Creighton also said the TIF uses no current Lehigh County taxpayers’ money. “All the money used in the TIF is generated from the developer.”

But Commissioner Michael Schware argued county taxpayers are being asked to pay for what is a township issue. He said no county assets will be improved by Hamilton Crossings and that “the township should pick up the tab.”

Lower Macungie Manager Bruce Fosselman and Ron Eichenberg, president of the township commissioners, were at the meeting but declined to comment after the vote.

Last week, the five township commissioners unanimously voted to send a letter to the county commissioners that encouraged them to approve the Hamilton Crossings TIF.

The East Penn School Board voted 6-2 for the TIF plan in May. Lower Macungie commissioners were going to vote last for TIF approval, after the county commissioners’ vote.

If the county commissioners had opted into the TIF plan, the county and school district would have given up 50 percent of increased property taxes generated by the shopping center for 20 years. (Lower Macungie currently does not collect any property taxes.)

Commissioner Scott Ott, the Republican candidate for county executive, got the best laugh of the evening when he said: “I’m wondering why we don’t cut everybody’s tax bill by 50 percent…which I would like to make a motion for later.”

Commissioner Vic Mazziotti explained the shopping center would have paid all of its property taxes, but 50 percent of that tax money would have been transferred to the Lehigh County Industrial Development Authority to pay debt on bonds used to finance infrastructure improvements.

Crunching numbers

Schware said the county’s share of the $7-million TIF is $1.1 million, adding it is much more appropriate for Lower Macungie’s taxpayers to pay that.

Schware and Mazziotti said that $7-million contribution to the project would balloon to almost $15 million when interest and fees are included.

“We’re getting roughly $10,000 a year from this land right now,” said Commissioner David Jones, the other Democrat on the board. He added when Hamilton Crossings is completed, the county will get $137,000 a year.

Said Dougherty: “Over the 20 years, we will be collecting over $2.6 million here at the county.” He also noted the Hamilton Crossing plan includes road and storm water improvements that will not be done without the project.

But Commissioner Lisa Scheller said if Hamilton Crossings goes forward without a TIF, the county will get $270,000 more in taxes every year.

Scheller, chairwoman of the nine commissioners, also did not say how she would vote beforehand. After the meeting, she said she agreed with Schware that county tax dollars should not be involved in the project.

Mazziotti, who served with Dougherty on the TIF committee, said commissioners were not voting to approve or disapprove the Hamilton Crossings project. “We don’t have the authority to do that.” He also said it was not a vote to support or not support the school district or the township.

Public input

Scheller noted Wednesday’s meeting marked the fifth time the Hamilton Crossings TIF plan was before the commissioners. They learned about the project on April 24, had a first reading of a proposed TIF ordinance on May 8 and debated the issue but deferred voting on May 22 and again on June 12.

Because some of those previous meetings lasted very long, with the agreement of her colleagues Scheller imposed time limits on anyone speaking Wednesday night: three minutes for interested parties if they had something new to contribute, two minutes for others to state their opinions and three minutes for each commissioner to speak.

Twenty-seven people stood to address commissioners for more than an hour. Twice as many spoke for the TIF as spoke against it.

Several stressed Hamilton Crossings will mean jobs, including construction jobs, for Lehigh Valley workers.

But Julian Stolz of Emmaus said the TIF “is nothing more than corporate welfare” for multi-million-dollar corporations and out-of-town developers. Joe Hilliard of Allentown maintained Hamilton Crossings will nearly double the amount of vacant retail space in the Lehigh Valley. He said vacancies reduce property values.

Hamilton Crossings is proposed on both sides of Krocks Road between Hamilton Boulevard and Route 222.

Dougherty reported that he learned from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that Hamilton Crossings is just one of 33 projects planned along the Route 222 corridor.

He said PennDOT officials also told him that section of the highway will require a $70-million “fix-up.”