Monroe County Politics

Concerned About Your School Property Tax Bill? Vote In The PA Primary!

Realtor party

Many people often miss the boat when it comes to exercising their right to vote. Presidential elections get all the glory, but how important is it to vote in off-years and also in the Primaries? Very! Take your local school board elections, for instance: Members of your school board determine where your property tax dollars are spent, the quality of the education provided to children, AND how much your school district collects from you in taxes!

Election of these people affects homeowners' single biggest yearly/montly expense. Not kind of, sort of, board elections affect your pocketbook directly, and in a big way. Here in Monroe and Pike Counties in the Poconos, it is critical that you vote every year, twice a year, in both the Primary and General Elections to be sure you are represented by common-sense, fiscally responsible, accountable members who will provide the highest quality education that the homeowners who pay the bill can afford

This year the municipal primary election here is May 21, 2013, and school board elections are the highlight of the ballot in every municipality. Mark your calendar and get out to vote! And if you cannot get to the polls that day, plan ahead and vote by absentee ballot before May 17. 

Monroe County, PA has an excellent summary of polling locations and ballot information here.

Find election information for Pike County, PA here.

Your vote really counts in these local races. Make it happen! :)



What It Means To Be A REALTOR

Pocono realtor code of ethics under all is the land

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the National Association of REALTORS, so I thought a little shout out to this document and to my fellow professionals was appropriate. I am so proud of what we stand for as stewards of our industry, our communities, and our Country. 

The Code has gone through many iterations over the last hundred years, it’s relevancy ever critical to how we REALTORS conduct ourselves in the world. It really is not just a Code, it’s a way of doing business and living our lives. Every REALTOR has pledged to uphold the standards set forth in the Code and be professional in their dealings. The history and tradition of the Code has as it’s first priority protection of the public and it outlines our duties to clients and customers, as well as to each other. The Code of Ethics existed before any real estate licensing laws and has been the standard that state lawmakers and regulators strive to match. The Code of Ethics guides us in how we conduct ourselves and the commitments we represent.

Take the Preamble to the Code of Ethics for example. It is quite inspiring, presents a big picture vision of our obligations to society, and outlines a lofty ideal. To me, this Preamble is paramount, as it directs us to accept the responsibility of being actively involved in the protection of the rights of home ownership, being stewards and teachers in our industry, and continually striving to be better at what we do. I believe these things to be the foundation of real estate agent professionalism, being committed to all things real estate, in our lives and in our communities:

Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization. REALTORS® should recognize that the interests of the nation and its citizens require the highest and best use of the land and the widest distribution of land ownership. They require the creation of adequate housing, the building of functioning cities, the development of productive industries and farms, and the preservation of a healthful environment.

Such interests impose obligations beyond those of ordinary commerce. They impose grave social responsibility and a patriotic duty to which REALTORS® should dedicate themselves, and for which they should be diligent in preparing themselves. REALTORS®, therefore, are zealous to maintain and improve the standards of their calling and share with their fellow REALTORS® a common responsibility for its integrity and honor.

In recognition and appreciation of their obligations to clients, customers, the public, and each other, REALTORS® continuously strive to become and remain informed on issues affecting real estate and, as knowledgeable professionals, they willingly share the fruit of their experience and study with others. They identify and take steps, through enforcement of this Code of Ethics and by assisting appropriate regulatory bodies, to eliminate practices which may damage the public or which might discredit or bring dishonor to the real estate profession. REALTORS® having direct personal knowledge of conduct that may violate the Code of Ethics involving misappropriation of client or customer funds or property, willful discrimination, or fraud resulting in substantial economic harm, bring such matters to the attention of the appropriate Board or Association of REALTORS®. (Amended 1/00)

Realizing that cooperation with other real estate professionals promotes the best interests of those who utilize their services, REALTORS® urge exclusive representation of clients; do not attempt to gain any unfair advantage over their competitors; and they refrain from making unsolicited comments about other practitioners. In instances where their opinion is sought, or where REALTORS® believe that comment is necessary, their opinion is offered in an objective, professional manner, uninfluenced by any personal motivation or potential advantage or gain.

The term REALTOR® has come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity resulting from adherence to a lofty ideal of moral conduct in business relations. No inducement of profit and no instruction from clients ever can justify departure from this ideal.

