Hamburg Area School Directors unanimously agreed on Nov. 21 to table a vote on giving tax assistance for a proposed warehouse/distribution center along Interstate 78 in Upper Bern Township.
School directors agreed to delay the vote until after Upper Bern Township Supervisors meet on Dec. 8.
The resolution before the board states that Hamburg Area school directors adopt the findings of the Upper Bern Supervisors, according to Russell Farbiarz, district solicitor.
“But what are the findings,” Farbiarz said. “The board is doing its due diligence (by delaying the vote). Don’t approve (the resolution) and read it later.”
The 1-million square foot project, which could provide up to 500 jobs, requires the approval of the Upper Bern Township Supervisors, Hamburg Area School Board and the Berks County Commissioners.
Andrew Mele, managing director of Trammell Crow Co., West Conshohocken, asked school directors in October to create a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program which would result in property taxes for the tenant being phased in over a 10-year period.
“A LERTA is needed as a competitive advantage to attract a tenant,” Mele previously stated. “Without the LERTA I don’t think they’ll come. Berks County’s tax structure is relatively high compared to neighboring counties.”
Two farmers, who oppose the LERTA, addressed school directors.
Alton Rohrbach, a dairy farmer from Perry Township, said that the tax break is not fair to farmers.
“Agriculture land is getting less all the time,” Rohrbach said. “These outfits are a dime a dozen. The services these places demand far outweigh the tax (benefits). Farmers don’t get breaks.”
William Palmer owns two farms, one in Upper Bern Township and one in Upper Tulpehocken Township, and is a Tulpehocken school director.
“It’s a form of corporate welfare,” Palmer said. “Tulpehocken has small businesses and farmers who support the school district and community. We don’t ask for a tax break. It’s not fair to give out a corporate check.”
Tax dollars coming to the district would be significant, according to Mele.
Taxes paid last year on the 90-acre properties totaled $19,000 with about $15,000 going to the school district, Mele previously said.
With a LERTA in place taxes in the first year would be $172,000 with the school district receiving about $127,000.
Over a 10-year period tax revenue would be $5.4 million as opposed to about $154,000 without the development.
Mele said that $1 million would be included for road improvements. Mountain Road would be widened and resurfaced from the interstate to the distribution center.
Roadwork would not include work on I-78 and the interchange.
School directors were divided on the project.
“This is a much better deal than Cabela’s was for us,” school director Todd Hummel said. “I’d rather give a tax break to a development right off 78 and broaden our tax base. If we don’t, more burden will fall on our residents’ shoulders.”
School director Lolly Lesher noted that Manderbach Ford and a Rutters convenience store recently moved into the district.
“We attract business,” Lesher said. “Having a company from out of state coming and not paying their fair share is not right.”
The next meeting of school directors is Monday, Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the James A. Gilmartin Community Room. This will a reorganization meeting.