Smaller Luzerne County tax break sought for PSP building

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
Albert Albert -

Developer George Albert has scaled back the tax break he is seeking from Luzerne County Council for a new 55,000-square-foot Pennsylvania State Police Northeast Regional Headquarters his investment group is constructing in Hanover Township.

According to a resolution up for discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting, the proposed county portion of the real estate tax break would:

• Run for five years instead of a decade and “in no way” shall continue past 2024.

• Provide 100% forgiveness of county taxes on new construction (not land) for the first two years only. The forgiveness would be 75% in the third year, 50% in the fourth and 25% in the fifth and final year.

• As an “inducement” for the county to provide the break, the developer must agree not to file a tax appeal seeking an assessment reduction during the five years the break is in effect or during the five years after the break’s expiration.

County officials have complained that some past tax break recipients had obtained assessment reductions to reduce their post-break bills, shortchanging taxing bodies on promised revenue.

The break would fall under the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, or LERTA, legislation intended to spark development in areas local governments have deemed distressed.

In this case, the project is planned on a 20-acre portion of a former coal mine site once used for the dumping of debris from the 1972 Agnes Flood, officials have said. The break kicks in when the new construction is completed and assessed and does not apply to the land.

A county council majority would have to approve the break at a future meeting for it to take effect.

The county proposal differs from those already approved by Hanover Township commissioners and the Hanover Area School Board, which both span a decade.

The township version: 100% forgiveness for the first five years followed by these gradually decreasing percentages in the last five years — 90%, 80%, 70%, 60% and 50%.

The school district break: 90% forgiveness for the first four years and 80% in the fifth year, followed by percentages of 50, 40, 30, 20 and 10 in the final year.

Township’s view

Township Manager Sam Guesto said Friday the municipal portion of the break contains the highest percentages of tax forgiveness because the township will receive other revenue from the new development, including permit fees and mercantile tax. The stationing of state police in the township also will boost public safety and help local businesses, he said.

Albert, who could not immediately be reached for comment Friday, has said an investment group he formed and manages — PSP NE, LLC — submitted the winning public proposal to the state to build and then lease the center to state police.

Projected to cost $16 million with the land purchase included, the new two-story center will replace the aging state police Troop P barracks in Wyoming and a regional state police training center in Forty Fort and provide expanded space for both indoor and outdoor gun ranges and a procurement and supply area, Albert has said.

The state opted for a lease instead of handling construction on its own largely to accelerate completion of the new facility, which is “critically mandated” and must be finished by the end of 2020, Albert said.

Albert maintained a break is warranted for the site off Middle Road and Exit 2B of Route 29 because additional remediation and preparation will be necessary due to past mining, including drilling down deeper to install foundational support columns.

The land has been idle and tax-exempt under ownership of the nonprofit Earth Conservancy, he has noted.

Council’s work session follows a 6 p.m. voting meeting Tuesday at the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Developer scales back proposed request to Luzerne County

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.