Water and Farmland Protection Fight Updates
There’s been quite a lot of activity this summer around the proposed luxury student housing development atop Penn State-owned land upslope and proximal to the State College Borough Water Authority Harter-Thomas wells.
Readers interested in catching up can visit the Nittany Valley Water Coalition Facebook page, the Save State College Water Supply Facebook page, the NVWC website, and/or the following Change.org petition updates:
Prioritizing Public Infrastructure Spending
The bigger picture is the need for a regional watershed management plan that addresses sourcewater protection, sewage treatment and discharge, stormwater discharge, and business models for regional public water/sewer, that include Penn State University as a full participant, not exempt (as it is now) from many of the regulations and agreements currently binding other public entities such as the State College Borough Water Authority, the University Area Joint Authority, and the municipal governments of the Centre Region.
One piece of that bigger picture that’s playing out this summer is Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum review of a Beneficial Reuse Special Study under Act 537 (the state law governing sewage systems).
The special study – proposing to extend the existing beneficial reuse system to Mountainview Country Club and Tussey Mountain Ski Area – was presented to the General Forum at the June meeting, starting a 60-day public comment period that will conclude on August 26.
6.26.17 UAJA Draft Special Study Re Beneficial Reuse
I submitted a public comment, emphasizing my preference that public funds be expended on three higher community priorities before being spent to extend the beneficial reuse program, as follows:
- to establish strong regional sourcewater protection protocols that hold Penn State to the same standards as other local public entities;
- to establish a clear regional watershed management plan that holds Penn State to the same standards as other local public entities; and
- to analyze current (failing) business models so as develop new business models for public water and sewer systems that do not depend on constant population growth and constant intensification of land use.
7.29.17 KW Public Comment Re Beneficial Reuse Special Study
Readers interested in submitting public comment can email to Senior Planner Mark Boeckel – email@example.com.
Meanwhile, for the last 13 years or so, Tom Songer II and other local developers have been asking UAJA’s board to revise the rate structure to a volumetric billing system.
This summer, the group launched a petition urging the COG General Forum to direct the UAJA to revise the rate structure (details available at the petition site).
“…for more than 13 years my associates and I have tried unsuccessfully to get UAJA to bill all customers for sewer service based on water meter readings in the same manner that State College Borough has used for more than 40 years.
At this time, we are asking you to consider signing our online petition which can be found at: www.UAJAPetition.com
The purpose of the Petition is to try to get the Centre Region COG to mandate in the update to the ACT 537 Regional Sewer Plan that UAJA should bill all customers for sewer service based on water meter readings which will incentivize customers to conserve water and generate less sewage which will make our water and sewer systems more sustainable while lowering our carbon footprint…”
The issue will be discussed at the COG Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, August 22 at 12:15 PM and at the COG General Forum meeting at 7 PM on Monday, August 28, 2017 at the COG Building at 2643 Gateway Drive
Meanwhile, over in Ferguson Township…
Reporting on the Monday, August 7 supervisors meeting, Laura Dinnini wrote that “nearing midnight” Dininni responded to a report filed by Steve Jackson (the Ferguson Township liaison to the State College Borough Water Authority) on the topic of explosive blasting of the bedrock at the Penn State/Toll Brothers development site.
Dininni highlighted the contradiction between a recent SCBWA public statement that blasting had been eliminated from the construction plan, and the fact that in the approved land development plan, blasting is permitted. Although Dininni did not get support from her supervisor colleagues to submit a public letter to the SCBWA board highlighting the contradiction, Supervisor Peter Buckland agreed to reach out to SCBWA board members and executives privately to seek clarification.
SCBWA’s next public meeting is August 17 at 4 p.m. at 1201 West Branch Road.
Dininni also reported that she introduced a discussion about Penn State representation within the Centre Region Council of Governments structure.
Corporate Penn State, although not a municipality, has appointed (not elected) voting and non-voting members on several key committees, including the Centre Region Planning Commission, the COG Transportation and Land Use Committee, and the COG Parks Capital Committee.
Dininni’s supervisor colleagues supported her, voting to include the issue as an official Ferguson Township municipal comment on the 2018 COG Program Plan, and therefore subject to public discussion at the August 28 General Forum meeting.
In two other positive steps, Dininni introduced discussion on Penn State’s private ownership of Millbrook Marsh Nature Center (soon to be seeking significant public taxpayer funding) and on the need for the Centre Region Planning Agency to conduct annual assessments of the value of corporate Penn State’s tax-exempt landholdings within the region’s municipalities, to be used for future negotiations of the “fee-in-lieu” agreements.
Both of those measures also received support from Dininni’s colleagues.
For reference, according to State College Finance Department information, the assessed value of Penn State’s property within the Borough in 2015 was about $262.9 million.
If the property were taxable, the resulting 2015 real estate tax payment to the Borough would have been approximately $3.8 million.
However, because corporate Penn State is currently classified as a public nonprofit organization for tax purposes, the property is tax-exempt.
Instead, the University and the surrounding municipalities negotiate an annual “fee-in-lieu” of taxes. For State College, Penn State’s annual contribution to public coffers is about $600,000, giving the university a $3.2 million per year tax break. Negotiations are currently scheduled for every 20 years, with the next negotiation round not scheduled until roughly 2026.
Sometime I hope to find time to make a spreadsheet of the many, many ways the Janus of corporate Penn State – with its annual operating budget of about $5.7 billion – gains financially from its circumstance-dependent “public” and “private” statuses, internalizing profits and externalizing costs and hiding all the shell-gaming of revenue and expenses from the public thanks to the University’s exemption from the Right to Know Law.
The point being: the public subsidizes Penn State far beyond the $318 million in direct state appropriations anticipated for 2017-2018, with none of the oversight power that should accompany public funding for public institutions.
2016 PSU IRS Filings
PSU Audit KW Markup
The exploitation of public resources for private University gain is not unique to Penn State, of course. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an excellent report on the trend, When Universities Swallow Cities. It’s behind a pay wall, but worth a read if you can get hold of a copy.
Public patience is wearing thin.