Editor's Note: Emmaus Patch editor Jennifer Marangos contributed to this report.
Representatives of most of the municipalities and school boards of Lehigh and Northampton counties met last week for the second time in the past month to discuss Allentown’s new Neighborhood Improvement Zone and its impact on their earned income tax collections.
But the discussion was short and uneventful because they are waiting for promised answers to questions submitted to Allentown officials last month. City officials have told leaders of the Tax Collection Committees of both counties that they are still trying to compile the necessary information.
Upper Milford Township Manager Dan DeLong, who attended the meeting, reported to the Upper Milford Township Board of Supervisors at last week's supervisors' meeting that "there were no answers available. They are still trying to figure out the individual communities' loss of revenue."
Two municipalities have decided not to wait for more information. First, the board of supervisors of Hanover Township, Northampton County, decided to file a lawsuit to stop a diversion of earned income taxes. Last night, the Bethlehem Township commissioners voted to join the lawsuit, according to a report by Lehigh Valley Live.
Beginning this year, earned income taxes – for the state, local municipalities and school districts – collected from within a 130-acre area in center city Allentown and along the waterfront, are being diverted to pay debt service on bonds that will pay for improvements in the area, instead of being forwarded to the home municipalities of those that work in the district.
The most high profile of these improvements, right now, is a planned $158 million hockey arena at Seventh and Linden streets downtown. Demolition and excavation at the site is already under way.
DeLong told the Upper Milford Supervisors that about the only thing he learned at the Tax Collection Committee meeting was that the rumors that the tax money in question would be returned to the townships and municipalities in 9 to 12 months were just that -- rumors.
"The money will be coming back in January 2014 at the earliest," DeLong said, "and it's highly suspicious that any money will come back at all."
The discussion among all the taxing bodies is expected to continue next month, though instead of meeting jointly – as they did last week and in February – the county Tax Collection Committees will meet separately.
The Northampton County committee is scheduled to meet on April 12 in Bethlehem Township. The Lehigh County committee is scheduled to meet April 19 at the Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit.