Monthly Archives: December 2019

South Carolina County School District Expands To Address Growing Student Population

Beaufort County Schools are finally going to get the facelift they’ve been wanting for more than a decade.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a school bond referendum in November that approved a $345 million expenditure to expand two schools – River Ridge Academy and May River High School – and completely rebuild Robert Smalls International Academy. District-wide security and technology upgrades will also be included in this endeavor.

It marked the first time Beaufort County schools passed a referendum in 11 years, despite overwhelming growth of more than 3,000 students in the past decade. Usually, growth of that size requires a referendum to be passed about every four years in order to add new classroom space and expand existing space.

“For me it means hope,” Shannon Bedenbaugh, a parent and member of both the Committee and the Advocacy Group told The Island Packet. “It means a promise for tomorrow.”

However, voters have not been willing to pass it. Things really came to a head the last two times a referendum was on the ballot – in 2016 and 2018 – as voters rejected the proposal based on a lack of faith and trust in the superintendent and the school board.

However, since the last failed effort just a year earlier, six of the 11 Board members were replaced and Frank Rodriguez was hired as the new superintendent, promising more transparency.

That change has made a difference, and the much-needed funding will finally be available in the district.

The district created an all-volunteer Community Project Review Committee to identify the needs of the district. A grassroots advocacy group known as Citizens for Better Schools Now worked with other local organizations to inform and educate voters as to the importance of passing this bond, the largest in more than 30 years.

The Community Project Review Committee logged more than 900 hours reviewing the districts needs and identified a total cost of $629 million for all projects needed. The Board of Education selected $345 million of those projects and put them on the ballot where more than 70 percent of voters approved.

“For me it means hope,” Shannon Bedenbaugh, a parent and member of both the Committee and the Advocacy Group told The Island Packet. “It means a promise for tomorrow. It means classrooms that are manageable. It means not sitting in classes where industrial fans have to be brought in while they’re going through lessons. It means not plugging in a hot plate in a science class and having to short out the whole side of the building.

“But most importantly, I feel like we have new leadership in place. I think people have stood up and said we’re ready for a change.”

Several civic and political groups in Beaufort County were vocal about their support for the bond referendum, including the Hilton Head Area Association of REALTORS®.

THE NEXT STEPS

The school district will now borrow the $345 million in 25-year bonds to pay for the designated projects. According to information released by the School District, the expansion of River Ridge Academy and May River High School are already in the design phase with construction set to begin as soon as the bid is accepted. Other projects will be phased in between 2020 and 2023.

Additionally, the District indicated that the tax increase will be approximately $28 annually for each $100,000 of value in a home for a primary homeowner. Secondary homeowners (those who have vacation homes) will see a slightly larger tax increase, of about $42 annually per $100,000 of value. Those number could change during the life of the bond though based on tax reassessments, other bonds or other economic factors.

However, the money from this bond is mandated by state law to fund capital projects and specifically those listed on the ballot and cannot be used to increase staff salaries.

Rodriguez told The Island Packet that he would set up an oversight committee that would provide regular updates on the use of referendum funding.

The referendum was actually split into two parts on the ballot. Part one, was worth $291 million. Part two was worth $54 million. However, Part two was not allowed to be passed without the passage of part one.

PART ONE

Voters approved this $291 million package by a 70-30 vote. This package included:

  • Renovations, construction and necessary demolition at Battery Creek High School and Hilton Head Island Middle School: $88.3 million
  • Demolishing and replacing Robert Smalls International Academy: $71 million
  • Updating technology infrastructure across the district: $55.3 million
  • Expansion of May River High School and River Ridge Academy: $26 million
  • Safety and security improvements to every school in the district: $25.7 million
  • Renovations at Beaufort Elementary School: $24.2 million
PART TWO

Voters approved this $54 million package by a 68-32 vote. This package included:

  • Athletic improvements at all district high schools: $22 million
  • Construction and renovation for CATE (Career at Technology Education) at Battery Creek and May River High Schools: $12 million
  • Playground improvements at district early childhood centers, elementary schools, and preK-8 schools: $8.7 million
  • Athletic improvements at Beaufort Middle School, Whale Branch Middle School, River Ridge Academy, Bluffton Middle School and H.E. McCracken Middle School: $7.6 million
  • Designing renovations for Hilton Head Island High School: $3.8 million

Mobile City Council Rejects Annexation Effort

Imagine what Mobile could do with a sudden influx of millions of dollars in funding; earmarked for public safety, transportation and other community projects that could assist neighborhood youth and also create more affordable housing?

