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Whitehall Township withdraws from NIZ lawsuit involving the Allentown Hockey Arena

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 09 2012 09:45:12 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 10 2012 11:37:32 AM CDT

Whitehall withdraws NIZ lawsuit

WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. -

Whitehall Township in Lehigh County is withdrawing its legal challenge now that the state law has been changed so township taxes won’t help fund development of a hockey arena in Allentown.

The township commissioners voted 7-0 Monday night to drop participation in the suit against the state.

"With this accomplished, our action in court will be moot," said Linda Snyder, president of the commissioners.

Some commissioners remain angry about how the Neighborhood Improvement Zone financing mechanism happened in the first place, and some remain skeptical about Whitehall Township’s earned income tax money being returned, which township officials said totals more than $21,000.

The state law has been amended so the city no longer will keep earned income taxes of people who live in suburban municipalities and school districts but work in Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone.

Snyder said the township’s action is being taken "with reasonable satisfaction our money will be returned."

"Are guarantees in place that we are going to get every penny of our money back?" asked Commissioner Phillip Ginder.

Township Treasurer Diane Hunsicker said Whitehall Township has not yet received any notice of payment.

The earned income tax money is supposed to be returned within two weeks, said Charles Fonzone, the township’s solicitor, but he added: “That seems a little optimistic.”

Fonzone indicated he will be working to expedite the return of the money. He assured Ginder that Whitehall Township will get all the money back. “If you don’t get it in a reasonable time, there are options,” said the solicitor.

"Right now we are giving them the benefit of the doubt," said Snyder.

Said Ginder: "With taxpayer money, I hate to give anybody the benefit of the doubt."

Fonzone explained to commissioners that the law has been changed by the state legislature so earned income tax of Whitehall Township residents who work in Allentown’s NIZ will not go to development in the NIZ.

Ginder said: “Nobody’s feet are being held to the fire that cooked this ruse up to begin with. Everybody’s basically walked away.”

"I don’t think it should ever have happened in the first place," said Snyder, adding there were no negotiations. “It was just taking the money. In my opinion, it’s a form of stealing.”

"I’m glad they settled this," said Commissioner Paul Geissinger. "However, they’re still stealing money from the state as far as I’m concerned. A huge amount of sales tax is going to the city of Allentown, which should go to the taxpayers of the state of Pennsylvania. They haven’t changed that.

"It just blows my mind to think they are going to take all these millions of dollars in state sale tax to fund this one entity in one city. The state is hurting for money and now we’re giving it to the city of Allentown."

Said Snyder: "I always thought our representatives were to represent all of us."

After the vote, she said: "We wish Allentown and all of its residents a successful endeavor. It was not the cause of the residents that this happened. It was our politicians."

Video: Live arena cams

With one exception, the commissioners voted to purchase a 2012 Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle for the township police department.

"I’m still not convinced we need a Ford Expedition," said Geissinger. "Why did we need an Expedition? Why do we need a gas-guzzling vehicle? Why can’t we get a smaller vehicle that will use less fuel?"

Geissinger looked inside the back of other police SUVs in the parking lot and saw nothing in them. Commissioner Gerard Palagonia said the Expedition will become the supervisor’s vehicle, adding: "I know for a fact they do have a lot of equipment in there."

Asked Geissinger: "The trunk of a car can’t do that?"

Mayor Ed Hozza indicated Whitehall Township's police department needs a vehicle powerful enough to pursue someone going down MacArthur Road at 80 or 90 mph. He said the police have a good mix of cars and SUVs, adding four-wheel-drive vehicles are needed to respond to emergencies during winter storms.

The commissioners voted 6-1 to purchase the Expedition for $35,623.15 from KME/Kovatch Ford of Nequehoning, with Geissinger casting the only no vote.

Hozza said the police department has requested two new vehicles a year for the last four years but, because of budget cuts, the township has only been able to buy one a year.

Also during the meeting, Hozza announced the township plans to link a generator to traffic lights at the intersection of Routes 145 and 329 if storms again knock out electricity. He said the lights at that intersection were knocked out by Saturday evening’s storm. He said when those lights are knocked out, fire police who control traffic at the intersection do not allow vehicles to turn into Egypt or Cementon. He said it's too dangerous at that hilltop intersection.

Commissioners appointed Roger Reichard as an alternate member of the township’s zoning hearing board and Gerald Charvala to the environmental advisory council.