Burden of state's high costs spurs migration, creative budgeting Many seek relief by heading north to Pennsylvania

April 12, 1992|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Tim Keister moved from Baltimore County to York County, Pa., two years ago, in part because he heard that taxes and housing costs were lower there. But last month he went to his first tax protest meeting in his new home state, and didn't like what he heard: Local taxes are on the rise.

Mr. Keister is one of the many Marylanders who have streamed into southern Pennsylvania in the past five years looking for more affordable housing, a quieter lifestyle and a lower tax burden.

No firm figures are available on exactly how many Marylanders have made the move to the small towns and country settings of York County and its neighboring Adams County.

But local planners and Realtors estimate that at least 60 percent of the people buying new homes in those counties in the last five years have come from Maryland.

Ironically, as Marylanders leave for the greener pastures and lower taxes of Pennsylvania, they create precisely the kinds of problems they are trying to escape.

On the north edge of Shrewsbury Borough is the sprawling 5-year-old Woodlyn Springs housing development. Split-level homes, some still under construction, dot the slopes of a shallow valley. The New Freedom sewage treatment plant is under orders from the state to expand to meet the demands new housing is creating.

The increase in population in the Southern School District of York County has forced the district to build additions on its high

school and an elementary school. And, because of the population boom, local officials say, Penn Township and Hanover are considering building a bypass around the Hanover area to ease traffic congestion.

The greater demands for service created by migrating Marylanders have also pushed up local taxes to the point that residents of southern York County now pay only slightly less in taxes, all told, than they would in Baltimore County.

This year, Penn Township saw its first local property tax increase since 1986. The school tax rate in South Western School District, which includes Penn Township, jumped nearly 40 percent over the last two years.

In the Southern School District, where superintendent Dr. Richard Hupper says "there's no question the newcomers from Maryland greatly added to our school population," the school budget has skyrocketed 35 percent in the past two years. And the new five-year contract calls for a 38.5 percent increase in teachers' salaries.

Residents of Southern York County, many of whom are ex-Marylanders, are so angry that last January they formed an anti-tax group called STOP, Southern Taxpayers of Pennsylvania. Since school districts in Pennsylvania have their own taxing powers, the new labor contract alone will translate into a whopping property tax increase over five years of $5.20 for each $1,000 of assessed value.

And Tim Keister is seriously thinking about joining.

Mr. Keister, 23, and his wife Katherine, 22, found their piece of the "Pennsylvania Dream" in September 1990 -- in a housing development in Springfield Township. Their 14-year-old split-level, three-bedroom house cost slightly less than $100,000. is just minutes away from I-83, and from there a 45-minute drive to Baltimore.

Mr. Keister is an electrician on construction projects in the Baltimore area; Mrs. Keister is a legal secretary for a Baltimore law firm.

"We looked for a detached house in Baltimore County, but the only thing we could find in that same price range was a town house," Mr. Keister said.

In 1990, the average cost of a house in south central York County, where the Keisters live, was $113,000, according to a York County Comprehensive Plan. A comparable house in southwestern York County, near Hanover, sold for just $85,900.

E. H. Paddock, a Realtor who sells homes in both Pennsylvania and Maryland, said houses comparable to the ones available in the southern Pennsylvania counties sell for $20,000 to $35,000 more in Baltimore County.

Judy Gregory and her husband, Gary, were residents of CarrolCounty. Four years ago they decided that they wanted a better house. They wanted a rancher, they said, and a two-car garage. But "the cheapest house we could find in Carroll County cost about $150,000," said Mrs. Gregory. "We found exactly what we wanted in a development in Penn Township, south of Hanover, for $95,000."

After moving to York County for the housing, both the Gregorys and the Keisters found the Pennsylvania lifestyle more appealing as well. Mrs. Keister described the pace as "calmer and quieter." And Mrs. Gregory said her neighbors "are a lot more friendly and helpful."

Another advantage of living in southern Pennsylvania is less crime, ex-Marylanders say.

"When we lived in Baltimore County, we heard police sirens screaming past our apartment all the time," said Mr. Keister. "Up here, you don't notice crime much at all."

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