AOAA tax considered in effort to protect residents
To the editor: Mr. Bridy, we appreciate the effort to bring your act in Northumberland County, that has been created during your tenure, to Coal Township.
First, we appreciate the opportunity to respond to Commissioner Bridy's letter to the editor about the tax on the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA). Second, we would like to point out that Commissioner Bridy did not take the time or the effort to contact the commissioners about the proposed amusement tax ordinance before bellowing his concerns in the paper. If he had, he would have learned that we have met with Jim Backes, the AOAA chairman, who requested a "season or two" before any form of tax is enacted. This is a suggestion we are strongly considering, without the use of strong-arm tactics.
I would like to take this time to bring the local side of things to the commissioner's attention.
Let's talk cost. The mentioned newly constructed road provided to Coal Township is not entirely free of charge. It will cost the township plenty to maintain through plowing, sealing, resurfacing and other costs. Also, when it comes time for replacement of the road, who will pay for that? The township. Also, who is the only benefactor of the road? The AOAA.
Now that spring has come, it will not be long before we hear emergency vehicles and Life Flight responding to the ATV playgrounds. And even though the majority of the incidents that occur involve out-of-town participants, it is the locals who end up paying for it. The discussed amusement tax (5 pennies on each dollar) seems to be a trivial amount when the fact is it would go to the home municipality and provide emergency equipment and personnel to those in need.
Commissioner Bridy refers to the AOAA park as a golden goose. We hope you're right about that. Unemployment is at its highest levels, with industrial parks at their lowest, in Northumberland County. We need efforts to bring family-sustaining jobs to our area, not just playgrounds for ATV riders who travel from out of state and other larger cities in the commonwealth.
As for taking a backseat on helping this project forward: Yes, I will agree that this project is not a top priority for Coal Township. The challenges of small municipalities, which Commissioner Bridy may not be aware of, include: a constant fight against blight; the narcotics problem, which has led to additional criminal activity, which also now costs the township more because Commissioner Bridy helped implement a policy removing the constables. Now the local police force must transport its own prisoners to and from the county prison. Also, the county's failure to meet the deadline on the purchase of radio frequency equipment is another cost to municipalities in the sum of tens of thousands of dollars. With summer arriving soon, there will be code enforcement issues (high grass, garbage and an array of other problems) that will have to be addressed so that the community's quality of living is not hindered. All of this and more is why I don't believe the AOAA park should be Coal Township's first priority.
As for the public comment accusation, the township always welcomes input on proposed ordinance; there was no procedure being violated. There was a vote to advertise. I understand Commissioner Bridy does things a little different at the county, but that's another subject.
Commissioner Bridy has also said Coal Township allows Reading Anthracite a free pass. This is incorrect; the township has a current contract with Reading Anthracite ($5,000 a year for five years) to help offset the cost incurred by their ATV activity. Incidentally, the entire board of Coal Township commissioners voted unanimously to accept this donation. The intended use of the collected fees from Reading is to purchase a new police car. Also, for your records, the $25,000 collected from Reading so far is equal to more than one-half mill in collected taxes.
Let me remind Mr. Bridy that Coal Township had a tax increase this year in order to balance our budget. Embarrassingly enough, this budget does not contain any funding to prevent future flooding in Tharptown and Brady, which are very susceptible to flooding during heavy rains. We morally cannot financially support emergency services for non-residents when we cannot help our own taxpaying residents. We would, however, appreciate your letter-writing ability to help find our residents financial aid for this problem, something you have never attempted.
We are very cognizant of the financial gains this park has the potential to bring the entire area and, with that said, we are fans of the AOAA. However, simply said, the user, not our taxpayer, must pay for the service. We DO NOT want any revenue generated by the AOAA admission price, we simply want the end user to be responsible for the service.
Anyone who travels anywhere is fully aware of hotel taxes, amusement taxes, all sorts of fees and permits levied to tourists and visitors. Heck, Delaware charges a non-resident $8 per day to park in their state-provided lots in order to access their beaches. Mr. Bridy, do you think the local residents of these Delaware towns want to fund the lifeguards and services? The answer is no, and for that reason, the visitors do.
When Mr. Fetterman was part of a team of business people to help renegotiate lease agreements for Northumberland County and save an excess of $20 million, you sang a different song. Interesting to think what or who prompted you to write your letter.
Is this amusement ordinance the correct path? Only time will tell. But with every possibility exhausted for generating revenue for small, local municipalities, except for taxing the locals and property owners, I believe this is very small.
I would hope in the future Commissioner Bridy would have an open dialogue with the communities he represents and not resort to bashing fellow community leaders publicly.
In closing, we were elected to represent the people of Coal Township, and that is exactly what we intend to do. Letters, cartoons and bullying will not make us turn our back on our residents.
Coal Township commissioners