Saturday, September 21, 2013

Let's be Open About This...

This map of Upper Pottsgrove open space hangs in the township offices, but does not yet show the new purchases across the northern half of the township. (Mercury Photo by Evan Brandt)

As the list of properties preserved through Upper Pottsgrove's open space programs grows, a pattern is emerging with the most recent purchases that indicates not only connectivity for trails, but the preservation of the headwaters of Sprogel’s Run.

The most recent purchase is 12.23 acres of property from Renovations by Design, one of the company’s run by developer Richard Mingey, near the intersection of Route 100 and Farmington Avenue, a lot which Township Commissioner Herb Miller said preserves a “beautiful vista” toward Douglass (Berks) Township.

The township paid $485,000 for that parcel.

Also purchased from Renovations by Design was 20.8 acres along Hanover Drive, properties which, Miller said, are home to 20 or more natural springs “which produce the clearest, cleanest, best tasting water you have ever seen.”

That land was preserved for a cost of $400,000.

(Below is a quick video of Miller explaining some of the connections among the properties.)

Also preserved are two more acres at 10 Moyer Road, the former Prout Farm, from the same company for $65,000.

That purchase dovetails with the 34.04 acres across Route 100 on West Moyer Road that the township purchased for $475,000. That property was purchased from Shadeland Development Company, also overseen by Mingey.

The Moyer Road parcels in particular, Miller said, will go along way toward preserving the headwaters of Sprogel’s Run, a stream which winds its way through the township and into Lower Pottsgrove, past Brookside Golf Course, the appropriately named Sprogel’s Run Park on Pruss Hill Road, Sunnybrook Ballroom and, ultimately, the Schuylkill River.

Miller, who is also a member of the township’s open space committee, said the combination of these purchases will also create an open space corridor, through which a trail may one day wind, across the northern third of the township and connect with existing parks.

“It’s really coming together,” Miller said.

In 2006, Upper Pottsgrove voters supported a referendum to adopt an earned income tax of 0.25 percent in order to finance the acquisition of open space from willing township sellers.

Sixty percent of voters, supported the measure while 564 voters, or 40 percent, opposed the referendum.

The money raised provided a fund to pay the 20 percent match required to access the $750,000 that Montgomery County earmarked for the township for open space under a 2003 countywide referendum. The money is also used as a revenue stream to pay back bonds borrowed to purchase open space as it becomes available.

This spring, commissioners moved forward with refinancing some previous borrowings for a variety of purposes, including open space funding.

But unlike most other refinancings, which are designed to save money by taking advantage of lower interest rates, the township’s annual payments actually went up by $26,000 to $30,000 under the plan the township adopted, according to financial adviser Mike Wolf.

Most of that increase, however, is paid out of the fund collected to purchase open space “and the money is already in the fund,” said Wolf, thus not requiring any increased payment by taxpayers.

The  refinancing rolled up several issues into a single transaction.

It refunded the prior $4.5 million bond taken out in 2008 for the purchase of open space, and added $1 million to that amount to allow for the purchase of at least four additional properties the township’s open space committee has targeted for purchase and preservation.

The additional borrowing results in an increase of $50,000 a year in payments from the dedicated account funded by an earned income tax voters imposed on themselves in 2008.

That tax generates $250,000 a year to pay back the borrowing and is paid entirely by wage earners, emphasized Township Commissioners Chairman Elwood Taylor, meaning the payments do not come out of property taxes.

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