COAL TOWNSHIP - The chairman of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) Authority believes Coal Township commissioners are "getting ahead of themselves" by advertising a proposed ordinance that could add a 5-percent admissions tax to recreation parks.

Jim Backes said he was surprised by the commissioners' decision to consider imposing the tax since the authority has worked well with state, county and local officials in developing the park that is scheduled to open May 17.

Backes said he and fellow AOAA member Pat Mack attended the commissioners' workshop last month in which the tax issue was discussed, but he didn't anticipate the advertisement of an ordinance until at least the park opens.

"We've had a great rapport with the state and county government," Backes said. "The state has committed more than $3 million in grant funding toward the park and we've previously talked with the township commissioners about having a fund-raising event April 26 with the Anthracite Trail Riders, a local ATV club. I just think we can accomplish more if we all work together."

Backes said an admissions tax would not be factored into the fees the AOAA will charge riders for using the park. He believes payments or donations the AOAA plans to make to Coal Township from events held

at the park would be greater than a 5-percent admissions tax.

"I believe Commissioners Fetterman (Craig) and Zalar (George) are really missing the point on what this (AOAA) can do for the area," Backes said.

At their meeting Thursday night, the township commissioners voted 3-1 to advertise the ordinance, which has yet to be drawn up, for the admissions tax. The tax would apply to all activities allowable under the state's Local Tax Enabling Act that include, but are not limited to, campgrounds and outdoor recreation parks.

Fetterman made clear that the vote was merely to advertise and encourage public input.

Zalar said the purpose of the tax is to reimburse the township for any wear and tear on equipment, such as fire and rescue vehicles, that might be needed in the operation of outdoor recreation areas of Coal Township.

Commissioner Gene Welsh, who opposes the plan, said he doesn't think it's fair to tax a public entity such as the authority that runs the AOAA for Northumberland County.

Fetterman, Zalar and Paul Leshinskie voted to advertise the ordinance while Welsh cast the lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Bernie Rumberger was absent.

Backes pointed out that Reading Anthracite has been making a payment to the township for years in lieu of taxes. ATV riders are prevalent on property owned by Reading Anthracite.

"We should be focusing on making the area better for everyone by attracting more people and businesses to the area, which I know this park will bring," Backes said. "I'm sure we can achieve more by working with each other rather than against each other."

Backes said the AOAA is not looking for free police, fire and medical services, but would like to be given an opportunity to see what the volume of calls will be after the park opens. "The more services we use, the more money we would pay Coal Township," he said.

Backes said the authority allows Coal Township police to use their side-by-side all-terrain vehicle for free to gain access to the park property to conduct underage drinking patrols. He said, "This is just one example how the AOAA helps the community and works with various groups, including police, fire and emergency services."

The chairman said the AOAA has already attracted businesses to the area, pointing out that Jones Enterprises in Burnside has constructed a large shed near the park entrance for riders to store their vehicles and other equipment.

He also said local Realtor Joseph Bressi is in the process of building a campground in West Cameron Township primarily for visitors to the AOAA. Since Bressi's campground isn't in Coal Township, the proposed admission tax would not affect his property.

"The AOAA is a great opportunity for Coal Township and the entire area to attract new businesses while providing a first-class recreation area and improving the quality of life for local residents," he said.

Backes said the AOAA will host litter cleanups from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 29, and Saturday, April 12, at its trail head. He said One Smart Cookie will provide lunch for volunteers who will be able to ride the trail from 1 to 4 p.m.