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Cheltenham Tax Lien Explosion

Permalink2018-08-12Court Activity Update

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A tax lien is the first step in losing ones property for failure to pay taxes. With the highest school taxes in Montgomery county, Cheltenham property owners are highly vulnerable to school-tax-induced homelessness.

Periodically, your podmaster retrieves the open tax lien cases that the district has filed against township residents and businesses that are listed on the Montgomery County Court system website. This year there has been an explosion of tax liens compared to the number we reported last year.

The following table contains hyperlinks to currently listed open tax lien cases with the school district as the plaintiff.

2018-08-12Open Tax Liens filed by Cheltenham School District

Tax Case #Tax Case #Tax Case #Tax Case #Tax Case #
2017-19675 2017-19678 2017-19679 2017-19683 2017-20371
2017-20389 2017-20463 2017-21683 2017-22371 2017-23118
2017-23139 2017-23146 2017-23455 2017-23546 2017-25955
2017-25972 2017-26236 2017-28965 2017-28966 2017-29211
2017-29214 2017-29225 2017-29227 2017-29229 2017-29248
2017-29252 2018-00427 2018-00602 2018-00603 2018-00757
2018-02257 2018-02926 2018-03198 2018-03602 2018-03606
2018-03853 2018-03878 2018-03883 2018-05048 2018-05054
2018-05736 2018-05974 2018-06013 2018-06423 2018-06463
2018-06468 2018-06519 2018-07284 2018-08333 2018-08399
2018-08401 2018-08952 2018-10872 2018-12687 2018-12689
2018-12691 2018-12692 2018-12695 2018-12708 2018-12709
2018-12711 2018-12855 2018-13586 2018-13589 2018-13662
2018-13691 2018-13692 2018-13694 2018-13695 2018-13707
2018-13710 2018-13712 2018-13713 2018-13717 2018-13721
2018-13722 2018-13946 2018-13949 2018-13953 2018-13955
2018-13958 2018-13959 2018-13960 2018-13962 2018-14008
2018-14503 2018-14506 2018-14590 2018-14715 2018-14723
2018-14727 2018-14736 2018-15310 2018-15311 2018-15313
2018-15315 2018-15615 2018-15866 2018-15964 2018-15969
2018-16040 2018-16060 2018-16148 2018-16149 2018-16168
2018-16213 2018-16217 2018-16229 2018-16231 2018-16279
2018-16306 2018-16637 2018-16638 2018-16639 2018-16640
2018-16642 2018-16643 2018-16645 2018-16653 2018-16888
2018-16890 2018-16893 2018-16895 2018-16896 2018-16900
2018-16902 2018-17234 2018-17236 2018-17299 2018-17303
2018-17305 2018-17336 2018-17340 2018-17342 2018-17759
2018-17761 2018-17967 2018-18124 2018-18453 2018-18556
2018-18802 2018-18804 2018-18850 2018-18856 2018-18957
2018-19033 2018-19109 2018-19945 2018-20044

2018-08-07 Facilities and Finance Committee Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-08-07Live Recording

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Facilities Committee Meeting

The new facilities director Mr. Brooks ran this meeting. Unlike recent meetings which concentrated on "large" projects that are underway, this meeting was an overview of smaller projects across the district.

