The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board voted to forgive more than $310,000 in school taxes on four blighted city properties. Newcomer Lynn Evans on Wednesday night was the lone dissenting vote. I knew there was a reason why she was the only one I voted for in the school board election.
The Times-Leader has had a series of articles examining the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) program that confirms what many of has suspected, it hasn't worked. I did some math using the TL numbers for Wilkes-Barre. I may be wrong but I come up with $3.7 million in tax breaks since 1999 that has produced a net 640 jobs.
These items caught my attention:
Half of the KOZ properties in the city are owned by the city itself or government-related agencies. Many are dilapidated or abandoned properties that haven't attracted investors, even with their tax-free status. Others such as City Hall, Public Square Park and police headquarters make little sense as targets for developers.
Thirteen property owners who were granted KOZ status, and have enjoyed about $37,000 in relief from municipal property taxes, have reported no new investment or jobs since joining the program, according to applications filed with the state.
Tax reasons may help when a business is opened but is not the only one. The KOZ program is not the answer.
The report in the CV had this: Leighton said his desk is stacked with developers willing to revitalize the former Old River Road Bakery, Radnor Building on South Washington Street, Academy Street Market and First National Bank building on Public Square. Outstanding taxes are the only obstacle, he said.
"Everything in the city is tax exempt and none of the places are filled," Evans said following the meeting. ""Bring us the people who are interested. He said he has a stack of people interested. Where are they?" asked Evans.
A resonable request. If there are companies interested in developing these properties and want a tax break to do it they can at least tell the taxpayers want they have in mind.