In the interpretation of this obligation, REALTORS® can take no safer guide than that which has been handed down through the centuries, embodied in the Golden Rule, “Whatsoever ye would that others should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

Accepting this standard as their own, REALTORS® pledge to observe its spirit in all of their activities whether conducted personally, through associates or others, or via technological means, and to conduct their business in accordance with the tenets set forth below. (Amended 1/07)

This is why you see may see many of us taking active roles in all levels of government and our communities, whether it is actually running for office, attending meetings, offering counsel, supporting candidates and causes, etc. Organizations like homeowner associations, school boards, planning commissions, and city councils, in the Poconos and in every other area in the country, all benefit from REALTORS actively participating.

Sure, we are all in business to earn a living, but the most professional of us, those dedicated to upholding the ideals in the Code of Ethics and the tenets of a thriving, healthy marketplace, continually work to stay current on issues, educate ourselves about our industry, and embrace every aspect of the business. This is not a ‘what’s in it for me’ business. It’s the business of shoring up the foundation of our country by being an actively participating citizen REALTORS. After all:  “Under all is the land.”

Read the entire Code here 

Audio: Why the Code of Ethics matters to consumers

Hot Topic #1: School Taxes

Pennsylvania state capitol rotunda.jpg
Pennsylvania State Capitol Rotunda
photo credit

School Funding Formula Issues

I attended the presentation sponsored by my REALTOR(r) Association, 'Fighting for our Fair Share of School Funding', a discussion led by Ron Colwell, former member of the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives and education funding expert and lobbyist.  The turnout was not that great considering how often we hear from people who are unhappy with their tax bills, but the presentation was very informative nonetheless.  While it did not present any earth-shattering revelations, or provide any miraculous remedies, it did reinforce a lot of things I knew already and drove home the idea that the problem is huge and not going away anytime soon.  Mr. Colwell, over an hour and a half, presented the following main points:

  • Problem #1:  Education is underfunded in Harrisburg, so, therefore, all the school districts in the State are competing for a too-small piece of the pie.
  • Problem#2:  The funding formula in PA is easy to explain because it doesn't exist...there is no real mystery in why there are inequities in the distribution of State dollars for schools because there are no guidelines or formulas.  Changes in funding for different districts stopped in 1991, which is when the last hint of a formula was last seen.  So, any changes in a district's number of students or relative wealth has meant nothing as far as funding is concerned.
  • Problem #3:  The result of #1 & 2 above equates to a $2.5-3B deficit in education funding...that's right, statewide we are BILLIONS of dollars short!  These billions are made up by, you got it, our school taxes.  Where the state, under normal circumstances, should be footing 50% of the bill for an 'average' district, our local districts are getting 23-25% from the state.  So, basically, property owners are footing the bill for Harrisburg's neglect of our schools, first by not budgeting enough for them to begin with and, second by not equalizing the distribution through use of a proper formula.

There Are No Easy Answers

Granted, this is not really new information-we've known this for a while.  What I learned from Mr. Colwell is something more fundamental and basic...something which we have not heard from our elected officials...which is the honest and brutal truth:  this problem is not going to go away and is not going to be fixed by belt-tightening in Harrisburg, nor by gambling, lotteries, or other such 'gimmicks' (his word!).  The projected revenue from slots will come no where near the $2.5 B that we need per year.  The plain fact is that we here in our beautiful state will need to pay the bill, someway, somehow, and probably generating the needed revenue through some other kind of tax.  No one seems to want to hear that or believe it, but I trust that this is the correct answer as unpleasant as that may be.  Only until we find an equitable way to distribute the costs to all of our residents, will property owners see any relief.

Tax Smokescreens

A couple of warnings presented by Mr. Colwell:  do not be fooled or lulled in to a sense well being on this issue by the receipt of a check from the state toward your tax bill, which some seniors might see this year...this 'tax relief' is a temporary fix, a band-aid.  Do not be fooled into thinking your representatives have done their job in Harrisburg because they bring back a check for this project or a grant for that...these 'deals' being cut by our reps. are only a symptom of the bigger problems and should be seen as a distraction from the real issues.  His advice, demand real changes and do not be swayed from the goal, which is true funding for our schools.

Any thoughts?

Further reading:

The Education Policy & Leadership Center

PA Dept. of Education