  • Elementary School Projects
    • Myers: Repairs are being made to the playground including tree removal and installation of new playground mulch.
    • Elkins Park: There is no air conditioning in the cafeteria. To reduce the heat, surplus fans from the old Glenside Elementary school have been installed in the cafeteria.
    • Cheltenham Elementary: The HVAC chiller tower is undergoing repairs.
  • Cedarbrook Project:
    • The certificate of occupancy was granted on 7/20/18.
    • There are two start up issues:
      • Exterior storage building will have to have sprinklers retrofitted. No cost for this project was mentioned.
      • Bus routing on property has proven to be poorly designed. Buses cannot pass each other with existing route. Modified routing requires removal of 12 feet of divider curbing.
    • There was a firefighter tour from the Lamont and Ogontz fire companies.
    • Punchlist completion is continuing.
    • One board member was disappointed that the Cedarbrook traffic system was designed incorrectly. The architect did not consider the turns radius required for school Buses.
    • One member of the public asked: Why don't the architects pay for their mistake ?
  • Cheltenham High School
    • There is a problem with multiple false fire alarms because of the malfunctioning 20 year old system.
    • High School Library Asbestos Project Status:
      • Sargent Enterprises has completed the abatement activity.
      • Furniture has been cleaned and redeployed.
      • books have been recycled.
      • Excess bookshelves have been broken down for raw stock for use in PDL class.
      • Air monitoring is continuing.
  • Administration Building.
    • Sidewalks around the building will have to be replaced. KCBA estimates a $100K cost.
Finance Committee Meeting
  • Bond Refinancing
    • Mr Brad Remig of PFM Financial Advisers gave a presentation to board members regarding a proposal to refinance select school district bonds.
    • The refinancing would yield an estimated savings of $400K in interest.
    • As is usually the case the charts and financial data were not available to the public.
    • The bond series to be refinanced is the series "A" 2013 bonds which are callable 6 month from now.
    • Savings net of the costs of the refinance.
    • Some existing refinance resolutions have not gone through as the market has not made it worth while.
    • The finance director recommended that a authorization resolution be voted on at the next meeting even though the transaction cannot take place until October.
  • Food service update
    • The state awarded $5000 grants for breakfast at Myers and Cheltenham Elementary.
    • A creepy surveillance touch has been added to breakfast: a thumb print scan to get through food lines.
    • No mention on safeguards against biometric identity theft.
    • The financial director had mentioned that parents can opt out of thumb scan if they object.
  • Transportation Update
    • The district is deploying 40 new propane buses.
    • Because propane is new, there is no basis yet to compare costs with diesel.

2018-08-07Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-08-071Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-08-072Facilities and Finance Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2

PSBA sues Citizen: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Permalink2018-07-22Story Update

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Last August your podmaster reported that the Cheltenham Solicitor disavowed participation in a Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) lawsuit against an organization called Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR). The law suit was filed in Cumberland County last year on the 17th of July 2017.

The defendant, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR) characterized the suit as retaliation against Right to Know requests filed with all Pennsylvania school districts asking for PSBA Data. In other words, a SLAPP suit.

PFUR has counter-sued in Federal Court alleging that the PSBA was retaliating against the "exercise of their First Amendment rights of free expression and to petition the government."

On June 19 2018, Federal Judge Jan E. DuBois of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that:

  • PSBA's request to dismiss the counter-suit was denied.
  • PSBA's governing board "are not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage of the proceedings."
  • PFUR had referred to the state lawsuit against them as a "SLAPP" suit in their federal complaint. PSBA filed a "Motion to Strike" the SLAPP term as derogatory. The motion was denied.
  • PSBA will not be granted immunity against punitive damages.

In short, the PSBA struck out.

So if the PSBA loses in state and federal court— and are forced to pay punitive damages– what could be the repercussions here in Cheltenham ?

Cheltenham pays dues to PSBA. An increase to the PSBA dues because of the cost of the lawsuit is possible; however, according to PSBA's Form 990 for 2016, they have net assets in excess of $10 million. Even if most of these assets are real estate, there should be no reason that the members should have to pay the damages.

Is it possible that PSBA could charge its members a special assessment to pay for any awarded damages ? Probably not, since there is no prevision in the PSBA Bylaws for any such thing.

So in summary, PSBA sued a private Pennsylvania resident, Simon Campbell, and his associated organization, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR), in state court because of the Right to Know Requests he filed in 2017. Campbell and PFUR counter-sued the PSBA in Federal Court alleging a first-amendment civil rights violation in what they are calling PSBA's SLAPP state suit. In the first inning, PSBA has struck out in Federal court and will be liable for punitive damages if the case goes against them.

Your Tax Payer Dollars at work….

2018-07-22Case Weblinks

DateWeb Link
2018-07-22Federal Opinion, CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-892 Campbell v. PSBA
2018-07-22PSBA Bylaws as of 10/20/2017
2018-07-22PSBA 1099 for 2016

2018-06-12 Regular Legislative Meeting

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-06-12Live Recording

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Note: The opening 45 minutes of the meeting contained school district public relations material that was omitted from the recording.

