Northampton County Council may delay a vote on a proposed tax break for the redevelopment of the former Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough.
Council’s agenda for Thursday says the ordinance must go to a public hearing, but Speaker Lori Vargo Heffner said Wednesday that bad language could push back the vote.
“I think the LERTA language may need to be reviewed and ensure it is appropriate before moving forward with a vote,” she said. LERTA, the acronym for Pennsylvania’s Long Term Economic Revitalization Act, provides tax relief for development. The profit decreases over 10 years.
LERTAs are designed to jump-start the development of challenging properties, and the former 25th Street Tumbler Factory, little used for nearly 40 years, meets that standard. Wilson Borough and the Wilson Area School District have already agreed to the tax relief, but New Jersey-based developer Nick Tsapatsaris said county approval was essential.
The county rarely has a say in development, which is mostly a local issue. However, he may charge higher assessments on properties, which could negate the benefits of tax relief.
Meanwhile, even though the council approved a LERTA for the Dixie Cup, County Executive Lamont McClure vowed to veto it. The Dixie plan will bring traffic and pollution to the 25th Street corridor, which is already congested, he said. McClure said passing a LERTA means taxpayers will subsidize an industry, warehousing, that many oppose.
The Board needs five out of nine members to approve a LERTA order. Six votes are needed to override a veto. McClure noted that use is permitted at the old factory, but said the subsidy was not appropriate.
Councilor Kevin Lott, who heads the economic development committee, wondered if a booming industry needed tax breaks.
Wilson Borough officials, including Mayor Donald Barrett, implored the council to approve the LERTA.
The Dixie Cup plan isn’t just a warehouse, they said. However, Tsapatsaris kicked that conversation off on the wrong foot on May 5, when he showed up unannounced at a council committee meeting and described his plan as a “last-mile logistics facility.”
Vargo Heffner said language isn’t the only potential problem with the Dixie Cup LERTA.
“I think we’ll give him a fair hearing, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. The LERTA, as noted earlier, includes more generous terms than previously approved tax breaks.
“Personally, I’m not in favor of granting exceptions to a project when we have several ahead of us,” she said.