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Ward bill step toward blight fight

Now that her legislation has been signed into law, state Sen. Judy Ward, her legislative colleagues and other state officials need to ensure that communities across the commonwealth understand it and the window of opportunities that it provides.

Actually, that might be a more laborious task than shepherding the anti-blight measure — Senate Bill 352 — to passage.

Communities need to understand the benefits that could be available to them if they do what is necessary to qualify. Certainly, numerous Blair County municipalities have been among the many statewide that have been watching as Ward’s legislative proposal successfully passed each step in the legislative process.

However, not all municipal officials follow closely enough with the goings-on in Harrisburg.

Because of the importance of addressing blight that is harming the appearance and property values of municipalities, as well as creating conditions dangerous to people and other structures, it is important that all municipal governmental bodies become aware of what Ward worked so hard to achieve.

Senate Bill 352 is good for municipalities and Pennsylvania as a whole.

On July 14, Gov. Tom Wolf signed the measure that authorizes local-level officials to offer local tax-abatement incentives to developers and property owners to encourage mixed-use redevelopment of blighted properties. The new law applies to projects designed to increase the value of a property by at least 25 percent.

Transforming blighted properties into thriving parts of communities — the goal Ward noted at about the time Wolf affixed his signature — is in every municipality’s short- and long-term best interests.

As an article in the Mirror’s July 16 edition noted, the new law provides for a tax exemption of up to 10 years on new construction or improvements to blighted properties in designated areas.

It will not be a full tax exemption covering 10 years — a long-term total exemption some municipal officials might justifiably oppose. Instead, the exemption will be reduced by 5 percent to 15 percent each year before expiring after the tenth year.

An exemption scaling-back will be beneficial in two ways. The companies or persons responsible for removing blighted conditions will benefit upfront while municipal tax coffers will not have to wait 10 years to begin reaping benefits from the redevelopment.

Ten years is too long for a full tax write-off, considering all that can happen over a decade.

Ward summed up her legislative accomplishment appropriately, pointing out, “We have many properties throughout the region that have great potential for future use, but municipalities do not have the tools they need to ensure these buildings can be rebuilt or restored properly. This new law offers municipalities another pathway to rehabilitate these properties and transform these eyesores into vibrant parts of the community.”

The most important aspect of the new law, which will go into effect in September, is that its focus is not one-sided. Instead, it is geared toward mixed-use redevelopment involving both residential and non-residential properties, with the requirements that all zoning ordinances be observed, all code violations be cleared, all delinquent taxes be paid and that the properties’ values be increased by 25 percent.

The bill was well-crafted from all perspectives.

From communities’ standpoint, blight is a cancer that oftentimes spreads. The new law has the potential to achieve great results, if municipal officials embrace its opportunities and possibilities.

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