Policy 605: District Initiated Reverse Tax Appeals

Back in April your podmaster reported on a proposed school district policy that would enable the district to target residents for tax increases through reverse tax appeals. The new policy would limit the properties considered for an appeal to those that would bring in Ten Thousand Dollars or more in annual taxes.

This new district policy is the result of a July 2017 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case: Valley Forge Towers Apartments LP v. Upper Merion Area School District. In this case, the court ruled that the the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution blocks school districts from selectively targeting commercial properties for tax increases through reverse tax assessment appeals. Besides the greater "bang for the buck" that commercial properties reassessments yield, a "soak the rich" commercial property approach is obviously motivated by politics: antagonizing a single commercial property owner is less costly in votes than antagonizing multiple residential owners.

Note that increases in the tax rate (millage) in Pennsylvania are limited by the Taxpayer Relief Act (Act 1). Increases in tax assessment, in the case of a county-wide reassessment, are limited by Title 53 which forces a reduction in a property tax rate to "be less than or equal to the percentage increase in the Statewide average weekly wage for the preceding year."

In the case of reverse tax appeals, there appear to be no such protections. Back in April we reported that the district is pursuing a reverse appeal against the Wawa on Limekiln Pike. It was stated that the the present Wawa assessment is based on the land value only. This business will have a substantial tax increase.

It was never explained where the arbitrary $10,000 threshold came from At the new 2018-19 school tax rate of 47.0539 mills, a Cheltenham property would have to be under-assessed by $212,522. As one law firm noted:

"a monetary threshold that disparately impacts a sub-classification of real property, such as large commercial properties, may be equally suspect under the Uniformity Clause."

During the meeting, the threshold was stated to be $2000;however, this was an "audio typo."

Policy 202: Non-Resident Students

A resident testified that the revised Policy 202, which regulates the eligibility of nonresident students for school district attendance, has created a loophole that is being widely abused.

The revised policy requires that if a resident has a unrelated school age child that they are supporting as if their own, the child may attend district schools provided the resident submits

"a sworn statement that s/he is supporting the child gratis, that s/he will assume all personal obligations for the child relative to school requirements, and that s/he intends to so keep and support the child continuously and not merely through the school term."

The resident stated that this new policy "invites abuse" and that the change in policy was not sufficiently publicized.

School Recess Time Cutback Issue

Back in February, we noted that the superintendent mentioned that Cheltenham has the shortest work day in Montgomery County while failing to mention the cause– the union contract that the school board negotiated in 2016.

In September of 2017, we reported that the new contract stipulates that the "professional employee workday in grades K-4 shall be seven hours and fifteen minutes with a forty-five minute lunch period. A minimum of fifteen minutes will be for non-instructional activities." The contract also limits the "employee work year" to 190 days maximum.

So with contract limiting each teacher to seven hours per day available for "instructional activities," recess was axed.

Another frustrated parent testified with research, facts and figures demonstrating the benefits of recess. How long will the frustration continue until the moving van shows up ?

2018-06-12Regular Legislative Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-06-121Regular Legislative Meeting Part 1 of 1

2018-06-12Regular Legislative Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-06-12Budget Transfers.pdf (18 KB)
2018-06-12P206 Student Records 4.29.18 (01615651xAED82).pdf (60 KB)
2018-06-12P261 Student Surveys 3.15.18 (01590471xAED82) (2) (1).pdf (46 KB)
2018-06-12P605 Tax Levy 9.25.17 (01500150xAED82) (2) (1).pdf (43 KB)
2018-06-12P605 Tax Levy Regulations 06.12.2018
2018-06-12Policy 250.pdf (28 KB)
2018-06-12May 2018 Revenue.pdf (34 KB)
2018-06-12May 2018 Exp Summary.pdf (52 KB)
2018-06-12EDEP Agenda 6 12 18 final.pdf (28 KB)
2018-06-12Volunteers - June 2018 v2.pdf (56 KB)

2018-06-05 Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-06-05Live Recording

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Facilities Committee Meeting
Final Cost of Cedarbrook Project

Back in March of 2016 the total Cedarbrook Project construction bid for all contractors was presented to the public as $47,783,708 at the 3/1/2016 Facilities Committee Meeting. At the 6/5/2018 Facilities Committee meeting, the final project cost was presented: $51,317,874. This is over $3.5 Million above the 3/1/2016 public announcement.

