Lower Alsace asks Berks County for assistance with loan

READING, Pa. - Representatives from Lower Alsace Township asked the Berks County commissioners on Thursday to help with a $1.5 million loan.

The loan, which currently has a balance of approximately $1.2 million and costs the township approximately $90,000 each year, was taken out as a result of the 2005 purchase of Antietam Lake.

The county seized the 560-acre property by eminent domain and purchased it from Reading for $4 million amid concerns that the property would be sold to a developer. Part of the agreement included a $1.5 million ($500,000 was for repairs to the dam) commitment from the township.

At the commissioners' meeting on Thursday, James Oswald, a Lower Alsace Township supervisor, said with little industry, no room for expansion and the highest school taxes in the county, the small township is financially stretched.

He said the loan is placing an additional burden on township residents for a property that is enjoyed by residents throughout the county, not just the township. Oswald said the township has been very cooperative with the county, including waiving several fees and giving money to the newly-formed COG.

Lower Alsace resident Homer Williams said 25 percent of all land in the small township is owned by the county and is tax-exempt. He said the township has also incurred additional expenses by providing 911 service to the park area. Williams said the county needs to step up and recognize its responsibility to shoulder more of the expenses involved with a park that is enjoyed by not only township residents but all of Berks County.

Oswald asked the township to either assume the debt in its entirety or to assume the debt and allow the township to pay the county back interest-free.

Questions also surfaced about a verbal agreement that the township would receive a parcel of land as part of the agreement. Commissioner Mark C. Scott said that he never made that promise and that the county does not contractually owe the township anything.

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