And the city wouldn’t have to create any new taxes or reallocate money from other programs and services to make it happen.

That sounds a little bit like Fantasyland, doesn’t it?

Well, the city didn’t need any magic fairy dust to actually make this a reality. All it needed was about 10,000 new residents before New Year’s Day, 2020.

That wasn’t unrealistic as a grassroots movement of residents who live just across the city line wanted to make it a reality by voting to agree to be annexed into the city of Mobile.

However, Mobile City Council put the kibosh on the idea in November, and for now, the city will stay below 200,000 residents.

A plan to expand the size of the city, pitched by Mayor Sandy Stimpson, failed in the City Council by one vote.

“While Stimpson expressed disappointment in this outcome, he also insisted the fight wasn’t over and that Mobile would continue to find ways to grow. ”

If the vote would have passed, a special election would have convened in December in the proposed areas to be annexed to see if residents there would have been willing to become part of Mobile.

With the groundswell of support that was emanating from those areas, the odds were definitely in favor of annexation.

If that were the case, the Schillinger Corridor, Airport/Snow Corridor and the Kings Branch corridor would have agreed to be annexed by the city, the population would grow beyond 200,000 and Mobile would become the second-largest city in Alabama when the 2020 Census is taken, identifying residencies as of January 1.

A sudden population growth of this kind would have made Mobile eligible for several millions of dollars in public safety and community grant funding.

Of note, Mobile would have garnered a grant between $5-$10 million that would have allowed the city to create a new police precinct on Dauphin Island Parkway, hire 45 new officers and buy 750 new body cameras.

However, only four City Council members voted in favor of this special election (Gina Gregory, Bess Rich, Joel Daves and John Williams).

The remaining three members (Levon Manzie, C.J. Small, Fred Richardson) were opposed.

Manzie, who is president of city council, was considered the swing vote as he had expressed uncertainty in which way he would vote prior to the November council meeting when the vote was taken.

Afterwards, he told AL.com that his decision was made for him by the constituents he represents.

“I’m going to lean on the directives of those who sent me here to Government Plaza,” he said.

Without this overnight population boom, Mobile will still receive federal law enforcement grants.  But it will be identical to smaller grants received by cities with only 50,000 residents, or about one-fourth the size of Mobile.

Annexing these areas would have also helped Mobile promote the Port of Mobile as a major hub for businesses, increase the Port in Southeast trade, and assist in the City’s ongoing economic development efforts.

These areas, which are just outside the Mobile city limits, have been growing in recent years, and the city has been providing police services to these areas – which is known as the “Police Jurisdiction.”

The cost to provide these services outside of the city are primarily on the shoulders of residents inside the city.

In other words, the people living in these areas get these services for free while residents of Mobile foot the tax bill.

As tax revenues in the city continue to diminish though, maintaining that kind of service likely will be unsustainable at the current level, meaning future tax increases could be on tap without more federal money.

While Stimpson expressed disappointment in this outcome, he also insisted the fight wasn’t over and that Mobile would continue to find ways to grow. However, the population has stagnated in Mobile, and Huntsville is now the fastest growing city in Alabama. Many projections have Huntsville growing in the coming years to be the second-largest city in the state behind Birmingham, leaving Mobile and Montgomery to battle for third.

This annexation would have been a win/win for both current city residents as well as those residents in the areas that would be annexed.

This isn’t the first time this has been attempted in Mobile. Voters in various towns of West Mobile voted against annexation attempts in July 1992, November 1993, December 2002 and September 2007.

Still, supporters believed that with development in West Mobile neighborhoods and communities and the services now being provided there, that residents would go for annexation because they already feel like they live in Mobile.

The Latest on The Kansas Housing Market

Total home sales in Kansas fell last month to 2,880 units, compared to 3,143 units in November 2018.

The average sale price in November was $219,456, up from $209,707 from a year earlier.

The number of active listings across Kansas at the end of November was 9,718 units, down from 10,976 at the same point in 2018.

