The East Penn School Board Monday night made a commitment to exploring a special funding option for the Costco project in Lower Macungie Township commonly known as a TIF by appointing two members and an alternate to be a part of a TIF committee.
The board appointed Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger and school board member Ken Bacher to the TIF committee, and Francee Fuller to serve as an alternate.
A TIF, which stands for Tax Increment Financing, is an economic tool that provides money for development of a site that requires a large amount of money to pay upfront costs. The Costco project, also known as the Hamilton Crossings Development, faces pricey mine wash remediation and stormwater issues that must be addressed before it can move forward, according to developers.
School board member Julian Stolz voted against appointing any East Penn representatives to the TIF committee, stating that it is a case of “government interfering with business and the free market.”
Despite Stolz’s concerns, school board Chairman Charles Ballard emphasized that the committee will only explore the possibility of a permanent tax increment financing district for the proposed Hamilton Crossings shopping complex on Hamilton Boulevard.
Ultimately, Ballard said, East Penn’s representatives to the committee will “investigate whether or not it makes sense for East Penn to consider the TIF.”
The Goldenberg Group of Montgomery County has proposed a $100 million-plus shopping complex, to include Costco and Target. However, developer Jeremy Fogel of The Goldenberg Group has said that mine wash remediation and stormwater issues must be addressed before the complex can be completed.
When a TIF exists, according to state law, the taxing bodies – counties, municipalities and school districts – use a portion of tax revenue generated by the development for costs associated with building the project.
The TIF committee will be chaired by someone from the Lehigh County Industrial Development Authority, Ballard said. The committee must comprise representatives from the three political entities: Lehigh County, Lower Macungie Township and East Penn School Board.
The Lower Macungie Board of Commissioners appointed two representatives to the TIF committee in September: Township Manager Bruce Fosselman and Commissioner James Lanscek.
Fogel previously made a presentation to the school board. The Goldenberg Group is in partnership with Staten Island developer Tim Harrison on the Hamilton Crossings project.
The school board subsequently considered the situation and appointed its committee representatives Monday.
Stolz questioned whether the board was obligated to appoint anyone to the TIF committee. Board solicitor Marc Fisher said that decision was up to the board.
“This is picking market losers and winners, and giving preference to a business entity,” Stolz said. “We should not interfere with the free market.”
Bacher countered that the board is only putting representatives on the TIF committee to get the facts. “The time to debate the merits of the TIF will be when the details are known,” Bacher said.
School board member Alan Earnshaw agreed, adding, “If we have no voice, we have no choice” in the way the TIF develops.
The board voted 8-1 to appoint its representatives to the TIF committee, with Stolz casting the lone dissenting vote.