After months of discussion, group meetings and input from residents and businesses, the Hawley Borough Council, with one dissenting voice, shot down th e Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA) on February 13 at its monthly meeting. That is not to say, however, that the board will not entertain a hybrid version of the concept.
The question that remains is whether Hawley is considered a distressed area. Also the raising of taxes for residents, while existing and new businesses might enjoy tax abatements, is a concern shared by the entire council.
Perhaps borough council vice president Mary Sanders was most vociferously against it, when she commented, “I already made my sentiments clear, I’m against it.” She then went on to state that she did not come to her conclusion lightly and was amenable to a “watered down” version of the very complex bill that has vexed the board for months.
Arguments for and against the proposal have been bantered about for the past three board meetings and have become so heated at times that one planning commission member walked out of that group’s January meeting.
“The property owners can re-write their version of it,” Sanders said in a compromising stance, clarifying her ideals by saying it may be in the best interest of the downtown business district for some property owners to employ LERTA without the whole district being obligated to enroll.
She did not flatly dismiss the measure, but she did concede, “It’s a dream perhaps, but it may not work in reality.”
Councilwoman Michele Rojas was not so kind: “It will cause the tax base to crumble,” a view that has been shared by tax collector Barbara Middaugh in past meetings. She said that if the measure were passed, at least 50 residents would find themselves out of their homes because of increased taxes.
Councilwoman Elaine Herzog fell somewhere in between when she said, “I’m in favor of certain aspects of it, but I’m not in favor of going back three years.” She was referring to Grant and Justin Genzlinger’s proposal of LERTA helping with three years of back taxes owed by the Hawley Silk Mill, in which they are investors. The Genzlingers, who have been vocal about the matter in December’s and January’s meetings, were not present at this meeting.
Joseph Faubel presented the one dissenting view, and it was compelling. “If we can’t see a vision for a future and we don’t see any possibility to raise the tax base in the borough, then there is no other possibility but to look into raising taxes for everybody. There are vacant lots, there are buildings that can be torn down and new ones put up. Any development would be significant,” he said.
Diana Bilard spoke about the challenges she and other seniors could face with higher taxes. She said, “I’m on a fixed income. I know people say you raise a little here and a little there, but there’s only so much you can raise. Should everybody be impacted?” she asked. She even questioned the veracity of whether Hawley has structures that are “derelict or abandoned”—two of the criteria of LERTA.
Council president Don Kyzer said that this issue has occupied the minds and times of the council for some time and, “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is satisfy the community.”