Housing Stats

For more information, see “Kansas Housing Market Stats” from the Kansas REALTORS®.

Frustrated Residents Want Transparency, Accuracy in Philadelphia Property Assessment Procedure

The property tax war in Philadelphia is still peaking, and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Nearly 7,200 Philadelphia property owners have filed appeals to their 2020 property tax assessment, nearly matching the 7,700 who filed their 2019 assessment, which was a five-year high and the most since the city restructured its property value system in 2014.

Much like last year, a high volume of appeals have come in because City Council and thousands of city residents remain skeptical that the system in place for assessing home values is askew, allowing for homes in wealthier neighborhoods to be under-assessed while homes in lower-income neighborhoods are being over-assessed.

“The Board of Revision of Taxes is still hearing 2019 appeals, which had to be filed prior to October 1, 2018.”

According to the Office of Property Assessment (OPA), the median value of a single-family home in Philadelphia spiked 3.1 percent with the 2020 assessments, following a 10.5 percent increase a year earlier.

A study done by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2018 found that only about 35 percent of all homes in Philadelphia were being assessed by the city at a value within 10 percent of the price of the home. The remaining were either being over-assessed (36 percent) or under-assessed (29 percent) the under-assessed properties mostly happening in white neighborhoods that are a bit more affluent.

The result is a significant property tax increase for thousands of residents who own property within the city’s limits.

Despite frequent criticism and scrutiny led by both city residents and the City Council, the OPA stands by its data, even if it has been challenged by independent investigations, including the aforementioned one undertaken by the Inquirer.

The Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT) is tasked with resolving all appeals, but often takes criticism for the speed – or lack thereof – that it takes to resolve these appeals.

As an example, the BRT is still hearing 2019 appeals, which had to be filed prior to October 1, 2018. According to information from the BRT provided to the Inquirer, roughly 1,500 appeals from last year have yet to be heard.

Which means many of these 2020 appeals will likely drag well into next Fall or Winter.

City Council President Darrell Clarke has been championing a reform effort, beginning with finding a replacement for leadership at the OPA.

The difference between the OPA and the BRT is the OPA falls under the auspices of the Mayor’s office while the BRT is an independent board of seven members who are appointed by judges of the Court of Common Pleas.

The OPA sets market values, which is how tax bills are calculated, and resolves informal appeals while the BRT handles all formal appeals.

As such, there are thousands of people who have filed formal appeals prior to the October deadline who still haven’t heard the outcome of their informal appeal to a different office that were filed as early as last April.

According to the OPA, there were approximately 11,700 informal appeals filed and as of the end of November they had only resolved about half of them with about 1,500 (about 26 percent of the appeals resolved) resulting in a reduction in the assessed value of the property.

The primary reason there is a call for reform in Philadelphia is because the city uses frequent reassessment of properties as a way to generate revenue while most other places in the state of Pennsylvania use reassessment as a way to equalize tax burdens, making them revenue neutral.

Philadelphia views frequent reassessments as a moneymaker.

The surrounding suburban counties had gone decades between reassessments because they are unpopular, costly and always are a political football.

Neighboring Delaware County, the western suburbs of Philadelphia, had not had an assessment done in this millennium. A judge finally ordered a county-wide reassessment in 2017, and the process is ongoing with all properties expected to be finally assessed by 2021.

There is a state board that monitors fairness and tracks property assessments. Although it provides an annual report that break down assessments county-by-county, the board has no enforcement capabilities. No matter what its reports show, it cannot force a country to reassess and it also doesn’t fact-check the data that the individual counties provide.

While this battle continues to fester year after year, there’s not much residents can do but appeal and hope their appeal is victorious – however finding out one way or another is a tedious process and doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.

Miami Condo Sales Increase in November; Eight Consecutive Years of Price Appreciation in Miami

Miami-Dade County existing condominium sales, including $1-million-and-up transactions, increased year-over-year in November 2019, according to the MIAMI Association of Realtors (MIAMI) and the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system.

For more details, see “Miami Housing Report – September 2019” from Miami REALTORS®.

Homebuyer confidence increases in New York

Mortgage rates have remained steady this month and are still down more than 1 percent from last year at this time. Residential new construction activity continues to rise nationally. The U.S. Commerce Department reports that new housing permits rose 5% in October to a new 12-year high of 1.46 million units.

