The Local Economic Rehabilitation Assistance Act was passed on Thursday in hopes to stimulate growth. However, it's just one piece of the revitalization puzzle, according to former Councilman Chris Swenda.

PHOENIXVILLE - The Phoenixville Area School Board on Thursday passed the Commercial portion of the Local Economic Rehabilitation Assistance Act (LERTA), which supporters hope will stimulate growth.

A portion of property taxes will be forgiven for new development and additions to existing property for commercial owners. Business owners in much of the downtown will be forgiven taxes on a sliding scale for five years.

The plan is expected to attract new businesses and allow existing businesses to expand.

A residential LERTA also recently passed unanimously through borough council, but state law requires advertisement and a hearing before the school board votes on the project. The commercial LERTA will go into effect on July 1 at the start of the school district's fiscal year.

Dozens of people contributed to the successful passage of the Commercial LERTA, while some officials were opposed to the act. What follows are the opinions of some of those who were closest to the process:

Barbara Cohen, director of the Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce, thanked the school board's Bill Mea, Borough Manager Don Edwards, former Borough Manager Bill Sheridan, and former Main Street Manager Mariann Horan for what she said was a Phoenixville Chamber initiative.

"They helped us get to a place where all of council was happy with it," said Cohen.

Cohen said that Mea was instrumental in the adoption, owing to his research of state ordinances and other municipalities to "find out what we could and could not do."

* Former Councilman Chris Swenda worked on the project for a little over two years.

"I hope it will stimulate some commercial growth within the borough, but not all by itself," said Swenda. "It's a tool to use with other factors and just one small piece of the puzzle of revitalization."

Mayor Scoda was the lone dissenter to the act during several recent borough council meetings.

"The problem is that those tax dollars that we won't get paid will have to be made up by those citizens who do pay taxes," said Scoda. "Chester County is the fastest growing county in the state of Pennsylvania and in the last four years our real estate taxes have gone up at least 35 percent."

Scoda prefers things the way they now stand without trying to attract new businesses.

"Will this growth lead to other expenses including streets department, police and fire department costs?" said Scoda. "We have to build a new justice center in West Chester and prison because we have more people, more crime and need more judges."

* School board member Bill Mea is a strong supporter of both commercial and residential LERTA.

"The property taxpayers of Phoenixville, East Pikeland and Schuylkill benefit because the commercial properties increase the tax base over which school district costs are allocated," said Mea. "Commercial properties greatly benefit school districts because the tax base is increased without adding more students, and thus more costs, to the school district."

Mea considered the large influx of new borough residents as hundreds of new homes are on the drawing board or already under construction.

"In Phoenixville, where the average assessed property value is $116,000, the school district needs almost five homes to support the costs of sending one student to school. With the residential construction currently taking place on Phoenixville's North Side, increased commercial construction will be needed to help fund the additional students that will come from the new homes."

* Chair of the Planning Commission and Councilman John Messina supported the act. "It's another vehicle to attract new business and a way for shop owners to update their facilities and get a tax break for a five year time period," said Messina. "This is the second time we've ha d LERTA (the previous LERTA expired in 1997) and nobody took advantage the first time. All the borough can do is present ways to promote revitalization, but it's up to the people to take advantage."

* Councilman Ken Buckwalter voted for both the residential and commercial LERTA.

"Council could be a catalyst that encourages someone to renovate their property and not have the full tax impact hit them all at once."

* School board member Debbie Dawson was the sole school board member to vote against the act at Thursday's meeting because she feels it would likely benefit builder Phoenix Property Group (PPG), which is developing the former downtown steel site at the expense of other taxpayers, she said.

"We can't afford to keep forgiving taxes, we're not in a position to do that," said Dawson. "We forgave the taxes for the steel site once."

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