Lehigh Valley

Mayor calls on critics to put aside 'petty differences'

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski called on critics of the city to put aside "petty differences" and realize that if Allentown thrives, the entire Lehigh Valley will thrive.

Pawlowski dismissed as "ludicrous" any attempt to divide Allentown and its suburbs.

"Over the past several weeks there have been many attempts to divide the Lehigh Valley and have this battle between the suburbs and the city," said Pawlowski during his annual "breakfast with the mayor" speech to a sold-out crowd at the center city Holiday Inn on Wednesday. "This is ludicrous. It's ludicrous, folks. We must all work together to survive as a region.

"Those who continue to try to divide us, you will not succeed. We have worked too hard to break down the territorial walls of parochialism. We worked too hard to redevelop our urban cores, not only here in Allentown, but in Bethlehem and Easton. Those of us who worked together to get this far will not let you stop us.

"Let's show what we can do when we work together as one region united for the common good. We will create a stronger region that is attractive to investors and folks looking for a great place to live."

For Allentown to succeed, said the mayor, its arena complex, as well as other redevelopment planned in center city and along the Lehigh River, "have to become a reality." He said those projects will draw visitors, stimulate economic development and provide jobs.

To finance those projects, the state created a unique Neighborhood Improvement Zone just for Allentown.

It allows the city to use most state and local taxes collected by businesses within the zone to help pay for those projects.

Officials in some suburban municipalities object because local earned income taxes of people who work in the Allentown zone no longer will go to municipalities in which they live.

The NIZ consists of about 130 acres in center city and along the river's west bank.

Pawlowski called creation of the zone "the most powerful development tool on the East Coast. It will transform our entire city. It gives us the ability to finance projects that would have taken 20, 30, 40 years to put together."

Without naming names, Pawlowski said the complaint he's hearing is: "I don't have a say over where my state tax dollars go." He won laughter and applause when he said: "Welcome to the club!"

The mayor said most of Allentown's surrounding communities do not have police departments, but rely on state police, and that everybody who lives in Allentown pays for that police protection through state taxes.

"We have surrounding municipalities larger than the city of Easton that have no police force," Pawlowski said.

He also said, in the last two years, Allentown responded to more than 230 mutual aid requests in surrounding communities, using city police, fire, EMS, bomb squads, rescue, K-9 and hazardous material units.

"All those calls cost the city over $200,000, which Allentown provided free of charge," Pawlowski said.

Regarding the current Lehigh County tax reassessment, he said 75 percent of all Allentown taxpayers will see a reduction in their taxes. "That means 75 percent have been overpaying for the last 20 years."

He said the "rough, rough, rough" estimate is that "Allentown taxpayers have been subsidizing the rest of the county to the tune of $100 million."

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