Current confusion over a proposed economic development area that would encompass the entire borough of Portage could easily have been avoided.
A meeting of borough, Portage Area School District and county officials prior to the end of the year could have cleared up questions and concerns, allowing plan implementation to proceed. Instead, as late as last week, that long-overdue get-together still was only being talked about.
As proposed, designation of the borough as an economic development zone would be under the umbrella of the state's Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance act.
LERTA is an economic development tool municipalities have used since the law was passed in 1977. By way of LERTA, municipalities grant property owners a tax incentive to improve or develop properties within a designated zone.
The legislation allows municipalities to exempt from local taxes - municipal, school and county for up to 10 years - the value of all improvements made to a property. It can be reasonably argued that 10 years is too long of an exemption time, but in many cases the full exemption exists for only part of that period. Taxes start being phased in after a certain year, until the full tax obligation kicks in.
At the foundation of Portage LERTA confusion appears to be a lack of leadership. The three governmental entities all have known about the plan, but no one has taken the lead to guide the planning to a successful conclusion.
Thus, despite what president Cambria County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder described as the "tremendous" amount of work the borough has done regarding LERTA, the school board remains unclear about all that's being proposed. Even county officials see a need for clearer understanding.
Lengenfelder has rightly noted that there are complexities involved in effecting a LERTA plan. It's also unusual for an entire municipality to be designated a LERTA district. Before finalizing their plan, Portage officials, in consultation with the county and school district, must weigh the possibility of unintended negative financial consequences if the plan, as currently proposed, gets the go-ahead.
Such concerns could have been resolved months ago if the borough, school district and county had worked aggressively to be on the same page for everyone's sake.
The school board, which tabled a LERTA vote in December and rejected the plan last month, is scheduled to meet Wednesday. According to Borough Manager Robert Koban, borough officials plan to attend, hoping that the district will reconsider.
It also might help if a county commissioner attended.
The scope of the ongoing confusion was evident in a viewpoint quoted in Friday's Mirror. School board member J.T. Bandzuh said when the board rejected the plan last month, it didn't know where the borough and county stood regarding the LERTA initiative.
What's troubling is that the board since at least December was content to muddle along by not seeking clarifications prior to January's meeting. At the same time, both the borough and county chose not to pursue adequate dialogue with the district to make the board comfortable about giving its OK.
Wednesday will provide the opportunity for all three to finally get on the same track.