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Three Mile Island closure won’t drive up Lower Dauphin taxes right away, district says

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/28/19

Lower Dauphin School District is still anticipating receiving property tax revenue from the Three Mile Island nuclear plant for the 2019-2020 school year, which means it won’t raise taxes for …

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Three Mile Island closure won’t drive up Lower Dauphin taxes right away, district says

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Lower Dauphin School District is still anticipating receiving property tax revenue from the Three Mile Island nuclear plant for the 2019-2020 school year, which means it won’t raise taxes for now.

Lower Dauphin receives close to $700,000 in property taxes from Exelon Generations’s properties in the district. TMI also has a $10,000 donation slated for Communities That Care’s Bookmobile, a mobile library that travels throughout the district, and numerous volunteers for district programs and events.

The district’s preliminary 2019-2020 budget, approved earlier this month, projects $66,167,000 in revenue and expenses for next school year. It does not call for a tax increase. Coordinator of communications Jim Hazen said the earliest taxes would go up is the 2020-2021 school year.

TMI parent company Exelon restated on May 8 its plan to close down the plant by Sept. 30.

“It’s a blow,” Hazen said. “It’s a blow to the whole community.”

Lower Dauphin anticipates receiving tax revenue from Exelon next school year because the plant will close several months into the district’s new fiscal year, which starts July 1. It may take time to appeal the property assessment to Dauphin County, which would affect how much is paid in property taxes.

The district has not been making contingency plans since the 2017 announcement.

“Kind of hoping against hope that everything would work out because you can’t raise taxes with the thought that at some point the island may close because then if it doesn’t, people are like, ‘So, are you going to cut my taxes and refund that money now that it didn’t?’ It’s a real delicate balance,” he said.

Plus, Hazen said the district has funds set aside in a reserve that could absorb the loss. He did not elaborate on how much.

The closure was brought up during the May 20 school board meeting.

“I know we’ve talked about that impact and what it might mean for us in the future, but now with the announcement, I think we should have a more robust conversation about that as we move forward,” school board member Kevin Busher said.

Superintendent Robert Schultz said the closure would be taken into consideration as the 2020-2021 budget is developed.

According to Hazen, 115 of the 675 TMI employees live in the school district.

He said it was “tough” to know how much the district receives in earned income tax.

“Our earned income tax company really has a hard time figuring out what all of their subsidiaries are out there,” he said.

However, Hazen said the district hasn’t requested those figures from its tax collection service Keystone Collections Group.

“This is the crazy time for the taxing authorities with all of the budgets coming in. So we’ll probably do that sometime over the summer have a conversation with Keystone, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty about what those numbers are going to look like,” Hazen said.

The closure impacts more than just Lower Dauphin’s revenue stream.

TMI staff members volunteer at numerous district events  — STEM summits, career days, science fairs. Professional organizations at the island that do community service often do it for the district.

“Losing people that are basically their sole purpose is to go out and help the community, that’s a void that will have to be filled with other people and other organizations,” Hazen said.

Besides volunteer manpower, students had the opportunity to learn about nuclear engineering from engineers themselves.

“You can’t replicate that sort of thing in the classroom,” Hazen said.

TMI also supported Communities That Care, a nonprofit organization that works closely with the district. Hazen is the CTC executive director.

Last year, Exelon donated $10,000 for its Books on Board Bookmobile, a converted school bus that brings the library to kids. The Bookmobile stops in 24 places every two weeks, and children can checkout books and listen to a story. Over the summer, the bus carries books for older children and adults.

Exelon also supported CTC’s program that mailed children ages 1 through 5 a book during their birthday month, and one of their 13 CommunityAid boxes was on Three Mile Island.

Hazen said he doesn’t know if any of this will continue after the closure. He said officials plan to meet with Three Mile Island about the future of their partnership.

TMI’s impact can’t be measured in dollars and cents, Hazen said.

“There’s a gap that’s going to be created that people won’t realize ever existed until its gone,” Hazen said.

In May 2017, Exelon announced that TMI would be prematurely retired unless reforms, which Exelon said would place nuclear power plants on a level playing field with other renewable energy forms, were enacted by the state.

Legislation was proposed that would’ve subsidized TMI and other plants by adding nuclear to a list called the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards from which utilities must purchase power, but the bills proposed in the House and Senate did not leave committee.

On May 8, Exelon said with three days left in the legislative session “it is clear a state policy solution will not be enacted before June 1, in time to reverse the premature retirement of the plant.”

June 1 is the deadline to purchase fuel to keep the plant open past Sept. 30, Exelon says.

“With all of the legislative action that was being taken, there was hope that somebody would be able to figure it out and keep it open,” Hazen said.