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Lawrenceville group debates property tax for neighborhood improvements

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Most Lawrenceville property owners attending a public hearing Thursday back a property tax that would fund improvements to the business district along Butler Street and Penn Avenue.

Opponents said the tax would penalize larger property owners and called improvements the tax would cover “picayune,” or paltry.

“We have maintained our own sidewalks. We have taken away litter. I pay for my own snow removal,” said Richard Goeller, owner of Goeller Generator Inc. at 3601 Butler St. “I think it's unfair for owners of large frontage to bear the brunt of this fee.”

Under the plan spearheaded by the Lawrenceville Corp. community development group, property owners in the business district — Butler between 34th and 57th streets and Penn between 40th and 45th streets — would pay $10 annually for each linear foot of frontage.

If the development group decides to move forward, those same property owners would vote on the tax. If 40 percent or more oppose, the measure would fail.

The tax would pay for such things as sidewalk repair, street cleaning and landscaping. It also could be used to leverage public and private grants for further improvements. Backers expect the tax would generate $174,400 in the first year.

Ronald Jardini, who owns a rental building at 3401 Butler St., said Lawrenceville has changed for the better over 40 years and the improvement district would help continue that trend. He said the tax would cost him about $1,600 annually.

“Sometimes you have to spend money to make money,” he said.

Matthew Galluzzo, executive director of Lawrenceville Corp., said the business district is an economic tool.

“This is for building owners and businesses to attract and retain tenants who want to plant their roots here and customers who want to come to the district,” he said.

State law permits communities to set up business improvement districts as taxing bodies. Such areas exist Downtown and in Oakland.

A proposed neighborhood improvement district failed this year in the South Side because of extensive opposition. It would have taxed residents in addition to business owners.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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