Thursday, January 06, 2005

Statement to County Council at the public hearing on a TIF for Deer Creek

I live in the city and county. I have a home on the internet too.

I'm against the TIF. I'm sure you'll hear a number of good reasons why from some of the others.

But tonight, on a rainy January evening, it would be great if we had this meeting put on governement telivsion. It would be great to have the speakers recorded and put on the internet. I'd love to stay at home and watch what the others say. Or, be out at swim practice with my kids or even going to a Pitt basketball game. The county could do more to open up the meetings for access of information at other times.

FYI: County council didn't support the idea of putting together a deal to save the city's cable tv department in December 2004. The county council meetings are not telivised. They should be. The members on council knew of the point I made.

FYI 2: I worked a bit of guesswork on the line-up for the speakers. I called to get my slot in the middle of the agenda as I knew of the swim practice time crunch. But, when I rushed to Grant Street, the doors to the building were locked. Then after opening, the scanner equipment was shut down. I rused to the meeting and slipped to the podium just two speakers out of order. Thanks John M and Wayne F (chair) for that extra lattitude.

I'm against the TIF as I want to see the Free Market work. And, TIFs are proven to be failures locally. Lord & Taylor and Lazarus are closed.

As a candidate for PA Senate, I'll work to go to Harrisburg and try to amend the TIF laws to prevent such deals from happening. Perhaps we can rewrite state law or just make it more clear as to what should occur.

FYI 3: This TIF isn't legal under state law. The law was made to allow TIFs for the sake of urban areas and blight. This proposed deal isn't urban and it isn't blighted in the slightest. Other speakers at the hearing drove home those points much better than myself.

If we don't change the state law, perhaps it makes good sense to issue a 10-year moratorium on all TIFs in Western Pennsylvania.

When I ran for Mayor of Pittsburgh in 2001, one of my big points that was very well received was the call for the elimination of all TIFs. I expect you'll be hearing more and more of these concepts. The people like that approach.

FYI 4: The speakers are given five minutes in County Council. I took less than two minutes.

FYI 5: I was suprised to see the number of people in the audience who were in favor of the TIF. They had signs. Someone mentioned to me that they were Walmart shoppers. After me the Texas developer of the project spoke. He was vilainized by some others.

FYI 6: Mr. Liller spoke on behalf of the poor people of the region who are getting screwed by this deal. (His words) Mr. L is always colorful. He talked about the lack of any black faces in the entire room, the union busting, the poor. Then a guy in favor of the TIF became a little heckler while Mr. L had the microphone at the podium. Bad idea. Rude too. "Stay on the topic," was shouted. Mr. L turned and said, "I am on the topic." He rattled off the three or four points he made -- all very reasonable to me in terms of the target of the discussion. Then he called anyone else to prove him wrong. Silence.

FYI 7: One other gentleman on my side, really I'm on his side, spoke well of the typical frustrations. The public hearing wasn't called with a public announcement. The public hearing was rushed onto the agenda without the plan being available. Some sections of the plan are still missing as the public hearing unfolded. The ones in power used a lot of the tricks in the book. Council members were even in and out of the meeting, talking in the hallway, working angles and advising supporters throughout.


Anonymous said...

Public Hearing, Jan 5, 2005, 6 pm, purpose:

To allow for a presentation of the existing Deer Creek Corssing project in Harmar Township, Allgeheny County, wiht proposed amendments by the Redevelopment Authorty of Allegheny County and to allow opportunity for comments by the other taxing bodies and the proposed developer that will be participating in the tax increment financing plan.

In addition, the hearing will allow opportunity for comments by the general public on the concept of tax increment financing, on the proposed amendment of the tax increment district and its boundaries, and on the proposed amendment to the project plan for the district.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Registered speakers. I'm not sure who was FOR and who was AGAINST. Generally that designation is listed. Here they just put 'citizen.'

