Closeout of $3 million tax-break pot may be progressing

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Pedri -

After more than three years of delays, tangible movement has been made in resolving disbursement of a nearly $3 million pot left from an expired Luzerne County tax break program.

County council members had voted to close out this 1998 Highland Park Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) program in September 2015, saying the remaining money must be returned to taxing bodies because authorized projects have been completed.

With a TIF, taxing bodies agree to temporarily sacrifice real estate tax revenue from new development in a specified zone so the tax payments can be used to pay off borrowing for infrastructure needed to facilitate the development.

In this case, the infrastructure improvements were on Highland Park Boulevard and Mundy and Coal streets, and the work attracted numerous retail and food establishments as a result.

Wilkes-Barre officials have argued some or all remaining funding should remain in the bank to continue extending Coal Street. County officials and other critics say the city has no legal claim on the money and never joined the other taxing bodies — the county, Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Wilkes-Barre Township — in giving up tax revenue to fund the infrastructure.

The county Redevelopment Authority, which oversaw the TIF, had put off resolution until it was clear all outstanding bills for past work were paid.

The authority voted last week to reimburse Wilkes-Barre $204,668 from the TIF funds, which was the city’s 20 percent share of a $1.02 million project involving the widening of the existing stretch of Coal Street, the authority said.

Authority Executive Director Andrew Reilly said this is the final bill that must be paid from the remaining TIF funds except for some authority administrative and legal fees.

After discussing the requested TIF closeout in executive session last week, the authority also authorized its solicitor to send a settlement letter to the county, school district and township regarding plans to proceed with distribution of the remaining funds, Reilly said.

Reilly declined to go into specifics about the letter contents, saying the matter was in the hands of taxing bodies.

County Manager C. David Pedri said Friday he has received the authority’s letter. He also declined to discuss details because he and the county legal staff must discuss the matter with school district and township representatives and brief county council.

The letter was expected to ask the three taxing bodies to reach an agreement on how the money will be disbursed while providing some form of legal protection to the redevelopment authority if Wilkes-Barre ends up pursuing a legal claim for the remaining funds.

The county is estimated by some to be entitled to $1.2 million of the remaining funds, but opinions differ based on wording of the original TIF agreement. Some council members have argued the county should receive more because the school district had skipped several years of payments toward the TIF.

“Obviously the goal will be resolution of this issue for the next redevelopment authority meeting in March,” Pedri said.

Meanwhile, another TIF has been proposed to fund improvements on the stretch of Route 315 and Kidder Street from TGI Fridays to the Cross Valley Expressway, which would allow new development at the former Valley Crest Nursing Home site in Plains Township.

The redevelopment authority appointed board member Nina DeCosmo to a committee that must be formed to develop specifics of the TIF, which would ultimately require taxing body approval to take effect.

County council members are scheduled to appoint their committee representative at Tuesday’s meeting.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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

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