First step toward expanding growth areas approved

Calling all developers.

In a city officials say is desperate for commercial and industrial growth to produce revenue and higher quality of life, City Council, on first reading Thursday, passed an amendment to expand the commercial and industrial Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance ordinance.

The city must wait for a decision either from the Williamsport Area School Board and/or the Lycoming County commissioners on the tax abatement ordinance set for seven years, said Councilwoman Liz Miele, chair of council’s finance committee.

Both of the these taxing bodies have been briefed, according to Council President Jonathan Williamson.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said discussions with the commissioners were positive regarding possible county participation.

Williamsport Area School District officials were given an overview of the importance of the LERTA for commercial and industrial growth, and for building in identified federal opportunity zones meeting financial income limitations based on Census figures, Williamson said.

The expansion of the tax-abatement areas of the city is meant to give incentive to developers to build on empty lots or add to existing buildings for commercial and industrial purposes, Williamson said.

The expanded tax abatement properties map covers much of the East Third Street Gateway revitalization, Park Avenue revitalization corridor and a large section of Newberry, including the industrial park and other areas, according to Stephanie Young, director of the Department of Community Development.

Contrary to some opinions, the LERTA expansion does not mean the city gives up tax dollars, Williamson said.

Rather, it makes an “investment,” because the “value of the property is taxed,” but the developers are given a break with 100 percent tax abatement the first two years, followed by progressively less tax abatement over the life of the program, Williamson said.

Any prospective business developers, when they obtain a building permit, are notified if the property is in the LERTA, Young said, to a question from Councilman Joel Henderson.

The Center for Independent Living Roads to Freedom officials said they plan to utilize a LERTA expansion, if approved by the taxing bodies, to build a 24-apartment building for disabled individuals as they transition from nursing homes.

It would be one of the first new developments to occur in the East Third Street Gateway area, said Councilman Randall J. Allison, chair of council’s economic revitalization committee.

Prior to the first reading passage, the council held a public hearing on the issue.

Jason Fink, the next executive director, president and CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, said the LERTA expansion includes federal opportunity zones distinguished from areas of blight but rather qualified parts of the city ripe for larger examples of economic development.

Under Fink’s guidance, the chamber and the city will work closely on the economic development potential of properties in the LERTA, according to Campana.

City officials also said the chamber can help toward marketing tax abatement zones, a job that was going to be given to the city planner who resigned and took a job in the county.

Campana said the proposed budget he is putting together likely won’t include a replacement position for the city planner, and he hinted at the meeting the chamber can be a partner with the city toward that end.

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