AOAA chief urges CT board to 'wait and see' on tax
COAL TOWNSHIP - A majority of township commissioners continue to push for a tax on the users of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area but have nixed a proposed admissions tax.
Solicitor Vincent Rovito said that as a first class township, Coal Township can't enact an "admissions tax."
A 5 percent tax is still being considered, but it's now being explored if it could be assessed under the township's existing amusement tax ordinance.
Chairman Craig Fetterman and commissioners Paul Leshinskie and George Zalar voted to direct Rovito to draft a proposed amendment to the amusement tax ordinance. Commissioners Gene Welsh and Bernie Rumberger were opposed.
The property tax and the occupational tax were each hiked as the start of 2014. Leshinskie said, citing that among the reasons he favors a tax on the AOAA. He believes it would ease the fiscal burden of township residents related to potential costs for emergency services at the outdoor adventure area.
"Is it really fair for all the residents?" he said of increasing their taxes but not enacting a tax on the AOAA.
Zalar said some emergency vehicles cost more than $300,000. Driving them into the coal lands puts a strain on the equipment and it also takes away from time that could potentially be used to serve township residents, he said.
Jim Backes, chairman of the AOAA Authority, sought to sway commissioners after the vote. He asked for time to get the park up and running.
After this season and next season, about a year and a half, the authority will establish a fiscal history on which to base estimated revenues and expenses, including potential donations to Coal Township and other municipal entities. There's also the potential for businesses to open in the township as a result of the AOAA, Backes said, creating tax revenue that would exceed what the commissioners have proposed.
A fundraising ride will be hosted by the Anthracite Trail Riders riding club April 26, with proceeds split evenly among Coal Township, Shamokin and Zerbe Township. Backes said there's potential for additional fundraisers this year and in the coming years.
If the commissioners aren't satisfied after the 2015 season with the AOAA's financial impact, Backes said they should institute a tax. But he doesn't understand the rush to institute a tax in the park's first year. The township's emergency services have responded to accidents in the coal lands for many decades and will continue to do so, he said.
"Give us a chance. If not, tax us," Backes said.
Reading Anthracite had sold permits to off-roaders to ride on its privately owned land for several years. Coal Township considered taxing the company before compromise was reached. Reading Anthracite will now donate $5,000 annually over five years. The first donation was made in September.
Backes argued that since Reading Anthracite was allowed an estimated six years to sell permits before a deal was struck, the AOAA should also be afforded the year-and-a-half the authority seeks.
"When you met with them, they knew what they could afford. I'm not at that point," he said. "If you tax it too much. you'll inhibit its growth."
Fetterman said the township commissioners have lent their full support to the AOAA and even assisted in administrating a grant for its access road. He also defended the commissioners' deal with Reading Anthracite.
"When you look out that window, there's a brand new police vehicle as a result," Fetterman said.
The park opens for business to the public May 17. Among the costs in the fee schedule is a $70 yearly pass for riders of all-terrain vehicles. Had the authority known a 5 percent tax was being considered, it could have adjusted the rates - $73.50 in the case for ATVs - before the schedule was set, Backes said.
"Amen. We should have done this six months ago," Fetterman said in response.