That's wrong.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Don Muse, Supervisor, Harmar Township
Scott Redman, Allegheny Valley School Dist. Board
Doug Stewart, citizen
Heather Sage, Penn Future (AGAINST)
Paul Brown, Citizen
Court Gould, Sustainable Pittsburgh (AGAINST, I imagine)
Dr. Charles J. Territo, Superintendent, Allegheny Valley School Dist.
Bob Mullen, citizen
Mark Ratuerkus, citizen (AGAINST)
Susan Parker, citizen
Denise Korzon, citizen
Donald L. Gibbon, Ph.D., The Woodmont Company (developer from Texas I think)
Harry Liller, citizen (AGAINST)
James Georgalas, citizen
David Graham, citizen
Jean Zang, citizen
Sharon Pillar, PIIN (perhaps against)
Ken Lloyd, citizen
Arlene Mercurio, citizen
Larry Pollick, citizen
Rob Stephany, citizen
Myron, Arnowit, Clean Water Again (AGAINST)
Dr. Ronald Wasilak, Retired Superint. AVSD
Peter Wray, Sierra Club (AGAINST)
Ed Faybik, Springdale Council Member
Donna Ramsey, citizen
Eugine Mautino, citizen
Gardener Succop, citizen
Dr. Fetchko, citizen
Stan Sattinger, citizen
Christopher Seymour, Sierra Club (AGAINST)
Wayne Mundekis, AVSD board
Francis P. Sparrow, Jr. Tri County Trout Club
Suzanne Broughton, Pres, League of Women's Voters

Mark Rauterkus said...

Serious typo:

Donald L. Gibbon, Ph.D., citizen (I think he was well spoken and AGAINST the TIF on many reasons)

Stephen Coslick = The woodmont Comany


Anonymous said...

No-Tax-and-Still-Spend for Mall Fans


By the end of the last week’s Allegheny County Council meeting, real-estate developer Stephen Coslik of Fort Worth, Texas, calmly waited to thank certain councilors for their votes, tapping a Palm Pilot and discretely whispering with his attorney.

An hour earlier, 60-year-old secretary Evalyn Bodick had fought on his behalf for a big-box mall called Deer Creek Crossing in Harmar Township near the intersection of Route 28 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It will sit atop what’s now 245 acres of woodland traversed by Deer Creek, one of the least polluted fishing areas in the county.

Facing the council on Feb. 1, Bodick, who lives in Springdale Township next to Harmar, gave her impassioned appeal: “I’m a 39-year resident of the Allegheny Valley. This will bring jobs to young people. The seniors, they are losing their homes because of high taxes. The taxes that are incurred by this will allow us to keep our school taxes down.”

Bodick’s voice rose. “I love our valley!” she pleaded, sounding besieged. Many other speakers that night had urged the county council to stay out of the Deer Creek Crossing plan. The public-private deal has generated five years of legal controversy, largely due to environmentalists’ resistance. “Don’t let these people who don’t even live in the Allegheny Valley keep us as the forgotten valley!” Bodick said. Half the room erupted in cheers, shaking pro-mall placards like Terrible Towels.

Parts of Bodick’s valley have been abandoned -- the downtowns of Springdale, Cheswick, New Kensington and Arnold. But Coslik has no plan to develop there.

County council’s 12-2 vote in favor of the tax breaks might finally complete Coslik’s five-year campaign for $22.5 million in public loans. The money will pay for road improvements necessary for the mall. The project -- with a total cost of about $124 million -- will also flatten a hillside, run Deer Creek through a culvert and “relocate” six acres of wetlands.

The public money comes via tax-increment financing. In a TIF, the county, the municipality and the school district borrow money on behalf of a developer, to be paid back using some of the new property taxes -- in this case, 80 percent.

School-board members and township supervisors were happy to get the 20 percent left over. They would’ve taken nothing, but Coslik offered 20 percent of the tax after the environmental group PennFuture delayed the project with lawsuits.

The older towns of the Allegheny Valley -- like many parts of the county -- desperately need some redevelopment. But the county’s own business analysis says some businesses will close as a result of Deer Creek. While the mall will likely generate $147 million in new spending from out-of-county visitors and from locals proffering more plastic, another $192 million spent at Deer Creek will probably be diverted from local stores. One of the other new TIF-funded malls, Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer Township, is less than five miles away. Since Deer Creek will also compete with Pittsburgh’s Waterworks Mall, the city’s tax collections could take a hit, too.

Because the economic analysis wasn’t released until after the public hearing, PennFuture says they haven’t ruled out another lawsuit.

One mall critic was architect Christine Brill of Lawrenceville. “I have a question,” she began, “and I really don’t think it’s a rhetorical one. What’s so special about this development? What happens if every single municipality and township wants a TIF for their own retail development?”

Most councilors voted with Eileen Watt, in whose district the mall will be built, who claimed that council would risk its reputation by defeating the TIF. Only Democrat Rich Fitzgerald of Squirrel Hill and at-large Republican Dave Fawcett voted no. “I don’t think we’re leveling the playing field; we’re leveling a hillside,” Fawcett said.

That’s apparently fine with some valley residents, like the guy who congratulated Coslik when it was all over. “Start the bulldozers!” he said.