For more details, see “New York State Housing Report – September 2019” from the New York State Association of REALTORS®.

You’re Already Paying for America’s Aging Infrastructure

Anyone that’s lived in an older home understands that there is rarely such a thing as an easy home upgrade. Knock out a wall and you may be confronted with a tangled electrical system made out of cloth wires sitting on top of horsehair insulation. You can plaster the wall back up, but you’ll always know what’s lurking underneath will require attention at some point. America’s infrastructure has become like an old home in need of a deeper renovation. Its roads may be freshly paved, but underneath the new asphalt are 100-year-old water mains that could fail at any time.

Our aging infrastructure is in dire need of an overhaul and requires an immense amount of federal funding to do so. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes an Infrastructure Report Card every four years – and we’ve received a D+ grade in the last two reports. ASCE’s infrastructure report believes that the US requires $4.5 trillion in order to repair the condition of our roads, bridges, dams, airports, schools, and more. That’s not small change.

President Donald Trump did announce a $200 billion-dollar infrastructure plan this past February. However, during a November rally in Ohio, he stated that the plan would “probably have to wait until after the election” before it was revisited. In the meantime, lawmakers continue to push through infrastructure related legislation like the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA), a water resource bill that funds the upkeep of dams, reservoirs and waterways, but a more comprehensive plan is sorely needed.

Homeowner advocates like The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) recognize the impact that a failing infrastructure will have on our quality of life and property values – and have made supporting infrastructure reform a priority in 2019. They are asking current and future homeowners to lend their voice by reaching out to Congress on the issue.

Below are a few ways you may already be feeling the consequences of our aging infrastructure during your daily commute.

You’re paying more for car repairs and gas

If you drive to work, you may have noticed that your car’s suspension system has been taking a beating. Business Insider reports that “Roads in the US are in bad shape. About 32% of urban roads and 14% of rural roads are in poor condition.” Drivers are also spending more money filling up their gas tanks. That’s because driving over bumpy, crumbling roads translates to about $160 billion in wasted fuel.

The bridges you may drive over during your morning commute need attention too. ASCE’s infrastructure report states that of the 614,387 bridges that are in the US, 200,000 are greater than 50 years old. There’s presently a $836 billion backlog of funding needed to fix the highways and bridges in the US, according to a report by the US Department of Transportation.

Your commute to work has become harder

Does it feel like it’s taking longer to get to work because of bus or train breakdowns and derailments? The ASCE reports that our public transportation is so underfunded that it would cost $90 billion just to fix the backlog of repairs. That number will climb to $122 million by 2032, if we plan to make the necessary upgrades and expansions.

Wage earning riders who have to wait long periods between transit connections can experience a loss of income because their availability is limited by the extended commute. In areas that don’t have access to public transportation – home values are lower, job opportunities decrease and residents pay more out of pocket for their commute. NAR reports, “Residents of transit-oriented neighborhoods have greater access to jobs via transit; own fewer cars; and live in dense, walkable areas, resulting in lower transportation costs.”

Roadways, bridges and public transportation are just a few pieces of a larger infrastructure crisis. These may be the areas where we first feel the need for greater funding, but there is more at stake. The aging wastewater treatment plants we depend on for clean water and the schools our children attend are also in need of significant overhauls.

Learn more about infrastructure by reading the article, “What Exactly Is Infrastructure and Why Is It Important to Homeowners?

Have You Been Dreaming of Becoming a Homeowner?

As you get older, you’ll start to notice everyone around you starting to check all the “boxes”, i.e. finding a partner, settling down with a career, and buying a home. It’s easy to assume dreams of homeownership are unattainable to you for a variety of reasons. Whether it is heaps of student loan debt, hesitancy to commit, or simply a lack of the right resources at hand, these hurdles can feel overwhelming at times, but the longer you wait, the longer you’re putting off the plethora of benefits that come with long-term decision making.

It’s time to take this dream of homeownership off the backburner and make moves, both figuratively and literally.

