WILKES-BARRE — After a lengthy hearing Wednesday, a Luzerne County judge ruled Wilkes-Barre does not have the evidence to support a preliminary injunction blocking redistribution of money from a municipal project fund.
The hearing marks the latest step in the city’s suit against the county and its redevelopment authority, Wilkes-Barre Township and the Wilkes-Barre Area School District over a Tax Incremental Financing plan, or TIF.
William Vinsko, attorney for the city, argued part of the plan for the TIF, which was started in 1998, was to extend Coal Street to meet with Pennsylvania Boulevard at the intersection with Union Street in the downtown area. Vinsko said since that work has not been completed, the county can’t redistribute roughly $3 million to the defendants.
Attorneys for the defendants, though, argued the city was never involved with the plan in any legal way.
For now, Luzerne County Judge Thomas F. Burke Jr. is saying the city’s arguments don’t hold enough water to stop the redistribution of leftover TIF money.
Burke said the city failed to meet the burden of proof in two of the major ways it needed to show a preliminary injunction was necessary.
First, Burke said none of the evidence offered Wednesday suggests the city would be irreparably harmed if the funds were distributed. He said the city would be adequately compensated should it eventually win the lawsuit.
In addition, Burke said the city did not prove the likelihood of its success in the suit based on the merits of its arguments. Burke said the city’s apparent attempts to join on with the TIF were not signed off on by all the original members of the TIF. Therefore, any agreements do not have a legal validity, Burke said.
Much of the day’s arguments hinged on how much it would actually cost to complete the Coal Street extension. Vinsko argued the project would cost between $12 million and $15 million, with the city having to pay approximately $3 million — roughly the amount leftover in the TIF — with the state matching the rest.
Meanwhile, county Manager C. David Pedri, a witness for the defense, said the Lackawanna and Luzerne County Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, lists the city’s portion of the first phase of the project at only $80,000.
But Pedri said, even if the city needed the full $3 million, the money doesn’t need to come from the TIF.
“If you’re talking about $3 million, you can do it,” he testified. “There are ways to find that money if you really wanted to.”
Early in the hearing, Burke also ruled on another petition pending in the case, one from Seymour Holtzman, president of Jewelcor Inc., along with wife Evelyn.
The Holtzmans filed to intervene in the suit, claiming they ceded land to the city for the purpose of the Coal Street extension and are entitled to compensation.
Burke, though, said the Holtzmans did not adequately prove their status as a third party, and denied their petition.
The Holtzmans’ attorney, Richard L. Huffsmith, said during his arguments that the Holtzmans planned on filing a separate suit if their petition was denied.
Due to the late hour at the end of the hearing — with proceedings wrapping up nearly at 5 p.m. — Burke said he would file a full order first thing Thursday morning.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan