Greencastle adopts system for tax breaks to businesses

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

A hearing Monday night on setting district boundaries for a program that grants tax breaks for businesses in Greencastle was more informational than controversial. Borough council president Charles Eckstine said the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program was worthwhile if it would trigger renovations to properties that were in decline.

"Like Antrim Township and the school district, we thought it was a good idea for commercial properties," he said. He hoped Franklin County would also participate.

Assistant borough manager Susan Armstrong clarified that the tax breaks applied only to improvements. She and borough manager Ken Womack proposed a five-year schedule, with a developer relieved of the property tax levy 100 percent the first year, 80 percent the second year, sliding to a 20 percent abatement in the fifth year. In the sixth, the developer would pay the full property tax assessment. They recommended LERTA apply to the community commercial, highway commercial and industrial zones. Among the declining properties that affected were the former Keystone Ford lot and the old Susquehanna Bank building.

Representatives from the other local taxing bodies were present to support Greencastle adopting LERTA. John Alleman and Rick Baer attended the hearing on behalf of Antrim Township. Melinda Cordell and Tracy Baer sat in as school board members.

Alleman said, "The more people look at our community, the more jobs will come as a whole."

Tracy Baer asked why Franklin County would agree to a five-year schedule with Greencastle when it denied joining G-ASD and Antrim, both of which adopted a 10 year program, with the tax exemption dropping 10 percent per year.

Eckstine replied, "Ours is for existing buildings. We don't have raw land. That makes us different."

Baer said the school board had discussed a five year plan, but went for 10, and would support whatever Greencastle decided.

During the regular meeting Nov. 5, council members Harry Foley, Frank Webster Jr., Wade Burkholder, Matt Smith, Craig Myers, James Farley and Eckstine unanimously approved an ordinance to create LERTA within the borough.

Nuisance property

Council declared the house at 122 S. Carlisle St. a public nuisance, which opened the door to eliminating the problem through legal channels. The property, half of a duplex, was considered an immediate hazard to the general health, safety and welfare of the community. In 2009, the borough hired a contractor to get rid of pigeonsfrom inside the structure, and placed an $11,000 lien on the property. The owner made some payments, and then left without providing a forwarding address. The house was unoccupied and without water service.

"What we want to avoid is us owning the house," said Womack.

Mayor Bob Eberly suggested pulling the lien so the house could be sold. He also did not want the borough to be named conservator by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, or taxpayer money would have to be used to fix up the property.

Announcements

Womack informed council that borough employees had received the Susquehanna Municipal Trust 2011 Safety Award for zero lost time days because of worker's compensation claims. It was the fifth consecutive year for recognition of no or few lost days.

"We're small, so it's easy to keep our numbers down," he said, "but our employees aggressively pursue safety in everything they do."

Eckstine agreed. "It's a credit to our staff and department heads. It takes leadership."

Free public parking was approved at downtown meters for Dec. 1-31.

Myers said the borough was having a hard time finding people to serve on the Sidewalk and Curb Board of Appeals. He hoped people with experience in the construction business would apply.

Womack stated the Zoning Hearing Board would also need new members in 2013.

Eckstine said the last meeting with representatives from Antrim Township and the two water authorities was not very productive. The group couldn't agree on how the water systems should merge. Greencastle wanted to buy Antrim's assets in an offer negotiated for several years.

Webster commented, "At least Antrim now understands better our stance."

Eckstine wondered if Greencastle should lease Antrim's operation for a test run. Womack saw benefit to that.

"Ultimately, that gets us where we want to go, or we decide we don't want to buy it."