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Doug Weimer: Hempfield reassessment endangers economic efforts

| Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, 10:30 a.m.

It appears that the Hempfield Area School District is out of control.

According to Tribune-Review article “Hempfield schools, homeowners square off over property tax assessments” (Aug. 30, TribLIVE), it appears the district could be on the verge of stopping future investment in Hempfield and all communities within the district.

A shakedown of this sort will strike fear in anyone considering a property investment in the greater Hempfield community. This school district is putting all the great community investment efforts over the last decade in attracting new development at risk.

Responsible elected officials and residents across Westmoreland County have spent countless hours over the last two years developing a comprehensive plan to provide a blueprint to help reverse the county’s declining population and offer solutions to help create jobs and improve quality of life for residents.

Now we have a law firm hired by school districts to seek reassessments that are driving residents from their homes, including senior retirees.

In the article, one county resident stated she left one community because of high taxes and now may be chased from her new home due to the pursuit of a reassessment by this firm of her property taxes in Hempfield. If this happens, do you think she will have good things to say publicly about Westmoreland County?

This action by any school district is counterproductive to the spirit of the proposed county comprehensive plan. The Hempfield Township supervisors have taken great strides in altering the quality of life in our community through improvements designed to attract new development and increase property values.

Hempfield sold its sewage authority to a countywide authority to save property owners money by eliminating duplicate services and appropriate the funds from the sale into a direct investment in the community. Some of the proceeds went to an $18 million expansion of sewer lines in older neighborhoods, $4.2 million in new equipment and infrastructure improvements to roadway systems.

The supervisors also dedicated $1 million to fulfill the recreation enhancement plan and another $2.4 million to pay down debt obligations.

I am proud of the decisions the supervisors have made to improve their municipality and contribute to the attractiveness of Westmore­land County as a destination for new residents and businesses. However, when a school district is perceived negatively in the real estate market, then the future value of the community will be at risk.

The endeavor of a school district to selectively reassess properties is cutting its nose off to spite its face. In other words, the district will find fewer residents and property owners to tax if they are not willing to remain here, and those who do remain will never be able to afford to live here because they will have to pick up all the tax burden themselves.

Bottom line: Property assessments are the responsibility of our Westmoreland County government and should not be made by a school district on select homeowners. Targeted reassessments are a discriminatory practice, and no entity should wield that power.

To save the communities we cherish and stay in the homes we love, taxpayers need to tell school boards to end these destructive administrative decisions now.

Doug Weimer is a Hempfield Township supervisor.

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