Lebanon County Commissioners approved a request from The Hershey Company to provide tax relief for a $89 million construction project that will create up to 500 jobs at a new fulfillment facility in South Annville Township.
At their Thursday meeting, commissioners approved by a unanimous vote a request to grant Hershey a 10-year tax abatement under the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA) program for the construction of a large packaging and warehouse facility in South Annville Township between Annville and Palmyra.
LERTAs are a tax abatement program created by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1977 that authorizes local taxing authorities to provide tax exemptions on construction projects.
The initial construction project will be for a total of 833,000 square feet out of an available 1.1 million square feet and will include the initial hiring of 220 employees. A later buildout of the remaining space will contribute to another 280 jobs upon expansion, said Susan Eberly, President/CEO, Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation.
“We’re so fortunate in Lebanon County to land a Fortune 500 company like Hershey,” Eberly said. “There will be up to [an initial] 220 employees who will earn decent wages.”
Eberly noted that both South Annville Township and the Annville School District have already approved their portion of the LERTA proposal.
Matthew Crocker, a procurement manager at The Hershey Company, said the approval of a LERTA designation would be significant to the company because it will impact the success of their operations.
“Hershey is committed to an initiative to improve and add significant elements to its supply chain,” Crocker said. “As part of this endeavor, Hershey will develop an 833,000 square foot warehouse … so we are sustainable up to 1.1 million but the initial footprint will be 833,000 square feet for this fulfillment center.”
Crocker noted the company plans to construct on land that is currently zoned industrial. It was noted that construction equipment is already onsite and “moving dirt.”
“We’re converting underutilized industrial zoned land to its highest and best use,” Crocker said. “Ultimately, we are going to maximize the assessed value of the property. So these realized tax revenues, when this project is put into operation, are going to be significant to South Annville Township, the Annville-Cleona School District, and, of course, Lebanon County.”
Crocker said the company spent $9.4 million for 92 acres, will invest $1.5 million in local road improvements and spend another $79 million in site work, infrastructure and building construction. He noted the benefits are employment opportunities for local residents, an increase in property and school tax revenue, as well as sewer revenue for the local authority, and increased demand for goods and services in Lebanon County.
“Hershey’s proud to locate this facility within Lebanon County,” Crocker said. “This is a significant opportunity to develop and solidify our partnership.”
Crocker said LERTA approval by the township and school district permitted the company to settle on the land and begin the project and that the county’s backing would allow Hershey to solidify the economics of the project and create immediate employment opportunities.
“The team working on this project is committed to making this project as wildly successful as it can be,” Crocker said, “and the investment by Lebanon County takes Hershey a significant step forward for achieving the goal of making this a success for the people of Lebanon.”
Under discussion about the LERTA, Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said she believes, and asked Crocker to verify, that Hershey plans to hire new employees by the end of 2020. While he said he didn’t have that information handy, he did add that he knows the plan is to hire workers “as quickly as we can.”
Commissioner Robert J. Phillips said many Hershey employees already live in Lebanon County, noting that the company’s “reputation and what they bring to the county is a great addition to what we’re doing here.”
Phillips added he supports approving the LERTA because it would permit the company to “get to the 500 employee level much more quickly.”
Litz said Hershey is a local company that’s managed to grow in a coronavirus environment and despite the recession. “We congratulate them for being bold and brave and taking on this project.”
Commissioner William Ames noted that the commissioners know from past history that LERTAs are “somewhat “troublesome to me.” He added that he was unhappy with the process, noting that it wasn’t the fault of Hershey but a function within Lebanon County government.
“I’m a little disappointed in the process,” Ames said. “It appears to me, and this is not to be critical of anyone in particular, but it appears to me that this LERTA process is somewhat skewed in that, essentially, it seems like the county commissioners are asked at the 11th hour to put the LERTA on the agenda. The school district and the municipality already had the information far in advance. That’s probably an issue that we have here within the county.”
Given his uneasiness with LERTAs, Ames said he met Wednesday with a company official who took the time to answer his questions and address his concerns with this particular request. Ames added that he would like the county to take steps to have more time to consider future LERTA requests and not to wait until the last minute to receive information around a given project.
In other county business, the county commissioners approved a request from Voter Registration Director Michael Anderson to purchase a $17,325 high-speed letter opener to count mail-in election votes and another $2,600 for annual maintenance on the equipment.
The purchase of the Quadient IM-306 letter opener includes a sorter and printer option to facilitate faster counting of election ballots. The machine can process 40,000 envelopes per hour, which should not exceed what is needed by Lebanon County, Anderson said.
“What it would do ultimately is to save us time,” noted Anderson. “I believe what we used in the primary worked but it was very time consuming. We did have about 100 ballots that were damaged because of how we opened them. In the sense of how many we had, wasn’t bad.”
The equipment will be purchased using funding from either the CARES Act that has been set aside for election purposes or a HAVA grant, which is funding that comes from the U. S. Election Assistance Commission.
The CARES Act assistance is up in the air at the moment, with Lebanon County apparently being withheld its projected allocation of CARES Act funding by the state.
While some large Pennsylvania counties received the funding directly from the federal government, most received it through the state’s block grant program, with disbursements to other counties having been made already.
Towards the end of the meeting, WLBR reporter Laura LeBeau asked commissioners about the situation, and was told that although they have received verbal indications that the funding request will be denied, they have not received any decision in writing at present. A clip of the question was posted to Litz’s YouTube channel.
“Governor Wolf has the ability to have compassion, and reverse his decision,” said Litz on the situation. “I respectfully ask that he do so.”
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during previous election cycles. Ames Home Services is an advertiser on LebTown at present. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.