Facts on the table, move ahead to sell Executive Plaza

Get the facts — all of them — and then vote.

That’s the bottom line when it comes to swapping two pieces of land downtown.

The land in question is below Executive Plaza on Pine Street, where the city owns the land and the county owns the building, and below the Third Street parking garage, where the county owns the land and the city owns the parking structure.

On the surface, it makes sense.

But after County Commissioner Rick Mirabito questioned whether the city saw appraisals on these properties, we were relieved initially to see this land swap between the city and the county stall due to a tie vote at the county level.

Mirabito is right. All of the facts should be on the table for scrutiny before this land swap moves forward. That’s not to say it shouldn’t happen as it will allow the county to sell Executive Plaza. Details of that sale have not been made public — will it be sold, for instance, to a private entity and returned to the tax rolls?

That would be good for Williamsport, the county seat and home to a wealth of tax-exempt government, religious and social service agencies and, with those, an ever-shrinking tax base.

As Mirabito points out, lost in this conversation is the parking lot behind Executive Plaza, which the city has allowed the county to use for $1 a year. What happens to that land, which Mirabito believes to be a potential revenue stream for a city struggling financially?

Revenue from parking goes to the Williamsport Parking Authority for the upkeep and management of parking downtown, so a revenue stream for the city’s general fund may not be quite on point. Still, adequate parking long has been an issue that has caused more than one development plan to stall if not fall apart totally.

To that end, Commissioner Scott Metzger is correct that the county can get more money for the sale of Executive Plaza if it includes the lot, even with a memorandum of understanding that the lot be open for public parking at night and on weekends.

Metzger believes both the city and members of council were advised on the issue of the lot. Still, Mirabito’s right to ask, even if it’s only a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. That’s not too much to ask before moving forward on any deal.

As it turns out, City Council was told the assessed value of both properties is similar.

That said, it is our view that this deal should move forward with a positive vote by all three county commissioners.

The county has garnered its share of criticism over the years for owning too many properties that are underused. Returning some of them to the tax rolls would benefit both the city and the county.

Executive Plaza, originally built by a businessman before the turn of the century for business purposes, is a good place to start.


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