Jewelcor president files to intercede in tiff over TIF, looking for reparations for road

By Patrick Kernan - [email protected]
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WILKES-BARRE — The president of a Wilkes-Barre business has filed to intervene in the city’s suit against Luzerne County and other entities over nearly $3 million in leftover funds from a tax diversion program.

Meanwhile, a Luzerne County judge has ordered the funds be held for the time being.

Earlier this month, Wilkes-Barre sued the county and its redevelopment authority, Wilkes-Barre Township and the Wilkes-Barre Area School District.

According to city attorneys William Vinsko and Timothy Henry, the suit’s defendants have been engaged in a Tax Incremental Financing plan, or TIF, since 1998. Proceeds from the TIF were to be used to fund improvements to Highland Park Boulevard and Mundy and Coal streets.

The city is claiming the TIF isn’t completed until Coal Street is extended to meet Pennsylvania Avenue, arguing this was part of an agreement with TIF members. But the defendants say the project has been completed. They want to divide up the millions leftover among the county, school district and township.

Seymour and Evelyn Holtzman, of Palm Beach, Fla., filed a petition to intervene in the suit, also attaching a complaint. Filed through their attorney, Richard L. Huffsmith, the complaint names all of the original parties as defendants, but also accuses the city itself of breach of contract.

Holtzman, president of Jewelcor Inc., says he and his wife ceded a portion of their property to the city to be used as part of the Coal Street extension.

The road was partially extended, serving as an entrance to the Turkey Hill on Wilkes-Barre Boulevard. The Holtzmans’ filing suggests they had the road constructed to PennDOT standards for the theoretical extension.

Echoing the city’s claims, the Holtzmans say the defendants “specifically acknowledged” the Coal Street extension would be a direct result of the TIF — something critics have routinely denied.

The Holtzmans say they footed the $525,000 bill for this portion of the extension, with the understanding it would be reimbursed by TIF proceeds.

Now, in their request to be added to the city’s suit, the Holtzmans are saying they will “sustain substantial damages” if the TIF were to be terminated and the funds redistributed.

Additionally, they’re saying if the TIF were to be terminated, ownership of the part of Coal Street leading to Turkey Hill should be reverted back to the Holtzmans from the city.

The Holtzmans are accusing all parties of having breached the contract by failing to complete the extension. They are asking for reimbursement of the funds they put into the project.

A hearing on the city’s initial injunction request was set for Wednesday, but it has since been continued to May 1 by county Judge Thomas F. Burke Jr.

At the hearing, Burke will hear arguments regarding the Holtzmans’ request to intervene in the suit.

Burke’s order also instructs the county redevelopment authority to hold the funds in question — at least until Tuesday’s hearing.

Other filings from defendants this week indicate continuing troubles between the parties.

A filing from Bruce J. Phillips, solicitor for Wilkes-Barre Township, balks at the city’s claim the parties had no right to end the TIF.

Instead, Phillips vehemently claims the city has “no contractual relationship” with the other parties, claiming this leaves them off the hook for providing any funding to the city for the Coal Street extension.

Critics of the suits abound, with the redevelopment authority’s chairwoman Carol Keup and solicitor Garry Taroli previously saying the authority is under no obligation to fulfill the city’s promises to the Holtzmans.

County manager C. David Pedri has said the city’s suit is “meritless.”

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https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_web1_seymourholtzman-1-1.jpgHoltzman

By Patrick Kernan

[email protected]

Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan

Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan