Borough moves to extend tax break for downtown revitalization

May 24, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Borough Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend a real estate tax abatement program aimed at revitalizing the downtown.

The five-year extension of the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance program, or LERTA, still must be approved by the Chambersburg Area School District and Franklin County, according to Borough Manager Eric Oyer.

The Board of County Commissioners will have a public hearing on the extension June 6, and a hearing before the School Board is set for June 14.

The zone covers an area several blocks wide running along U.S. 11, along with some commercial and industrial areas north and south of the downtown. It was first established July 1, 1997, and offered commercial and residential property owners a 100 percent abatement for three years on any increase in real estate taxes resulting from improvements to a property, according to Oyer.


In almost three years, however, only three commercial properties enrolled in the program, making $2.3 million in improvements, Oyer said in a previous meeting on the issue.

The extension has to be approved by all the taxing bodies by July 1 and would run to July 1, 2005. During that time, property owners would be required to make any improvements or new construction within two years of receiving a building permit, according to the proposal.

The real estate taxes levied by the county, borough and school district now total 183.75 mills. A mill represents $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value. If improvements to a property added $1,000 to its assessed value, the property owner would save $183.75 each year of the abatement.

The council also continued discussions on whether to require systematic inspections of rental housing. Councilman Robert Wareham offered an alternative calling for inspections based on resident or tenant complaints, observation by borough employees or officials and inspection whenever a rented home or apartment is vacant.

Wareham's proposal would require landlords to register tenants with the borough and report each time a unit is vacant. There would be no fees for inspections, but landlords would be fined $100 a day for failing to report a vacancy or register a tenant.

The council is split over the issue. Council members Carl Helman, Sharon Bigler and Scott Thomas want systematic inspections, but several of the other seven members expressed reservations about requiring inspections every three years.

Helman last week presented a proposal giving landlords a three-year grace period to correct deficiencies before systematic inspections begin. It offered grants and low-interest loans as incentives to landlords who voluntarily have properties inspected during the grace period.

Helman called Wareham's proposal a "feel-good alternative" that would not solve the problem of substandard rental housing.

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