Money Magazine has announced their 2007 list of Best Places to Live in the U.S.A., focusing on towns with under 50,000 in population.
It was a surprise to see town in the Philadelphia area listed as the ninth best place to live. It was a shock to see that the town selected was my hometown, Nether Providence, PA. Located in south central Delaware County. Nether Providence is more commonly known as Wallingford.
While I'm delighted and proud that the town in which I live has been selected for this respected list, I have to question some of the data cited in the study.
Wallingford Pros and ConsMoney Magazine summarizes the pros and cons of Wallingford as follows:
- Pros: Affordable homes, top-rated schools - "A 4.6-square-mile township of lush green hills, old stone houses and expansive parks, Nether Providence also offers good schools, and a nice home can be had for $300,000 or even less."
- Cons: No real downtown - "Nether Providence doesn't have its own downtown, but most residents can walk or bike to Media, where there's a movie theater and plenty of locally owned shops and restaurants."
Questionable Property Tax DataThe data shows that the median home price in Wallingford is $309,319 and the average property tax is $3,640.
This is where I have a real problem with the data. The numbers may be statistically correct, but the assumption that a person who owns a home worth $309.319 will pay property taxes of $3,640 is inaccurate.
My home is valued somewhat less than the median and my property taxes are close to $7000. School taxes alone exceed $5000 and have been steadily increasing over the years that we've owned our home.
Effect of "No Real Downtown"Younger families move to Wallingford to take advantage of the excellent school system. Many older folks leave the town solely because of the tax burden. Much of the reason for the excessive tax burden is tied closely into what Money Magazine lists as the "con" of Wallingford, i.e. "no real downtown."
In fact, Wallingford is almost exclusively a residential community. There are few businesses located within the township's boundaries. Because of the lack of businesses, the tax burden is high on homeowners.
Recent Housing DevelopmentMoney Magazine's "pros" mention "old stone houses and expansive parks." While currently true, that is becoming less the case as the years pass. Many a nice old home has been torn down only to be replaced by several new homes on the same lot. There is a large such project being built right along Route 252 south of Baltimore Pike.
Money Magazine's data does not mention Wallingford's income based neighborhoods. Most of the "old stone houses" referred to in the Money Magazine data are located in the northern and central part of the township. The southern part of the township borders on Chester City and consists of the distinctive lower middle class neighborhood of Garden City and middle class neighborhoods to the east on either side of the intersection of Routes 320 and 252.
Economic Class StructureThis economic class structure is also reflected in school. While Wallingford's elementary schools are still largely neighborhood based, the middle and high school brings together children from all areas of the township. It is not unusual to hear of clashes between children from the richer areas of the township and those from the township's less well-to-do areas.
Crime StatisticsTownship residents have long questioned the published crime statistics. While serious crime is, no doubt, reflected in the statistics cited by Money Magazine, it is doubtful that the true rate of property crime is accurately reflected.
Last year the township had a rash of car break-ins. There were at least three of these on my street alone. When I went to the township police to make a report, the officer on duty politely suggested that she just make a note of my incident since it was a common problem.
Nether Providence / Wallingford Positives from a ResidentWallingford does have many positive assets. It is, overall, a nice place to live. There is a sense of community, at least within your own neighborhood. (The lack of a town center prevents any real interaction with folks who live elsewhere in the township.)
The township is conveniently located. Within minutes you can be on I-95 to head into Philadelphia or areas south. The Blue Route (I-476) bisects the township and provides easy access to areas to the north.
Nether Providence benefits from its central location for many leisure and culture activities in the Greater Philadelphia region. It's proximity to the county seat of Media and college town of Swarthmore are definite positives.
While school taxes are excessively high, the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District is one of the top rated in Pennsylvania. There's no question that the township's children get a better than average education, with a good shot at a favorable college admission.
Township services are sparse but efficient. Roads are plowed quickly and efficiently in winter. The township has an effective recycling program. Trash removal is contracted directly between the homeowner and one of the approved vendors. The police department is responsive to calls and officers within the department are generally considered friendly and approachable.
The Bottom LineAll being said, my wife and I still enjoy living in Wallingford. We do, however, foresee a day when we retire that the property tax burden will become too much and we, like others we know, will be forced to move elsewhere. This is not a problem unique to Wallingford, however. The Pennsylvania State Legislature and Governor have dragged their feet too long in providing real property tax relief, especially for senior citizens.
Is Nether Providence/Wallingford a good place to live? Definitely, as long as you recognize both the positives and negatives. The Money Magazine study is much to skewed towards the positive aspects of the township and, quite frankly, not very accurate in some areas.
John Fischer and his wife have resided in Nether Providence Township for almost 20 years.