Let’s make school tax history

sherrifs sale in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania

The School District of Jenkintown recently announced its preliminary budget, and it called for a 2.9% increase in our tax levy. Last year, the inflation rate stood at nearly zero. Some might argue, with some justification, that Jenkintown’s enrollment of only about 650 students barely qualified as a school district, and indeed, the education that they receive, while highly rated, looks and feels more like a private prep-school than your run-of-the-mill suburban public school.

Out of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, Jenkintown rates number 41. It proposes to spend almost $23,000 per pupil in the upcoming year. The district carries a debt load of over $1.2 million, and it currently seeks ways to accommodate a growing enrollment, much of it coming from families who rent. Families fleeing the Philadelphia schools have Jenkintown high on their list. Unfortunately, since they don’t buy homes to gain access to our school, this increase in demand has no affect on our housing values. They’re renting, which has the potential to further destabilize what people typically consider a close-knit community. Continue reading

The property assessment fallacy

Ideally, this whole system of property taxes gets trashed completely.

This whole assessment system is a complete disaster. It’s subjective, and for the city, it in no way can be cost effective. They’re spending so much time and money trying to get this right. The only thing that gets an assessment correct is the actual market.

Property taxes are just plain wrong, but if you’re going to have them, then they should be based on the last sale of the property and stay there until the property sells again. Any increases should be limited to the rate of inflation.

They figured this out in Massachusetts with Prop 2-1/2, which limited tax increases to no more than 2.5%, unless the town voted for an override.

What’s more important to the vitality of a city? A stable and prosperous population or a unfair and strangling revenue stream all-but-designed to keep out productive families and businesses?

Ideally, the city should be assessing all properties each year. However, it does not have the capacity to do so, Piper said. New software is expected to be installed by July 2018 that will allow yearly assessments.

Source: Reassessment an underassessment for many, city says

The democracy we deserve

A couple political observations on the “presumptive” nominees:

Most of the criticism about Hillary seems to center around her trustworthiness, despite the fact that there are about as many trustworthy politicians as there are unicorns.

Most of the support of Trump centers around his accomplishments as a businessman, despite the fact that by most measures, he’s an abject failure or at best has merely managed to tread water thanks to his inherited wealth. This is no accomplishment. This is the least you can do.

The other candidates from the major parties only propose more of the same policies and bromides that got us here in the first place.

To me, when you have so much of the electorate with no ability to think critically, produced from an educational system that teaches to the test, this is the kind of election we can expect to endure for generations to come.

My little Jenkintown

In April of last year, the website of the National Geographic published a glowing piece by Marguerite Del Giudice about Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. The piece compared it to Mayberry, citing its pleasant peculiarities such as the “Color Day” festivities, and its happy, tiny school system. People do seem to outwardly love this town. When I moved here in 2002, I had in some ways achieved a life-long goal: To live in a traditional, walkable community with easy access to a very busy passenger rail system.

Fourth of July in Jenkintown
Fourth of July in Jenkintown

Situated just to the north of Philadelphia, Jenkintown residents can hop a train at the historic train station and hop off in Center City a half hour later. In contrast, driving adds at least fifteen minutes and parking fees to your trip. As someone who has promoted such a lifestyle for so long, I could finally boast my bona fides as a sustainable development advocate. I was living the dream, brother.

Unlike my years living in Worcester, Massachusetts, I didn’t get all that involved in town politics for the first decade or so. Jenkintown seemed to do just fine without me. The borough had just completed a downtown beautification, it had a highly rated school system, and though it had a struggling commercial district, one could easily point the finger at the Dark Lords of PennDOT who converted Old York Road, our main drag, into a veritable four-lane expressway with an unenforceable speed limit. No small downtown thrives against such an onslaught of traffic.

Jenkintown had just completed a lovely new town square with gazebo (a small block off from Old York Road), and staged more downtown events than you could shake a stick at. I often boasted to non-residents of the amazing variety of housing types — everything from classic Philadelphia-style row houses to grand Victorians, all well-preserved single family homes. What’s not to love? Continue reading

A tax on thee, but not for me

Sadly ironic, albeit typical, that those who benefit from paying no taxes advocate higher levies for the rest of us.

Those of us advocating for School Property Tax Elimination are not asking to be exempt from funding education the way in which your organizations are exempt.  We are simply asking for a shift to a different method of taxation that more fairly and accurately reflects ability to pay through a Personal Income and Sales/Use Tax.

Source: An Open Letter to Select Opponents of School Property Tax Elimination | On the Edge of the Precipice

Pennsylvania taxation knows no bounds

Save Scranton is saying the things that everyone in Scranton already thinks. We need to lower taxes. We need to make the city attractive to businesses and outsiders in order to drive economic activity. The city should not operate like some medieval empire for the benefit of only those who are in government or politically connected(here). That is a travesty and offensive to morality, dignity and integrity. We should not have a government that has it as its primary aim to rob from the very people that it is sworn to protect.

Source: Scranton’s Taxes Are Too Damn High! | Save Scranton

Pennsylvania and the Big Lie of home-ownership

The Pennsylvania legislature has yet to pass a budget for this fiscal year. With a Democratic governor and a GOP-dominated legislature, we have a form of gridlock in Harrisburg that mirrors the disfunction in Washington. For those who don’t know much about the Keystone State, James Carville famously described it this way: Philly in the east, Pittsburgh in the West, and Alabama in the middle. Electorally, Pennsylvania looks like a sea of red with two small blue peninsulas jutting out from the southeast and southwest corners.

My state representative Steven McCarter, a Democrat, announced a town hall meeting last week to present his version of events. No surprise, McCarter laid much of the blame for the stalemate on the opposing party, and indeed, the GOP has held quite firm on its pledges of not raising or creating new taxes. The room of nodding heads expressed their various vexations at these events, agreeing with Representative McCarter that only new taxes could settle this budget impasse. Continue reading

Samsung listens in

The news comes after Shane Harris at The Daily Beast pointed out a troubling line in Samsung’s privacy policy: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

Source: Samsung warns customers not to discuss personal information in front of smart TVs


We may be in the market for a new TV sometime soon, and one of the things I don’t want is a “smart” TV. This is just one of the reasons why. The other being that I don’t want to be tied into a set-maker’s smart interface, thanks.

Eagles of Death Metal’s Frontman Blames France’s Strict Gun Control

“Did your French gun control stop a single person from dying at the Bataclan? If anyone can answer yes, I’d like to hear it, because I don’t think so,” said Hughes. “I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.”

Source: Eagles of Death Metal’s Frontman Blames France’s Strict Gun Control | Variety