If Lower Macungie Township commissioners were hoping for a clear mandate from residents before they decide the fate of a tax increment financing plan for the long-debated Hamilton Crossings shopping center, they did not get it at Thursday night’s public hearing on the TIF.
The purpose of the hearing was so residents could express their views on the township opting into a TIF for the shopping center. That decision won’t be made until June.
“There are two questions we have to resolve as the board of commissioners,” said Ryan Conrad, president of the five commissioners.
“One is should we create the TIF district? Secondly, should Lower Macungie participate in the TIF district?”
Last year, that participation seemed a sure thing, when all five township commissioners went on the record supporting the Hamilton Crossings TIF plan. But two of those five commissioners have been voted out of office.
At the hearing, former commissioner Ron Eichenberg, one of the two who were not re-elected, made it clear his support for the TIF has not diminished.
“Hamilton Crossings will be the catalyst for the renaissance of Hamilton Boulevard,” said Eichenberg. “A favorable vote for the TIF will certainly result in a renaissance of Hamilton Boulevard. Lower Macungie will see a world-class boulevard.”
Township manager Bruce Fosselman estimated about 110 people attended the hearing.
Thirty people spoke – two of them twice.
If nothing else, the public hearing -- which is required by the state’s TIF act -- raised anticipation for June 5, when the commissioners are expected to finally vote on whether or not they want to opt into the TIF.
Township insiders predict that June vote will be 3-2, although it’s not yet clear if the TIF will be approved or rejected.
If the majority of commissioners vote yes, Lower Macungie will agree to give up 50 percent of property tax revenue from the shopping center for up to 20 years. That money will be used to help pay debt on road and other public infrastructure improvements.
“But for TIF financing, this project cannot be realized,” Hamilton Crossings developer Tim Harrison told the audience at the start of the hearing.
A few residents made it clear they will remember how commissioners vote on the TIF at election time.
“This is supposed to be a representative form of government, so we’d like you to represent us,” resident Arlene Dabrow told commissioners.
“We have a lot to consider until June 5,” said Conrad at the end of the hearing. “It’s not easy being up here, hearing both sides of the argument, with that sort of weight on our shoulders. But that’s what our job is. That’s what you elected us to do and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The township commissioners have not yet voted on approving development plans for the $140 million shopping center, which now is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2016. That vote won’t happen until after they decide the TIF issue.
Although the hearing was called for the public to offer opinions on the merits of the Hamilton Crossings TIF plan, several people stood to express their opposition to the entire project.
Others who spoke said they support the Hamilton Crossings project, but oppose the township opting into a TIF to support that project.
Resident Donald Richards, for example, said he is 100 percent in favor of the project, but 110 percent against creating a TIF district for it.
Richards said if the success of $140 million shopping center project depends on less than $7 million in TIF financing, “it’s like the tail is wagging the dog.”
It might be argued that people are more likely to show up for a meeting if they oppose something than if they support it.
In this case, 10 of the 30 people clearly supported the TIF and/or the shopping center, 15 were opposed and five did not make their positions clear.
Commissioner Ron Beitler, who is the only one of the five commissioners who has gone on record against the TIF, said 16 people spoke against it.