By Fred Gaffney, President, Columbia Alliance for Economic Growth
Recently, the Columbia County Industrial Development Authority (CCIDA) and Columbia Alliance were seeking approval to bring significant tax incentives to the new Columbia County Business Park in Scott Township, Columbia County. Designation as a Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone (KOEZ) would have been a significant tool in marketing the Park by maximizing the competitiveness of the site in relation to the 3,700+ KOZ/KOEZ acres currently available in surrounding counties. Authorization was required by the County Commissioners, Central Columbia School Board, and Scott Township Board of Supervisors. Last Wednesday, Press Enterprise ran an article predicated by the Supervisors’ vote. There were two issues in the article that need clarification.
The article incorrectly stated that “38 acres in the park are designated for industry. The rest is reserved for commercial business.” No acreage or parcels have been designated for specific use. The entire parcel is zoned light industrial. In Scott Township, this zoning designation also permits commercial uses. In the applications to the State and Federal funding agencies for this project, it was suggested that, due to the situation of the parcel at the interchange, up to 12 acres might be utilized for traditional interchange commercial development. Therefore, my statement was that the park could have no more than 12 acres of traditional highway commercial use. The Press did print a correction on this issue. The goal of the CCIDA and Alliance is to create higher-wage, higher-density job opportunities, not offer competitive advantages against existing local employers.
Additionally, two of the Scott Township Supervisors questioned why the CCIDA and Alliance “waited until now to spring the idea on them considering the project’s been in the works for years.” Authorization for new KOZ/KOEZ applications is by legislative action. PA Senate Bill 1237, which authorized new applications, was only passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor in mid-February of this year. We learned of details of the latest authorization on February 28th. Following that, the CCIDA and Alliance Boards discussed the opportunity and decided to move forward with the request for authorization by the taxing bodies. Our solicitor then had to draft the language of the resolution and PILOT agreement with consistency between the Township, County, and School District. We may have been able to get the information to the Township a meeting or two sooner, but the idea was first discussed with the Supervisors at their April 24th meeting. At the May 8th meeting, we again discussed and attempted to address any of Supervisors’ concerns by the meeting on the 22nd. The article accurately noted that there is a June 1 application deadline. In no way did the CCIDA and Alliance intend to blindside the Supervisors with this request.
The Commissioners voted to authorize KOEZ designation at their meeting on May 3rd by a 2 to 1 vote. The Central Columbia School District approved the measure at their meeting on May 7th by an 8 to 1 vote. The PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) requires approval by all local taxing bodies impacted, so the Business Park cannot be included in SEDA-COG’s central region application with the Township Supervisors’ tie vote of 2-2 last Tuesday.
While disappointed in the final outcome of the KOEZ proposal, the CCIDA and Alliance plan to aggressively market the site with a goal of attracting quality, long-term jobs opportunities once construction is completed in the coming weeks. The Park was developed without an initial prospect of incentive programs, and while there are other options to be discussed, the Boards remain optimistic about the success of this project.