Things that make us go hmmm ...
• The relatively short story in the south zone of the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era last week was easy to miss, but all taxpayers in Penn Manor School District ought to read it.
Penn Manor School Board has voted to offer $3.84 million for a piece of property owned by a former school board president - land for which the district has no particular plans.
The 44.5 acres owned by C. Willis Herr, the former board president, are next to Manor Middle School. As current board president Dr. Richard Frerichs said in September about the sale, "I believe it's in the district's best interest to purchase this land to provide us with flexibility for the district's academic and co-curricular programs."
But is it in the best interest of the taxpayers?
The property is between two parcels already owned by the district. Because the land is zoned for housing, advocates of the sale said, the district should grab it to prevent it from being developed.
If that's the case, why not lobby Manor Township to change the zoning and save $3.84 million?
Penn Manor's tax rate is already one of the highest in the county. Bizarre reasoning like this might be part of the reason why.
It's especially questionable to buy land at a time when the real estate market is in the tank and, according to the Intell/New Era story, two real estate professionals who attended an Oct. 12 public hearing recommended the district get more appraisals before agreeing to the price. The district's appraisals came in at $3.5 million and $4 million.
In an earlier, unrelated case, two Penn Manor board members in 2007 voted to give their church a $27,000 tax break after the church bought a piece of property that previously had been in the Clean and Green program for agricultural land. Just as it was unseemly for those directors to vote for a deal that benefited their church, it's unseemly for board members to buy apparently surplus property in a deal that benefits an ex-director.
Give credit, though, to the school directors who voted against the purchase: Johnna Friedman, Franklin Hoke and Kirk Schlotzhauer. Actually, only four of the nine board members voted yes: Dr. Frerichs, J. Kenneth Long, Christopher Straub and Donna Wert. New board member Amber Green abstained, and Carlton Rintz was absent.
Only four of nine "yes" votes on a deal of this magnitude? Taxpayers should demand a revote.
They also should demand a better reason for spending nearly $4 million of their money on land just to keep it from being developed.
• The state Legislature has approved a bill that protects farmers from onerous federal regulations on driving farm equipment, which is a good thing.
Too bad it took the private Pennsylvania Farm Bureau to make it happen.
House Bill 2246, signed into law last week by Gov. Ed Rendell, allows farmers to move equipment weighing less than 26,000 pounds without having to comply with what the farm bureau calls "costly and time-consuming" federal rules on age of operators, medical certification, hours of service and record keeping.
The bureau said last week in a statement that when Harrisburg rescinded the state's exemptions for farm equipment - because the state feared loss of federal highway funds - the farm bureau took over the battle, getting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to certify that agricultural exemptions wouldn't result in a funding penalty.
Um, isn't that something that Harrisburg should have done on its own?
We're relieved the farm bureau got the feds to clarify the rules. But we hope state bureaucrats will have enough common sense in the future to fight their own battles on behalf of farmers. Isn't that what we pay government officials to do?