LERTA seen as another tool in county blight fight
SUNBURY - Local officials are praising Northumberland County's new "LERTA" tax abatement program, which they believe can help spur economic development while also helping to alleviate blight.
"There is no downside to the ordinance," said Ed Christiano, executive director of Northumberland County Housing
Authority and coordinator of the county's blight task force. "This ordinance gives municipalities another tool to fight blight and improve housing conditions."
Commissioners Stephen Bridy, Richard Shoch and Vinny Clausi adopted the LERTA ordinance Sept. 3. It prevents property owners from being assessed a higher tax rate for 10 years if they purchase and make improvements to dilapidated properties.
Bridy had said in introducing the idea in May the intent is to give business owners incentive to reinvest in their properties. Some have lamented the fact that they spend money to improve their corner of a neighborhood, only to pay more in taxes while other nearby properties continue to deteriorate.
York as a model
Preliminary steps include municipalities approving the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance property tax incentive ordinance at a local level. County solicitor Frank Garrigan said municipalities must designate boundary areas where LERTA will apply. He said local government officials could designate their entire community or certain areas for tax exemptions, but each of the county's 36 municipalities has the option of approving or rejecting the ordinance.
If a municipality agrees to use the LERTA program, its decision must be approved by the county commissioners at a public meeting before it can take effect.
The county used York County's LERTA ordinance as a model. Garrigan said the only major difference is the percentage of real estate taxes that are exempt over a 10-year period. Northumberland County calls for 100 percent exemption for all 10 years, whereas York County's ordinance reduces the percentage by 100 percent the first year before cutting it by 10 percent more each year for the duration.
The exemption from taxes granted under the program will terminate upon the sale or exchange of the property.
Whitney Fetterman, executive director of the Brush Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, believes the ordinance will definitely help.
"I think it will benefit the taxpayers while also providing an attractive appeal to the communities served by the chamber," she said.
Christiano believes the LERTA ordinance is a great idea for county municipalities, especially those in the southern end where blight is more prevalent.
"The ordinance allows people to reinvest into the community while improving the housing stock in neighborhoods," he said. "It coincides with what we are doing with the blight task force."
He said citizens and business owners who acquire and renovate properties deserve a tax break.