EDUCATION

Developers push school board for tax relief in Greencastle-Antrim

By PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

Developers in Greencastle-Antrim are looking to the school district for tax relief.

Representatives for Atapco and Matrix asked the Greencastle-Antrim School Board on Aug. 2 to consider honoring LERTA status for their properties if Antrim Township, the taxing authority, enacted the tax abatement program. If sections of land in the township were designated as blighted under the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA), new construction and improvements would be exempt from real estate property taxes on whatever sliding scale Antrim adopted by ordinance.

Time is of the essence for Matrix, owner of the World Kitchen site. It is negotiating a lease as the current one expires in January 2013. James Murray, vice president of the industrial portfolio, said Matrix is willing to put $10 million into upgrades, and another $10 million into an addition, and also build a one million square foot building in the back for a different tenant.

"LERTA can make us more attractive," he said. "It will broaden the tax base."

He added that World Kitchen, which employed 400 people, paid $300,000 in taxes annually. That money would continue to be remitted. The changes to make the 50-year old facility modern and relevant to shipping needs would get the tax break.

Joseph Pierce, attorney at law with Eckert Seamans in Harrisburg, spoke at the request of Atapco. He gave the background on LERTA legislation and said Antrim had to set the boundaries for the district. While the maximum amount of time a property could receive a tax abatement was 10 years, he added the timeframe to apply for the status was arbitrary.

"The law makes no provision for how a LERTA ends. (A deadline to enroll) would be an inducement to get people moving."

The Urban Redevelopment Law in the 1960s defined impoverished areas that fell under LERTA, if a community wanted to spur development.

"The one I like is land that is economically undesirable," Pierce said.

If the taxing body wanted to shift agricultural or other types of land toward development, they could place them in a LERTA district.

Atapco wants in, too

Jim Lighthizer, representing Atapco and Chesapeake Real Estate Development, Inc., said over the past four years they had shown Antrim Commons Business Park to nearly 30 companies, who were also looking at other sites.

"West Virginia is giving land away, and Maryland has enterprise zone tax credits," he said.

One taxing scale he favored was no real estate tax the first year and increase the rate by 10 percent each year, so that in year 11 the business would pay the full rate.

"LERTA doesn't guarantee you'll have an increase in the tax base, but it helps."

Atapco's available two million square feet could result in $1.2 million in taxes in the final year, and under the program the yearly average would be $300,000. That seemed to be the magic number for companies, he said.

Mike Ross, president of Franklin County Area Development Corporation, also chimed in on a sense of urgency, expecially for Matrix.

"Tonight was to educate the board. If World Kitchen is vacant, that's monumental."

Antrim board chairman Fred Young III addressed the issue, with supervisors Pat Heraty, John Alleman and Rick Baer in the audience. They had learned about the desire of the developers within the past six weeks, and wanted the school directors to have a role in setting the tax schedule, since it would be affected the most. They also favored extending LERTA to highway commercial and industrial zones in the township, including properties owned by Century and Gayman.

"That's the discussion the supervisors had today," he said.

Antrim will hold a public hearing on the matter at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14 at the township municipal building