Some of the factors that pushed the final cost over the 2016 bid were described as:

  • OCIP insurance was estimated at $193,500 but the actual was $1,053,710.
  • Cost of change orders was $998,328.

It was stated that the method of covering the cost difference between the estimate and actual will be to use money in the bond fund. If this funding is exhausted, then the remainder of the money will come from the next bond issuance. The capital reserve will not be used.

It is interesting that the "Total Project Cost" estimate of $51,291,516 presented in the October 2015 Act 34 hearing was closer to the final 6/5/2018 cost of $51,317,874 than the $47,783,708 "Total Project Cost" that was reported in 2016. I reported in 2015 that the project will have the following impact on taxes (calculated at the 2015 millage rate):

Act 34 Est. Total Millage Impact of Cedarbrook Project
$12,850,000 G.O. Bonds on Table I 0.14 mills
$17,400,000 G.O. Bonds on Table II 0.34 mills
$21,250,000 G.O. Bonds on Table III 0.83 mills
Indirect Costs 0.07 mills
Total Millage Impact 1.38 mill

Cedarbrook Project Construction Update
  • The Cedarbrook Project is coming to a conclusion. It was reported that the final construction job meeting has been completed and no more meetings are scheduled. The overall percent complete was reported as 96%.
  • Milestones completed since the last update:
    • All exterior signs and lighting has been completed.
    • The Furniture is delivered.
    • Window shades 90% completed.
    • Choir room 100% completed.
    • Media center 100% completed.
    • All stairwells tiled.
    • Stage curtains all completed. Auditorium seating completed.
    • In the gym: floor, lighting and HVAC are 100% complete. Bleachers will be completed Thursday.
    • STEM Classroom 100% completed.
    • Cafeteria/kitchen all equipment installed and ready for inspection.
    • Green roof: 80% completed. Planting and inspection needed.
    • Sidewalk/curbing completed. Basketball court sod completed.
    • Asphalt work is the main outstanding item. It was started on 6/5/2018 and needs 4 rain-free days to complete. Presently 25% done.
  • Inspections: Passed the state elevator, emergency lighting, sprinkler system and final electrical inspections. The county health, county soil erosion and fire suppression inspections have not yet occurred. There are 13 building inspectors on site.
  • There are 1620 punch list items outstanding that the various contractors must address before closing the job.
Finance Committee Meeting
2018-19 Budget

At the next regular board meeting the budget for next year will be approved. The budget includes a 2.4% tax increase as well as a withdraw of $1.67 Million from the fund balance. Without the fund balance withdraw, the tax increase would have been 4.42%, based on the district's estimate for the value of a tax mill.

The Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment for 2018 has been announced as 2.0%. See our 2018-19 Tax Infographic for more details.

Fund Balance

In 2018-19 the board committed $6 Million for capital projects and $1.67 million to keep the tax increase below the Act 1 index. The unassigned amount is reported as $7,024,494.

It was also reported that the total district debt is over $180 million. This amount is expected to substantially increase with future construction projects.

2018-06-05Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-06-051Facilities Committee Meeting
2018-06-052Finance Committee Meeting

2018-06-05Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-06-05Financial Affairs June 2018

2018-05-01 Finance and Facilities Committee Meetings in 4 Separate Recordings

 Podmaster Notebook  Permalink2018-05-01Live Recording

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Financial Committee Meeting
2018-19 Proposed Final Budget

The board is sticking to the original game plan of both increasing taxes by 2.4% and withdrawing $1.67 Million from the fund balance. The school tax millage will increase to 47.0539 mills from the present 45.9511 mills. Depending on the house assessment value, the new millage translates to the following 2018-19 monthly payments:

Assessment Yearly School Tax Bill Monthly School Tax Payment
$100,000 $4,705 $392
$150,000 $7,058 $588
$200,000 $9,410 $784
$250,000 $11,763 $980
$300,000 $14,116 $1176
$350,000 $16,468 $1372
$400,000 $18,821 $1568
$450,000 $21,174 $1764
$500,000 $23,526 $1960
$550,000 $25,879 $2156

We can calculate a hypothetical "worst-case" 2018-19 tax increase (which would not use the fund balance) by using the "value of a mill" for Cheltenham School District which was given at $1,804,686. Using this figure, your podmaster calculates that the worst-case 2018-19 tax increase would be an additional 0.9293 mills (i.e. $1677271/$1804686) for a total worst-case increase of 4.42% over last year's millage.

The hypothetical "worst-case" 4.42% school tax increase broken into a monthly payment would be:

Assessment Hypothetical Yearly School Tax Bill Hypothetical Monthly Payment
$100,000 $4,798 $399
$150,000 $7,197 $599
$200,000 $9,596 $799
$250,000 $11,995 $999
$300,000 $14,394 $1199
$350,000 $16,794 $1399
$400,000 $19,193 $1599
$450,000 $21,592 $1799
$500,000 $23,991 $1999
$550,000 $26,390 $2199

The district use of fund balance to keep the operating budget afloat is not portrayed as anything to worry about– despite the fact that there are current and future capital projects that are depending on use of portions of the fund balance. The draw down does not affect the district credit rating.

The presentation covered some of the budgetary cost drivers. The biggest percentage increase is for benefits. From 2012-13 to 2016-17 the budgeted amount for benefits has increased from $18.8 to $29.05 million (54.5%). The increase in benefits has been blamed primarily on the state pension system (PSERS). It was mentioned that there are a significant number of retired teachers in the community that do not want to hear about PSERS. The politicians who created this PSERS mess are long forgotten.

The other major cost driver cited was debt service which has increased almost 50% since 2009-10 with the principal balance increasing by over $100 million.

Facilities Committee Meeting
Cedarbrook Construction Update
  • The Cedarbrook rebuild is winding down.
  • The project is at 94% completion.
  • This is last month of this project.
  • There are five different permits that must be obtained before being awarded a certificate of occupancy. Presently only one permit has been obtained.
  • Regarding the issue with the HVAC units that were damaged during the winter: Liberty Mutual has denied the claims for damage.
  • The broken sewer pipe repair has been completed. The cause of the problem is in dispute. The total repair cost was $93,700. Liberty Mutual agreed last week to pay district for the cost. The insurance company wants the township to sign a release to the district for future claims. The township refused and the matter is under discussion.
  • The district has purchased 2000 boxes and supplies for teachers to pack for moving back.

2018-05-01Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting MP3s

DateTrackWeb Link
2018-05-011Facilities Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-05-012Facilities Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2
2018-05-013Finance Committee Meeting Part 1 of 2
2018-05-014Finance Committee Meeting Part 2 of 2

2018-05-01Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Selected Documents

DateWeb Link
2018-05-01Financial Affairs Presentation May 2018

Cheltenham School Tax Infographic for 2018-19

Permalink2018-04-14Update

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Our annual School Tax Infographic

Every year Social Security recipients receive a cost of living adjustment (COLA). The compounded increase of Social Security COLA from 2006 to 2018 is 26.9% while Cheltenham School Tax has increased 53.7% over the same interval.

2018-04-14Cheltenham School Tax Infographic 2018-19 Links

DateWeb Link
2018-04-14PDF Version of the Cheltenham School Tax Infographic for 2018-19
2018-04-14March 2018 CSD Financial Committee Meeting (captured on 3/17/2018)
2018-04-14Social Security Fast Facts 2017
2018-04-14Social Security press release 10-2017-1
2018-04-14Property Tax Relief
2018-04-14Act 1 Index 2006-2018
2018-04-14CSD Historic Tax Increase Data
2018-04-14Social Security COLA data
2018-04-14https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2017/acs/acsbr16-02.pdf
2018-04-14Statement: Your Weekly Benefit Rate should equal about one-half of your full-time weekly wage
2018-04-14Photos from Harrisburg, PA 2013 Property Tax Independance Act Event
 
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