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Deer Creek mall conservation area will help schools

| Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Across Pennsylvania, and particularly here in Allegheny County, securing adequate revenue to support schools remains a difficult task. Students, parents and taxpayers demand quality teachers, curriculum and educational facilities. Yet while the level of state funding for public education has decreased, the number of unfunded state and federal mandates continues to rise. We all recognize that big budgets do not always insure quality, however, adequate resources play an important factor in the equation.

The Allegheny Valley School Board remains very sensitive to the tax burden on our citizens, particularly those on fixed incomes. So we constantly look for new revenue sources. If a substantial and high-quality opportunity to increase revenues arises, it is incumbent upon the board to support that option. The Deer Creek Crossing Mall project is one such opportunity.

In fact, the Deer Creek Crossing Mall presents several advantages to our schools, our community and our region. Perhaps the most exciting benefit is that the school district will receive a gift of about 90 acres of wetlands, streams and forest. This conservation area will be used as an outdoor classroom to promote ecological and environmental study. The developer of the project, Orix Woodmont, has agreed to assist the development by providing facilities. Initial discussions have focused on classroom structures and access routes to the property. This unique resource has the potential to make the school district a leader in environmental and ecological education. The potential uses by faculty and students are limitless.

The retail space will generate substantial tax revenues. At present, we receive approximately $4,500 per year in taxes on the property. Current projections indicate that number will increase to about $1.4 million upon completion of the project. This equals 2.5 mills of taxes to support the education of our children and alleviate the tax burden on our residents.

It is true, however, that a portion of the tax dollars generated for the first 20 years of the project will be devoted to retiring bonds issued under the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) approved by Allegheny County, Harmar Township and the school district. It is important to note that the bonds issued will be used for extensive road improvements to State Route 910 that runs through the project. That section of Route 910 is dangerous Ten times more accidents have occurred on that section than on the average road in Pennsylvania. So the proposed changes will improve the safety of the traveling public. Moreover, the road project represents the exact kind of infrastructure improvement that TIFs were intended to fund. When the bonds supporting the TIF are retired in 17 years, the tax income to the district will significantly increase.

Finally, over the long term, the project will provide a substantial number of jobs, an estimated 3,000 new jobs. Obviously, some of them will exist only during the building phase of the project and many of the long-term positions will be minimum wage jobs in the service sector, which students might hold on a part-time basis. However, having a concentration of jobs in the area will trigger spin-off benefits for existing merchants, businesses and the real estate market. At a time of layoffs and an unstable job market, can Allegheny County or our local communities afford to drive away any opportunity for employment?

The Deer Creek Crossing project has received more public and governmental scrutiny than any similar proposal in recent memory. Initially, legitimate concerns about the environmental impact of the development were brought to light. Those concerns have been addressed and changes made to the overall design of the project. The state and federal agencies responsible for preservation and protection of the environment and waterways have given their approval. It is time for people of good faith to move forward and embrace the benefits of this project.

Further delay creates a detriment to both students and taxpayers. Therefore, we call upon all those who have been opposed to this project to let it move forward. The benefits to the community are tremendous. This project will enable the school district to significantly improve the quality of education for our students. And is not the best possible education at the least burden to the taxpayer what we all want?

Dr. Charles J. Territo is superintendent of the Allegheny Valley School District.

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