigh County are getting ready to join the program with their own money. Under our newly created county-municipal match program, several townships, including Lower Macungie Township, are planning to contribute their own funds for preservation. In short, when we were asked to do more with less Lehigh County has enacted a program that does just that. As a region we’ve stepped to the plate. 

Lastly, I want to reiterate that Farmland preservation is not a special interest. It has been demonstrated time and again that it has broad community support across the entire spectrum of voters. Lehigh Valley residents understand that investments in farmland today pays dividends tomorrow. Accordingly, I appreciate your attention to this matter.

I’d be happy to discuss this issue with you. Specifically if you are unfamiliar with Lehigh County’s new municipal match program and how it has encouraged local municipalities to step up to the plate and contribute funds to preservation efforts and why consistent staffing at the farmland bureau is crucial to the programs continued success. 

Thank you.

Ron W. Beitler
Vice President – Lower Macungie Township Board of Commissioners
Treasurer – Lehigh County Agricultural Land Preservation Board

Rep. Gary Day
Rep. Ryan Mackenzie
Rep. Justin Simmons
Rep. Mike Schlossberg
Sen. Pat Browne
Sen. Lisa Bosola
Gov. Tom Wolf


Lower Mac to offer tax credits to volunteer firefighters

So much of what we can and can’t do at the township level is determined by rules set in place by Harrisburg. For that reason over the last 4 years we have taken an active role in advocating for helpful legislation in Harrisburg. We’ve done this on a number of occasions but I wanted to highlight one success story.

Last December Harrisburg enacted Act 172 which allows the township flexibility to give credits to volunteer firefighters. Lower Mac will be taking advantage of this starting next year by waiving 100% of municipal earned income taxes for volunteers. This also includes the ambulance core for those who qualify. Prior to last year this wasn’t an option.

Our advocacy for the enabling legislation began over a year ago when I asked our board to consider a resolution encouraging local state leaders to support the idea. So, we drafted approved and sent it away to our State Representative and Senator. Similar legislation was considered for years but never could get out the starting gate. So we felt it was important to let elected officials know just how important this was. After Lower Mac’s advocacy Ryan Mackenzie our State Rep. became a co-sponsor of a bill allowing the credit. And since then it has been signed by the Gov. and passed into law.

Starting next year LMFD firefighters who live in the township will benefit from this team effort.  It’s important we pursue these benefits as unfortunately volunteerism wains. in 1976, PA had a total of 300,000 volunteer firefighters.  Today, that number has dwindled to about 50,000. So, we must do everything we can to encourage the recruitment and retention of volunteers. For a volunteer making the median income the credit will put 300 dollars back into their pocket.

Bottom line:
Now this and other benefits alone of course aren’t the core reasons our volunteers do what they do. In the grand scheme I wish we could do even more. But little every bit helps. I’m convinced of that. And we’ll continue to do our part as much as we can. 
And in all areas where we see opportunities to advocate with the state for more flexible laws our Board will continue to do so. 

Things to remember when seeing for sale signs on cornfields….

I got a few concerned messages last week about a number of new very large “for sale” signs on major pieces of property in the township. Specifically a number of large cornfields.

There are couple things important to remember: 

1.) Official Map adopted.
First and most important, many of these properties including those on Lower Macungie Rd. and also at Brookside and Sauerkraut are designated on the now adopted township official map for preservation. Lower Macungie Official Map FAQ. Can’t stress enough how important this is. 

2.) We are communicating with landowners.
With every major property designated on the map, township staff has reached out to landowners in an effort to proactively begin conversations. In at least one case (Brookside and Sauerkraut) these conversations are productive and ongoing. A basic framework for preservation has been agreed upon. Below is a Morning Call article outlining the transferable development rights concept that could result in substantial preservation. Family of late developer Weiner helping Lower Macungie pursue farmland preservation, mixed-use village.

3.) Landowners have their property rights.
In all cases even with protections of the official map in place (the 1 year “pause button” on any development plans) landowners still have every right to market properties. In some cases this can actually “move the ball forward” since it helps determine market price. It’s not reason to think development is imminent.

4.) Township remains completely committed to preservation deals. 
What I have told everyone who reached out is that the township remains completely committed to preserving properties identified on the official map. I will say with confidence no stone will be left unturned as far as strategies to accomplish that. We’re taking the biggest swings we can take to get land preserved. All tools are in the toolbox. While some of these conversations are complicated and ongoing, in one case I am cautiously optimistic at this point.

5.) No more flexibility for greenfield developers. No waivers. No variances. 
When determining market value one thing landowners/developers must understand is that the township is no longer willing to grant regulatory flexibility to induce anymore growth. We’re well past the point where we see large tract subdivisions as desirable. A recent example would be the Farr Tract. In that case, we were asked to grant a development inducing text amendment that would have allowed 90+ units. The township denied that request. So now instead that property is moving forward with a plan for 17 estate lots. This was a huge win drastically reducing the impact of development.

In conclusion landowners have every right to develop properties, however large greenfield tracts must now be in strict compliance with the zoning ordinance. We will exercise our rights to deny plans that are not. This is a fundamental shift in philosophy over the last 4 years. With that being said, we are engaging landowners in preservation conversations. All tools to get the job done are in play. One thing is certain these things take time. I’m learned a lot of patience over the last 3 years.