Patton Township supervisors raise awareness of open-space referendum

A referendum introduced Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors will seek to acquire and preserve open space lands in the township.

The referendum will be up for vote during the Nov. 4 election, township Manager Doug Erickson said.

According to documentation, 78 percent of Patton Township residents and owners surveyed in March and April supported “dedicating a portion of their property taxes to acquire and preserve” open space in the township.

The proposal states that the board would borrow $3.5 million, through a bond issue or bank loan, to purchase and preserve open land, the document said. An increase of 0.6 mills of property tax would support payments of 4 percent interest over 20 years.

An increase of 0.6 mills would increase property taxes $42.60 on a house with a market value of $250,000.

The question on the ballot would read, “Shall debt in the sum of 3,500,000 dollars for the purpose of financing acquisition of development rights, conservation easements, and land for the preservation of open space be authorized to be incurred as debt approved by the electors?”

The referendum referred to a similar action taken in 2001. At the time, 63 percent of the voters approved borrowing $2.5 million for open space preservation. The result was the purchase of 465 acres along Circleville Road owned by Hubie and Helen Haugh.

“At the time, the property was zoned for R-1 to develop houses,” Chairman Elliot Abrams said. “But Hubie didn’t want to build houses and didn’t want to see anyone else develop.”

While the property was appraised at over $8 million, according to the document, the Haughs accepted the property for the $2.5 million.

No houses can be built on the property now, Abrams said. Recreational facilities were built, and the forested lands are managed according to a forest stewardship plan. Half the land remains agricultural.

“If this (referendum) passes, it would mean we would have the funding to acquire other parcels,” Abrams said.

The township will only deal with willing sellers, the document said.

“People here have forever been saying everything’s being urbanized or swallowed up,” Abrams said. “In Pennsylvania, if you own the land, you can develop it according to the way it’s zoned.

“So the answer is if you want it open, go buy it. This is a way for the community to do that.”

Erickson urged the board to get the word out about the referendum so voters aren’t surprised when they go to the polls. Discussions will be added to the Oct. 8 and Oct. 22 agendas for the Board of Supervisors’ public meetings.

If the referendum is approved, an open space task force will be developed to evaluate properties for purchase, according to Erickson.