Palmer Township's plan for a Tax Increment Financing district (TIF) moved one step closer to becoming a reality Thursday evening when the Easton Area School Board added its stamp of approval to the project.
Planned for an approximately 700-acre parcel on the north end of the township and owned by developer Charles Chrin, the TIF would publicly finance infrastructure development with the aim of converting the land, currently zoned agricultural, to commercial and light industrial uses and enticing non-residential development.
Over a 20-year period, the involved taxing entities -- Palmer Township, the Easton Area School District and Northampton County -- would agree to forgo the increased tax revenue each would receive from the increased assessment of the improved land for the first five years, then would receive 20 percent of the increase for years six to 20.
The school district's share of the 20 percent would be $17.14 million over the last 15 years, according to an estimate by county economic planning director Alicia Karner. Additionally, the projected economic development of the TIF district will create 368 new jobs in the first seven years, she said.
Also, investors in the district would not be able to challenge the county's assessment of their land and holdings until the 20-year period is up by the conditions of land sale contract, Karner said.
“It is the land bond holders that take the risk, not the taxpayers,” she said, explaining that in an unusual circumstance, the bond risk is borne entirely by the developer and bond holder if defaulted, not the municipalities or the school district.
Speaking in favor of the TIF district, Palmer Township Supervisor David Colver said the township will not change the area's zoning for uses other than commercial or light industrial. Residential development is not on the table and would be prohibited in the TIF district.
“So Palmer Township is the control to make sure that this is used for the best use for the township and the district,” Colver said. “We're the leader since the '50s and '60s in development. We're going to make sure it's built right.”
The TIF money will be used for highway access improvements, rebuilding the Route 33 overpass bridge and making other infrastructure upgrades so that the parcel is attractive to commercial development.
Superintendent Susan McGinley spoke in favor of the plan, saying it would benefit the school district.
“Needs and financial needs go hand in hand,” McGinley said. “We need a tax base. It cannot be solely residential—it's not fair to them.
“Mr. Chrin has done many, many good things for our community,” McGinley added.
Former Easton teacher and state representative Rich Grucela also urged the board to approve the plan immediately.
“Be honest with yourself,” Grucela said. “Look at the merits and look beyond the developer.”
Board members later voted 6-1 in favor of the TIF district. Member Pat Vulcano was not present due to ongoing illness, and vice president Tim Reilly was absent.
Frank Castrovinci, appointed last month to serve in Sarah Bilotti's vacant seat until the next election, cast the dissenting vote, saying he felt some of the plan was vague with regard to impact.
“Easton [school district] pays the bulk, and Palmer decides what goes there,” he said. “That's what worries me a little bit...We'd be forgoing tax revenue and giving that control to Palmer.”
He added: “My concern about the TIF is the lack of definition about what that develops into. It's just a high degree of uncertainty...It just feels like it's more of an incentive to the developer than anyone else.”
With the approval of the school district and Palmer Township, the only remaining hurdle the plan faces is gaining approval from Northampton County Council, which is expected to decide on the matter by November, Karner said.