Bethlehem Press

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PHOTO BY BERNIE O'HARE Township Manager Jay Finnigan discusses NIZ legal fees. The NIZ law was amended June 30 to prevent any diversion of local taxes. PHOTO BY BERNIE O'HARE Township Manager Jay Finnigan discusses NIZ legal fees. The NIZ law was amended June 30 to prevent any diversion of local taxes.

Hanover Township: Sharing returned NIZ suit money

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 by BERNIE O'HARE Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

It was a showdown between Allentown and many of its surrounding municipalities. In an effort to revitalize the Queen City with a hockey arena, office buildings and a luxury hotel, a special tax district was created. In a 130-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), developers could pay for these projects, in part, by diverting the local taxes of out-of towners who worked there. This would deplete municipal coffers.

What's good for Allentown is good for the Lehigh Valley, argued Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, calling the NIZ a "rising tide" that would lift all boats, but a host of townships and boroughs responded with lawsuits.

At the spearhead of this litigation were two Northampton County municipalities, Hanover and Bethlehem townships, represented by the Bethlehem law firm of Broughal and DeVito. Eventually, eight other municipalities joined the suit and contributed to the legal expenses. Nine other municipalities paid their own way or filed separate suits.

In the end, city and state officials blinked. The NIZ law was amended June 30 to prevent any diversion of local taxes.

How much money was collected from these townships for the litigation? How much was actually spent? Those questions were answered by Hanover Township Manager Jay Finnigan at the conclusion of a supervisors' meeting Sept. 25.

Hanover Township collected $70,000 from intervening municipalities. Hanover, Bethlehem, Lower Saucon and Lehigh townships each kicked in $10,000, as did the Whitehall Coplay School District. Plainfield Township, Hellertown and Bangor ponied up $5,000 each. There were also $2,500 contributions from East Allen Township and Walnutport.

Between April and September, the Broughal law firm was paid $39,806.58. The remaining money, a little over $30,000 has been returned in proportion to the contributions made.

Hanover, Bethlehem, Lower Saucon and Lehigh Townships, as well as Whitehall Coplay School District, have each received checks for $4,313.35. Plainfield Township, Hellertown and Bangor have been paid $2,156.67. East Allen Township and Walnutport have received $1,078.34.

It is unclear how much Allentown, the NIZ Authority and state officials spent on this legal dispute.