Luzerne County Council weighs in on proposed tax diversion program

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
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An estimated $5 million in real estate tax revenue from new construction would have to be temporarily diverted by taxing bodies to reconfigure a congested stretch of Route 315 near the Cross Valley Expressway, developer Robert Tambur told Luzerne County Council on Tuesday.

Tambur needs the public highway improvements to proceed with a $100 million commercial development project at the 62.3-acre former Valley Crest Nursing Home site in Plains Township that his family’s company, Tamburro R.E. Development and Management, purchased from the county for $2.075 million in 2015.

He told council his company will contribute approximately $2 million in engineering and other costs toward the highway project and try to obtain the remaining $5 million from grants or other sources.

The matter was on Tuesday’s work session discussion agenda because council must decide whether to appoint a representative to a committee developing the proposed tax diversion, which falls under the Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) program. Property owners within a TIF zone must pay all taxes, but participating taxing bodies agree to sacrifice the portion from new development to pay off a loan to fund the infrastructure.

Councilman Harry Haas said he isn’t advocating for or against the TIF but believes council should “have a seat at the table” in the planning stages.

Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said proponents of the tax diversion program may have a “stronger position” if the county had received its share of around $2.88 million leftover from an inherited 1998 TIF linked to new development along Highland Park Boulevard and at the Arena Hub Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban blamed problems with that TIF on its inclusion — unbeknownst to many — of funding for the Coal Street extension into Wilkes-Barre, even though the city did not forego city tax revenue for the program.

The county Redevelopment Authority, which oversaw that TIF, will not distribute the money unless the city and other taxing bodies guarantee they won’t sue the authority over how the money is disbursed, authority executive Director Andrew Reilly told council Tuesday. If all parties can’t agree on a resolution, the authority may end up turning the money over to the court for a judge to decide, he said.

Urban said he looks favorably on the new proposed Valley Crest TIF because it is a “nightmare” for veterans accessing the VA Medical Center, which is adjacent to the Valley Crest site.

Council Chairman Tim McGinley said he will put the committee appointment on the next council meeting for a vote.

In other business, council voted to renew a lease for the downtown Hazleton Active Adult Center but later tabled that decision after citizen Brian Shiner pointed out a potential ethics code violation that must be researched by county attorneys.

County Flood Protection Authority board member Dominic J. Yannuzzi is president of Greater Hazleton Senior Citizens Services Inc., which owns the Hazleton property that has housed the center since 2011, Shiner said.

Shiner referenced a section of the ethics code that says those covered, including authority members, cannot have an interest in a public contract if they are authorized to exercise discretion over the contract.

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https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/web1_TTL082415Behind.Tambur.jpgTambur

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

jandes@timesleader.com

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.