Wright school could be placed in KOZ

Owned by the Altoona Area School District, the former Wright Elementary school building does not generate tax revenue for the district’s coffers. And to date, there have been offers for Wright but only from tax-exempt entities, board member Tim Lucas said.

To draw taxpaying businesses to the building, the board is considering providing an incentive – seven to 10 years of allowing the business that moves to the former school to be exempt from property taxes.

Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. President and CEO Marty Marasco and Executive Vice President Pat Miller on Sept. 9 requested the board sign a proposal to designate the former Wright Elementary building as Keystone Opportunity Zone.

Board President Ryan Beers said the proposal could come to a vote during the board’s October meeting.

The state’s Keystone Opportunity Zone program provides businesses the opportunity to develop on land with greatly reduced state and local taxes.

If the board chooses to designate the building as a KOZ and other taxing bodies agree, the district would still collect wage tax revenue from a business that decides to build on the property.

The district has had a history of cooperating with ABCD by establishing Keystone Opportunity Zones in the district.

A majority of zones are for businesses, but some are residential.

Marasco said it was Assistant Superintendent Mary Lou Ray’s suggestion to include the former Wright building in the program.

“With no taxes being generated on the property now, who knows, if you can incentivize it, then you can get a taxpayer in the building knowing there would be an abatement on taxes, which would help them afford upgrades to the facility,” he said.

Businesses that have used the KOZ program and are going on Hollidaysburg Area School District tax rolls for the first time Jan. 1 are the three businesses in the DeGol Industrial Center and the Sheetz Distribution Center in Walter Business Park.

It’s not yet certain how much property tax revenue those businesses will produce until the buildings are assessed.

Miller said people assume Sheetz would have built in Blair County regardless of the incentive offered by the KOZ zone because the Sheetz family is from Blair County. However, Miller said Blair County was in stiff competition with West Virginia, where Sheetz was considering “to be in the middle of its distribution network,” Miller said.

“KOZ was a big factor,” he said at a recent meeting.

There has not been an instance in Blair County, Marasco said, where a business completed the seven years tax-free, then moved to another location or attempted to move to another KOZ zone. He said it’s possible, but that has not happened.

The business out of KOZ status the longest in Blair County is Smith Transport, which went on tax rolls in 2008, Marasco said.

In addition to the local property tax abatement, Miller said the KOZ program may reduces state taxes. The program may reduce corporate net income tax, personal income tax and sales and use tax on purchases used and consumed by businesses in a KOZ. State tax abatements begin at the time construction begins. Local tax abatement begins when the business begins operating, Marasco said.

Other KOZ sites in the county include the Robert C. Jubelirer Business Park in Snyder Township, where benefits will continue for Light Tool and Machine until 2015. Benefits will continue for Gardner-Denver at enterprise business park until 2020.

“As an economic development company, we have to pursue it. If we don’t, we wouldn’t be competitive [with other parts of the state and country].”