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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, August 11, 2017

Easton's Failed LERTA Program

The use of tax incentives for economic or community development has been controversial for as long as they've existed. Advocates will tell you they are investments in the community while opponents deride the government for picking winners and losers in what should be capitalistic society. But most agree that a LERTA is the most innocuous. It allows a property owner to gradually phase in a property tax increase that results from improvements like a new porch, addition or a home built on vacant land. Aside from all the philosophical arguments, does this tax incentive work? Based on what has happened in Easton, the answer is a firm No.

Easton enacted its own LERTA ordinance on April 25, 2012. It applies to any industrial, commercial or residential property inside a designated zone. The School District and Northampton County Council also approved this tax incentive. Of all three local government bodies, only John Cusick voted No.

Under Easton's ordinance, applications for LERTA participation are supposed to be available until the end of this year, when the ordinance expires. But that application appears nowhere on the Easton City website. The LERTA program is explained, and readers are directed to the "Forms and Documents" section for more details. But that has been removed from the webpage. In another portion of the City website containing "Forms and Documents," there are no LERTA application forms.

This lapse certainly lends credence to the argument that these incentives are tax favoritism for certain individuals in the know, to the exclusion of everyone else.

Northampton County's assessment office administers Easton's LERTA program. Information obtained pursuant to a Right-to-Know request for the county records of Easton's LERTA reveals the following:

1. The Easton LERTA district comprises 859 properties of all kinds, from residential to commercial and industrial. While this is quite large, it is only about 1/10th the size of the 8,156 properties for which a LERTA is being sought in Bethlehem.

2. In the five years that Easton's LERTA has been in effect, only 72 properties have enrolled in the program, with 56 in progress and 16 under construction. This is a fairly low number.

3. Only 46 residential properties have taken advantage of the LERTA. Even fewer, just 26, are commercial.

4. Twenty-one of these properties are completely exempt from all real estate taxes because they are in the Keystone Opportunity Zone, another tax incentive program in which virtually all taxes, except federal income taxes, are exempt. This includes the Simon Mill (19 parcels), old City Hall (1 parcel) and Governor Wolf Building (1 parcel).          

Given the lack of participation over five years, it is undeniable that Easton's LERTA program is a bust. On Monday, I'll explain why Bethlehem should reconsider its own LERTA in light of Easton's failure. It could actually make the blight there worse.


Anonymous said...

Zzzzzzz. Boring bureaucratic stories. Your average reader is tuning out due to your recent snore fest reports.

Anonymous said...

You should talk to a knowledgeable guy like Tony Hanna and not take the word of some political extremist. Colonel klink is hardly the expert on these matters.

Anonymous said...

I visit this blog for information I don't get from the local rags. You should continue reading the Express-Times. They have stories more in line for an "average" reader like you. "8 of Musikfest's most expensive foods and whether they're worth it" is more to your liking.

Anonymous said...

8.4%, not 0.084% of the properties are in the program (72 of 859 properties).

Anonymous said...

I live in Easton and one of the biggest problems the city has is a lack of communication to it's citizens about the various programs the city offers.

Anonymous said...

That's far from the biggest of the problems in Easton.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"8.4%, not 0.084% of the properties are in the program (72 of 859 properties)."

Correct. After five years, the total is 8.4%.

Anonymous said...

Mayor Panto needs a non-taxpayer funded group/organization to market the program or have the Chamber and LVEDC promote this. Or Sal should raise private funds to market Lerta, KOZ etc. Easton really is doing somethings very well and alot of good, new entreprenuers have created a positive spirit. Of course, this is downtown-centric. The West Ward is another world. College Hill is anchored forever--which is a very good thing--by Lafayette.

However, the results are disappointing indeed.

Anonymous said...

It is a great program when administrated well. O'Hare has been poisoned once again by one of his mancruses. Since the Pawlowski indictments you can't find a story you can truly hate and go after. It appears you are adrift.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:35, You obviously don't know me well at all. I have always been deeply concerned about tax incentives, from LERTAs to TIFs to KOZ to NIZ. I have actually filed lawsuits over the use of public resources for private purposes. One of the problems with these tax incentives is that we never find out what happens after they are created. This story answers that question. When you speak of hate, it's pretty clear you're an expert. Get some help for the mental illness afflicting you.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:21, I agree that Easton is doing many things well. This LERTA has not been one of them.

Anonymous said...

I love the way you have linked these zones with mental illness in your comment to a commentor. Most need to seek help as the administrators and administrations of the monies are the only ones seeing and reaping any of the positives with no public accountabilty what so ever.
Sure it looks good from the outside like a mental illness but the very core is questionable in various venues of the hidden agendas of favortisms. Not that I know anything about anything but there allways seems to be a masterful spreedsheet claming to have generated positives. When the facts are corrolated together the sickness is stuck in that very same point in time nevver ever truely reciving a repreve.

Patriot2 said...

Agree with Bernie that LERTA for north Bethlehem is not very exciting& likely will be underutilized in residential area. LERTA in residential area should somehow be focused on conversion from multi family back to single family home ownership. Widespread rental in residential districts is not a healthy situation for a neighborhood & north Bethlehem at roughly 60% rental is excessive.

Anonymous said...

If you ain't downtown, you ain't gettin crap!