RUSSELL, Pa. – Current Warren County School District board members and Warren County Commissioners are trying to finalize a conversation they started pre-COVID before their terms come to an end this year.
Commissioner Ben Kafferlin, whose term will expire at the end of 2023, addressed the school board, which is set to have six new members seated in December, prior to its Sept. 25 committee meetings regarding the benefits for the district to join the Warren County Landbank and Local Economic Revitalization and Tax Assistance (LERTA) programs.
“I was the chairman of the board of Warren County Commissioners and during my tenure as chair, we passed a couple of ordinances, one in late 2018, early 2019, and then one a couple of years ago, that to be really effective need to be countered by the school district,” Kafferlin said. “And so, in my last 90 days in office, I thought I would take one more crack at visiting you and asking if either of them or both of them would be of interest to the board.”
A landbank is a government or non-profit entity established to temporarily manage and dispose of vacant property for the purpose of stabilizing neighborhoods and encouraging re-use or redevelopment.
A LERTA is meant to spur economic development by freezing taxes on property improvements for a period of 10 years. A LERTA can be applied to either commercial or residential property in Warren County.
“So essentially what that (LERTA) would do is spur or create conditions I suppose for economic development,” Kafferlin said. “Whereby taxes are frozen on a particular property despite improvements that are made to it. So essentially it will be assessed, but the increase will not go into effect for 10 years.”
When the commissioners approached the district in 2019 regarding the LERTA, the school board expressed concerns about entering into that agreement because the county hadn’t engaged in a county-wide reassessment since 1989.
That reassessment is now underway, with the county anticipating receiving the data from that reassessment in 2024.
“From what I recall the discussion about why the school district was reluctant to entertain the LERTA, we didn’t want to pass on greater inequity to homeowners,” Finance Committee chair Arthur Stewart said. “Because homeowners were already suffering because of the lack of reassessment. And so your fortitude in going forward with reassessment absolutely makes this the right time to have this discussion.”
Board members agreed that the district would require some language be added to any agreement to prevent entities from “double-dipping” or being able to use both the landbank and the LERTA.
“We got to have some clarity that somebody can’t get something into the landbank, run a ton of money into it, and then try to get a 10-year tax-free item out of it,” board member Joe Colosimo said.
Another condition Colosimo suggested was ensuring the district had a seat on the landbank committee.
“I don’t care who or what they have to do or who does it or if it’s a board member or admin person. I think we’d be an absentee landlord without having somebody on there,” Colosimo said.
The Finance Committee, through Stewart, requested that WCSD Solicitor Chris Byham craft a pair of draft ordinances, one for the landbank and one for the LERTA, to be presented to the full board at the Oct. 9 meeting.
As of 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, both the LERTA and landbank were listed as agenda items, however, the resolutions were not attached.