State College

Patton Township residents will make decision on open space referendum

A referendum for open space in Patton Township will be on Tuesday’s ballot.

The referendum was first brought before the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 24 during its regular meeting. Supervisors were urged at the time to get the word out about the referendum for the upcoming election.

Residents and property owners were surveyed by the township in March and April about whether they would support dedicating a portion of property taxes to acquire and preserve open space land in the township. About 78 percent of residents supported the idea.

About 67 percent of residents also supported a tax increase of 0.6 mills or more, according to information provided by the township.

“This allows the voters to choose if they want to preserve open space in the district,” township Manager Doug Erickson said. Residents were surveyed through mail and online.

According to Erickson, preserving open space began as a grass-roots movement in the township in 2001. Developments began to cover the township, and some residents didn’t want to see every parcel built up.

A similar survey was conducted in 2001, resulting in the township borrowing $2.5 million that eventually went to the purchase of the Haugh family farm along Circleville Road.

A “yes” vote on the current referendum would allow the Board of Supervisors to borrow $3.5 million to acquire and preserve open-space land. The borrowing could be a bond issue or bank loan that would be paid off by the 0.6 mill increase over the next 20 years.

The current property tax rate for the township is 8.9 mills, according to the township. A 0.6 mill increase would represent a $42.60 increase on a home valued at $250,000.

“The increase would go into effect sometime in 2016,” Erickson said. “We’re anticipating a several-month process of evaluating the current inventory of parcels, finding the value of each parcel and approaching the property owners to find out if they want to work with the township.”

If the referendum is approved by voters Tuesday, the township probably will be close to purchasing a property by the end of 2015, he said. Afterward, the board will go out into the loan or bond market, depending on which offers the lowest interest rate.

The referendum on the ballot will 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?”

“It’s not really about the supervisors,” Erickson said. “It’s just every time we do these surveys, we consistently see support for more open space.”