Casinos and property tax explored at tele-town hall

Questions on topics ranging from bringing casino gambling to Lycoming County to eliminating property taxes were discussed by state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, with area residents during a telephone town hall meeting Monday night.

Concern over the fate of the Lycoming Mall was also heavy on the minds of callers.

Everett said he, like many people, has heard the rumors that the mall might close and perhaps become the site of a casino or even a health care facility.

“The mall (topic) is not just an issue in our area,” he said. “They are having the same problem across the country.”

He said the mall is of vital importance to the area from an economic standpoint.

Big box retail stores, Macy’s and J.C. Penney, have vacated the mall, and Sears is shutting its doors in January, but Everett said it’s his understanding that efforts are being made to attract other tenants.

Everett said he would be okay with locating a casino somewhere in the county.

He noted that 10 licenses for gambling venues are available from the state.

When one caller made it clear he does not want gambling in the area, Everett told him to make his views known to the county commissioners and to the governing officials in his municipality.

He added that a number of local municipalities already have voted to opt out of being sites for casinos.

In anther matter, Everett said many people are behind the elimination of property taxes. The problem, however, is making up the revenues lost from getting rid of the tax.

“It would mean an increased sales or income tax or both,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, we have to balance budgets.”

He said it would take between $14 billion and $15 billion in revenues to make up the money lost from property taxes.

Everett noted proceeds from legal gambling continue to provide property owners some relief from real estate taxes. Unfortunately, the total amount is not as much as he’d like to see.

He also added that he is continuing efforts to ensure that property owners who lease land for drilling receive their fair share of royalty payments from gas companies. Efforts toward that end include passing legislation, which has been stuck in a House committee.

Another caller asked about reopening the boat launch along the Susquehanna River at Muncy.

Everett said he has contacted the state Fish and Boat Commission about the issue.

“I am probably more frustrated than you,” he said.

Everett agreed with another caller who proposed eliminating emissions testing for vehicles in Lycoming County.

“I have introduced legislation to remove our area from required emissions testing,” he said. “We certainly don’t have poor air quality in Lycoming County.”

Everett urged callers to vote for Loyalsock Creek as River of the Year. The voting ends on Friday.

Five streams in the state are in the running for the honor.

“Right now, we are 1 percentage point behind the leader,” he said.

The state Organization for Watersheds and Rivers administers the program funded by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The program helps elevate public awareness of rivers and recognizes conservation needs and achievements.