It wasn’t exactly the Ron & Scott Show.
Lehigh County Commissioner Scott Ott and Lower Macungie Township Commissioner Ron Beitler both addressed Tuesday night’s meeting of the Concerned East Penn Taxpayers Association in Emmaus.
But the two Republican politicians were there for different reasons.
Beitler spoke about the proposed Hamilton Crossings shopping center project in his township, including why he intends to vote against a tax increment funding plan for it in June.
But he’s certain the shopping center will be built whether or not he and his fellow commissioners vote to have Lower Macungie opt into the TIF. “It’s a no-brainer that this project is happening.”
Beitler also predicted it is inevitable that his township eventually will need its own police department, because of commercial developments such as Hamilton Crossings and more warehouses in the township.
Ott explained the process of approving annual budgets in Lehigh County, including why that process needs to be changed. He said county commissioners should be required to vote to approve or reject proposed county budgets.
Ott repeatedly said he was seeking ideas from the audience regarding how to make that change happen.
Only 25 people-- most of them men -- were at the meeting of the conservative taxpayers organization in Fire Company No. 1. The cold rainy weather may have kept more people home.
Frank Kane, the county’s community and economic development director, was in the audience.
Beitler got a laugh when he said Hamilton Crossings will have walking trails, “although I’m not sure how many people do recreational walking through parking lots.”
Ott got the best laugh when he said county commissioner Michael Schware also had been invited to the meeting, “but for some reason a guy who’s a CPA had something to do on April 15. I don’t know what he’s doing. But he was not available today.”
Beitler began his four-year term as township commissioner in January; Ott has been a county commissioner since 2012.
Beitler said he’s a fan of the Hamilton Crossings shopping center, calling it “a neat project.”
He described it as a very large and very nice strip shopping center that will be better than the one facing Route 22 along Airport Road, but not a lifestyle center like the Promenade shops in Upper Saucon Township.
Beitler said the 63-acre Hamilton Crossings site between Route 222 and Hamilton Boulevard is vacant land, but not farmland. “You can’t even grow crops in the soil,” he explained, because it contains deep pockets of a material called mine wash, which has the consistency of pancake batter. That material will be removed from the ground and remediated before the shopping center is built.
Any local government body that opts into a TIF agrees to forfeit one half of increasing property tax revenues from the development of a property for 20 years.
At its current tax rate, said Beitler, Lower Macungie would forfeit $24,000 of the estimated $48,000 it would get from the shopping center every year for 20 years.
He explained East Penn School Board voted to participate in the Hamilton Crossings TIF plan, Lehigh County commissioners voted not to participate and “now Lower Macungie Township is up to bat.”
That TIF vote by the five township commissioners is scheduled for June 5, following a public hearing on May 1.
Beitler explained township commissioners must make three different decisions: creating a TIF district, deciding if they want to participate in a TIF and, later, approving or rejecting a land development plan for the shopping center.
“The tough decision we have to make is whether or not we want to participate in tax increment financing,” said Beitler. “It’s been my take that we should not participate in tax increment financing.”
During the meeting, no one asked Beitler to predict the fate of the Hamilton Crossings TIF in Lower Macungie. After the meeting, he predicted it will be a split 3-2 vote, but declined to predict if the majority of the five township commissioners will vote for or against the TIF.
He said land development is the easiest part of the process, because approval is determined by whether or not a developer’s plan meets the township’s land development regulations. “It’s not a judgment call,” he explained. “Either it meets your criteria or it doesn’t.”