Berks County, PA and Reading were once the shining star of the mid-20th century. Even during the depression years Reading stood as a haven of prosperity compared to other cities around the country. In fact the population of Reading during the 1930’s topped 110,000. There has never been more inhabitants in the city before or after that time.
Why? Simple, affordable housing and jobs.
From the 1920’s through the 1950’s the textile industry was booming. Reading was a leader in the industry and also had steel, railroads and many other blue collar opportunities. The homes in Reading were well suited for the growing families who migrated to our city.
Many who remember those days tell stories of how areas of the city were home to ethnic groups of all races who took residence together in the neighborhoods. Whole families and their friends desired to live close to each other. They worked together, played together and lived together.
Things have changed but our traditional economic thinking has not.
During the 1930’s when Reading boasted 110,000 people the county had 120,000. The Reading school system served approximately 55% of all the children in Berks County, pa. Today there are 88,000 people in Reading and 325,000 people in the county. Now approximately 70% of all children in Berks County, pa are served by 16 different school districts outside Reading. Obviously this comes at a much greater cost.
To pay the cost Pennsylvania decided to use property taxes. When the law was enacted it was the right decision. Costs were in control and the blue collar industry in Berks County, pa was strong. Now this same tax legislation is the main ingredient in the blight cake.
Here comes the blender…The majority of our school tax comes from homes and businesses. If you raise the property tax on a home the home is worth less money…Get that. If the home is worth less money it will sell for less. When it sells for less the new owners can appeal their taxes and have them lowered. Now we have lower property values but still have to pay for 16 school districts and the rising costs of doing so. In order to collect the necessary funds to pay for the schools the school districts have to raise the tax millage. When we raise the tax mills it has a negative effect on new home construction and businesses desire to build facilities. The tax millage is simply too high and they are losing money the day they stick a shovel in the ground.
Result…Less jobs! Solution…The companies and home builders take up residence in our neighboring counties who actually have better highway systems and competent business growth.
Today Reading has become quite the opposite of the economic powerhouse it was in the 1930’s. Berks County, pa is now full of state eased farmland which in itself is not a bad thing but when you add the tax subsidy and lack of growth area you end up with the icing on the cake.
Understanding the issue is the start of solving the problem. Berks County, pa residents feel the pain of the decisions of the past and the lack of needed economic changes that have become necessary due to the changing dynamic of our population shift.
Berks County, pa is still rich with tradition and is a great place to live and raise a family. Our issues are not insurmountable. Our leaders desperately need to step up to the challenges of today.
Traditions are sometimes hard to break. Many of us do not invite change or embrace it as a positive. Change is inevitable whether we like it or not. Look around you and tell me if things have changed in Berks County, pa. It is better to manage change and change when it is a necessity than to sit idly by and let change take you to places you do not want to go.
Lawmakers and residents, the squeaky wheel seems to get the grease. In our case it is time to squeak for all we are worth!