1. Your rent will only continue to rise

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that rental prices are on the rise across the nation. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment hiked 4.2% in 2018 and studio apartments rose 5%, according to The Apartment Guide 2019 Annual Rent Report. A sales associate with ReMax, Bill Golden, shares, “If you’ve seen your rent escalate significantly but you feel trapped renting, it means the balance may be tipping toward buying. With today’s escalating rental rates and low (mortgage) interest rates, chances are your monthly outlay could be less on a purchase than on a rental.” While continuously tossing money at your landlord for your rental unit, it makes it nearly impossible to save towards your goals. In order to start investing in your future and build equity, you have to take the plunge into homeownership.

2. Average home prices are predicted to rise by $9,000 this year

Home prices tend to increase over time, but NAR expects the median price of existing homes to increase by 3% in 2020. That brings the nation’s average home of $269,600 up to $278,599. Senior economist over at NAR, Gay Cororaton, predicts this based on historical data going as far back as 1999. She explains that this shows the “average month-over-month change in median existing-home sales price changes throughout the year.” Keep this in mind while you balance the pros and cons of homeownership — if you wait until next year, you’re likely to pay more.

“If you’ve seen your rent escalate significantly but you feel trapped renting, it means the balance may be tipping toward buying.”
3. Build wealth

Owning a home is one of the biggest steps you can take towards increasing your net worth and building your equity. Many factors over time will help contribute to your home equity, such as the value of your home rising, renovations made both to the interior and exterior, and making your monthly mortgage payments on time. Rather than handing off all of your monthly housing costs to a landlord, you will now be saving a portion each month considering your newly forced savings. The equity you build can assist you in the future, whether it be for retirement, saving for your children, or the possibility of moving into a larger home or even purchasing an additional home.

4. Security and freedom

Being a homeowner offers a great sense of security as well as freedom. You’re welcome to paint your walls as you please and let your furry friends roam wherever they’d like, without any pricey pet deposit. The days of waiting for your landlord’s approval on something as trivial as a new doorknob are over when you own your own home. You want to feel comfortable and safe in your house, considering throughout our lives we spend 33 years in our beds! The elimination of inspections, neighbor’s loud week-day parties keeping you up, and the overall lack of control in your building will allow you to feel more at ease in your own home; your safe place. The idea of having to move is an immensely stressful concept, in fact it often makes the list of the top 3 most stressful events in one’s life. The comfort of settling into your home provides stability and most likely means you won’t be moving anytime soon, so get comfortable — you’re finally here to stay! 

5. Tax breaks

After the slew of expenses that come along with purchasing a home, it’s nice to know there are benefits coming your way. One huge benefit being tax breaks. Both the interest and property tax portion of your mortgage is a tax deduction. As long as the balance of your mortgage is less than the total price of your home, the interest is 100% deductible on your tax return. Considering your interest is the biggest chunk of change when it comes to your mortgage, this is a gigantic relief. In addition to mortgage interest, homebuyers also receive a tax break when it comes to property tax, especially first-time homebuyers. Real estate property taxes paid for your first home, as well as a vacation home if you’re so lucky, are deductible for income tax purposes. You can find more information on tax breaks for first-time homebuyers in IRS Publication 530. 

6. You won’t always have a monthly payment

If you’ve been a lifelong renter, this may sound like a foreign concept, but believe it or not, one day you won’t have a monthly housing payment. Unlike renting, you will eventually pay off your mortgage and your monthly payments will be funding other (possibly more fun) things. Even if your mortgage payments are a bit steep, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Each of your mortgage payments are knocking down the price of your home, and you can even use the equity to fund your next house. While you do have property taxes to keep in mind, these are typically paid quarterly making it much easier to budget and far less of a headache.

7. Predictable costs

 As a homeowner, your monthly costs are most likely based on a fixed-rate mortgage, which allows you to budget your finances over a long period of time, unlike the unpredictability of renting. Especially if you’re living in an up and coming neighborhood, you don’t have to wake up in fear of being shooed out of your neighborhood by a big real estate company buying your building and raising your rent, or the countless amount of other circumstances that could increase your annual rent.

The dream of homeownership will always be a constant. Between more privacy, security, flexibility, financial stability, and pride, being a homeowner has endless benefits. Renting is a great option for many, but it doesn’t offer tax incentives, fixed costs, or building of equity, so while it is an easier option to start with, it won’t present prosperity for your future.

The question often asked is: when is it the right time to take that step? Your future is waiting for you, so maybe the real question is: why haven’t you taken the step towards homeownership yet?