Lower Nazareth Township’s lone dissenting voice in whether to join a legal battle against Allentown's controversial Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) said he voted "no" to avoid wasting taxpayers' money.
The lawsuit -- meant to stop earned income taxes from being funneled toward the construction of a $158 million hockey arena in downtown Allentown -- was initiated by Hanover Township, Northampton County.
Eric Nagle, chairman of the Lower Nazareth Board of Supervisors, said, “I voted 'no' because in my opinion, as an intervener, we are wasting taxpayer dollars on legal fees. All the vote does is show solidarity.”
Nagle explained that he is “100 percent behind" the lawsuit. He feels, however, that the township could have benefited from the lawsuit -- if it were successful -- without throwing a hat in the ring and spending money.
“If we would have joined the suit originally with Hanover, we could have shared the fees -- that’s one thing,” Nagle said. “But as I mentioned, as an intervener, we are just wasting taxpayer dollars.”
The Board of Supervisors voted last week to join the second-tier of municipalities backing a lawsuit to fight the controversial NIZ and the diversion of earned income taxes, joining Upper Nazareth Township, Lower Saucon Township, Hellertown Borough, Bethlehem Township and Hanover Township.
Several other municipalities, like Salisbury, are still considering whether to join.
Representatives of most of the municipalities and school boards of Lehigh and Northampton counties met on March 15 to discuss Allentown’s NIZ.
But the discussion was short and uneventful because they are waiting for promised answers to questions submitted to Allentown officials. City officials have told leaders of the Tax Collection Committees of both counties that they are still trying to compile the necessary information.
Beginning this year, earned income taxes -- for the state, local municipalities and school districts -- collected from within a 130-acre area in center city Allentown and along the waterfront, are being diverted to pay debt service on bonds that will pay for improvements in the area, instead of being forwarded to the home municipalities of those who work in the district.
“No one knew that this was really happening,” said Timm Tenges, manager of Lower Nazareth. “It was probably one of the best kept secrets out of Harrisburg.”
At this time, the township doesn’t know how hard of a financial hit the legislation could pose. But even if it is a loss of $50,000, then that could affect a number of financial needs in the township, Tenges said.
“It may not be [significant] to everyone, but $50,000 is significant to us,” he said.