Letter: more resident comment needed on Barnard House

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To the Editor,

This is a comment on Pocopson’s Barnard House reconstruction project and the process being used to further the implementation of the project.

Pocopson is rebuilding the Barnard House to provide offices, meeting space and museum space. The first two of these functions are currently being served by the converted Township garage on Denton Hollow Rd.

The bids on the architect’s plan have been received and the low bid is approximately $1,300,000 which includes a $200,000 contingency. We understand the contingency to be part of the plan. The capital for the project needs to be borrowed. Without gazing into a crystal ball and trying to predict interest rates over time, we prefer to think of it in relationship to the open space tax that was approved by residents in a referendum. Based on comparative capital financed, the capital for this project will cost residents approximately 0.25 mils in increased taxes over 20 to 30 years. That is only the capital cost. Increased operating expenses will be seen and maintenance of an historic structure is more expensive than normal.

The Supervisors over a number of years have pursued significant austerity moves to avoid tax increases. They did impose the earned income tax without a lot of fanfare. Nonetheless, acquisition of open space rights will decrease real estate transfer taxes to the normal ebb and flow of residential life. Large development transfer taxes will not add to available revenue. Without assuming that interest rates will provide a self-funding basis over 20 to 30 years,  what is the tax picture going to look like for residents – if optimism prevails or if it doesn’t? It would also be helpful to understand the future scope envisioned for the project. From our standpoint there is not enough awareness of the long-term intent and ramifications of the project to justify moving it forward. Certainly, it has not been sold to the residents of the Township.

Bullet cards were sent for Founder’s Day, information was posted on website and signs were put up around the Township. However, nothing is readily available covering this project. Yes, it is available via Right-To-Know, but that is not fanfare by any means. Why have the Supervisors and the Historic Committee not sold the project to the taxpayers?

Pennsylvania is a representative democracy and the Supervisors have the right to move forward without the consent of residents, but it does not pass the openness test. The process is more reflective of a Township Building and Garage project which was proposed more than 20 years ago. It was to be constructed on what is now Pocopson Park. That project had little debate and the Board of Supervisors at that time was moving it forward without fanfare until the costs of the project evoked a hue and cry from residents shortly before adoption. Residents were outraged and felt that it was being done in secret. It was not a secret then or now, but it was not sold to residents then or now. That project was tabled. A new committee was formed to make recommendation concerning a Township garage which resulted in the current garage space at considerably less cost and in a more accessible location for maintenance work. At the time, it was suggested that converting the previous Township garage into Township Offices would be out grown in the near future. The renovation was done and prediction has taken more than 20 years to come closer to reality.

There is an alternate approach. Many residents have objected to the Township’s acquisition of development rights to preserve open space, but it was offered as a ballot referendum and passed. Furthermore, the process was supported by multiple public meetings exploring the various aspects of what it entailed. The referendum setup a specific tax to support the process and it is expunged when the loans are paid off. These steps were not required of the Board of Supervisors but they were taken because the cost justified resident involvement. The Barnard House township offices and historic preservation project is being moved forward without fanfare of any kind. Given the number of exhibit rooms, it is not clear whether this cost is the end. The implications although not as great as “Open Space” are significant.

Openness is important, and this project deserves to be sold to residents of the Township. Licking your wounds because your side did not win is democracy. Being resentful because you were not heard is what? Residents of Pocopson where do you stand? On October 8th attend the Board Meeting @ 7:30 PM and let the Board of Supervisors know whether you are for the project, against the project, or don’t know where you stand. If you cannot attend, try e-mail. It may be your last opportunity.

Thomas W Bierl
Christopher Conaway
Pocopson

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