He predicted the project will get land development approval from the township.
Beitler said it makes sense to use TIFs in some places, but not in Lower Macungie.
“The criteria I apply is ‘but for the TIF, do you have economic development?’ In Lower Macungie, we’re booming right now. We’re humming. We’re an incredibly attractive place for retail.”
Yet he maintained: “Lower Macungie right now is deficient in retailers.”
Hamilton Crossings will include Costco, Target and Whole Foods stores as its anchors. Beitler said others will be Dick’s Sporting Goods, a PetSmart, a couple of restaurants and a bank.
“A lot of residents are in love with the idea of a Costco coming,” said the township commissioner. But he repeatedly stressed he eventually will be reviewing and voting on a land development plan, not specific stores.
Beitler said other vacant land that can be commercially developed exists along the Hamilton Boulevard corridor “from the velodrome to Dorneyville.”
“One of the fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves is ‘are we artificially skewing the playing field?’ A TIF in this situation is skewing the market.”
While Beitler opposes Lower Macungie participating in the TIF, he supports voting to create a TIF district, which also is scheduled for a vote June 5. A TIF district establishes the geographic boundaries of a TIF project.
“I’m not sure it would be fair for us to pull the rug out from underneath the whole thing,” he said. “We have an obligation to create the district, given that this has been three years in the making.”
The township commissioner said Hamilton Crossings’ developers are asking Lower Macungie to waive its $2.6-million traffic impact fee, which would be used to help pay for road improvements not immediately adjacent to the shopping center.
He indicated that fee will be needed because Hamilton Crossings will impact East Texas and Brookside roads, Krocks and Lower Macungie roads and the “major mess” confluence of Kressler Road, Interstate 78, Route 222 and Hamilton Boulevard.
Program moderator Giovanni Landi raised the possibility that East Penn School District will need to keep raising property taxes on all property owners in the district if it only gets half as much tax revenue from Hamilton Crossings, compared to what it would get if there would be no TIF.
Township police department?
Beitler said the township’s property tax rate is .33 mills. He said the school district’s is 16 mills and the county’s is 8 mills.
“We don’t have our own police force right now,” said Beitler. “That is going to change someday. Whether it’s next year or 20 years down the line, I don’t know.”
He said he does not want a township police department, but warned developments such as warehouses and Hamilton Crossings will force Lower Macungie to establish one, rather than continuing to rely on state police to provide coverage.
He indicated police will be needed to deal with increases in crime and traffic, including tractor-trailer traffic. He said the township has no police force to enforce its truck restriction ordinances.
Beitler estimated creating a police department would cost the township about $6 million and running it would cost up to $3 million very year.
He predicted “the day we have our own police force” township property taxes will increase anywhere from four to seven mills.
In February, Lower Macungie commissioners rejected creating a township police department, after a 2013 study showed doing so would cost $5 million. That study also showed the township has a low crime rate.
Ott was one of six county commissioners who voted against Lehigh County opting into the Hamilton Crossings TIF in June 2013. Ott and Beitler said the Hamilton Crossings developers are using the TIF to make their project more profitable.
Ott asks for help
But Ott came to the meeting for help with a very different matter.
"I’m into an issue that I really don’t know what the best answer is,” he said. “I’m just one of nine people who are trying to muddle through right now -- and that’s just in the legislative branch.”