Lehigh Valley

East Penn School Board reaffirms Hamilton Crossings TIF plan

School board votes on funding for Hamilton Crossings

EMMAUS, Pa. - The East Penn School Board reiterated its commitment Monday to the development of a shopping center in Lower Macungie Township.

At its meeting, the school board rejected a motion to rescind support of the Hamilton Crossings Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan.

The highly contested plan, which would redirect 50 percent of increased tax revenue from the Hamilton Crossings commercial property toward the district, was challenged following the Lehigh County Commissioners' decision to withdraw their support.

Board Vice President Ken Bacher, who initially made the motion to rescind district support, said that the financial circumstances around the deal had significantly improved since the board's vote last year.

"The financing is much improved compared to what we were envisioning last year," said Bacher. "I did not want to see the school district disadvantaged in the county not participating. Since that has been resolved, I am confident that the district is no worse off and is in fact much better off."

A presentation at Monday's board meeting by Scott Shearer of PFM, the district's financial advisers, revealed that the assessment value for the property has risen from $74 million to $77.1 million and finance interest rates had dropped from 4.6 percent to 2 percent, improving the district's bottom line.

Shearer also said that the district would generate roughly $16.5 million over the 20 year span of the TIF deal.

Other officials, however, maintained that the school board was overstepping its bounds by partaking in a commercial transaction.

"We're not in the business of economic development. We're in the business of educating kids," said board member Lynn Donches, repeatedly drawing applause from community members in attendance.

Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller attended to vouch for the proposed plan's impact on job creation.

"My big push for it has been for a very simple reason: it generates about $22 millionĀ  in construction jobs," he said. "I truly believe [the school board] made the right vote last year."

While several officials expressed concern over the district's exposure to risk, Shearer reassured them that Goldenberg Group, the Montgomery based developers, were willing to make up for potential losses due to the county's non-involvement.

Monday's vote, which mustered only four of six needed votes to withdraw from Hamilton Crossings, was placed back on the table by Donches after Bacher voiced his new-found support of the project.

During roll call, board members Donches, Munson, Vinovskis and Heid voted to pull out from the project, while Rhodes, Earnshaw, Bacher, Ballard and Fuller opted to uphold it.

Developers hope to break ground on the Hamilton Crossings construction project this fall, with the shopping complex potentially opening in 2016.

Lower Macungie Township will hold a hearing about its involvement in the proposed plans on Thursday, with a final vote set for June.

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