Centre County wipes slate clean for economic groups

Centre County will forgive more than $38,000 in debt from two county economic-development entities, the Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday.

The Centre County Industrial Development Authority and General Authority asked the commissioners for a “clean slate” regarding back payments to the county.

Both the IDA and General Authority are committees of the Centre County Industrial Development Corp. They were created in 2003 to help local businesses secure funding for construction projects within the county.

The arrangement between the county and the authorities provides that 50 percent of fee revenue generated by the IDA be remitted back to county for purposes of economic development, said Rob Beard, solicitor for both authorities.

“Sadly, there haven’t been any projects recently — by recently, I mean for several years,” Beard said. “There haven’t been any projects coming through, just due to the nature of economic development in the county. But when those projects were initially done back in 2004, 2005, 2006 ... the fee revenue generated was actually used for other expenses of the IDA.

“Fifty percent of that was not remitted back to the county,” he added. “So we’ve been carrying that debt.”

Another component of what the authorities asked for Tuesday was whether the county would help provide support services to the authorities.

The request entails soliciting county planning and finance staff to handle items such as meeting minutes, bills and “shuffling paperwork and making sure things get where they need to go,” said authorities Chairman Jack Infield.

Beard said that as the county becomes more involved with providing staff services, it makes more sense to move forward with a clean slate.

Commissioner Chris Exarchos asked if the money that had been remitted was put to good use. Beard assured that audits previous to 2012 — the latest completed — show all of the funds in question were used for economic development.

Beard added the 2012 audit would be done in a matter of weeks, and the 2013 audit wasn’t due until June.

Commissioners Chairman Steve Dershem and Exarchos were quick to want to wipe away the debt. Commissioner Michael Pipe, who was the sole dissenter, questioned the measure and, specifically, whether the commissioners should tap the brakes until the 2012 IDA audit was finalized.

“If I would have somebody come into the tax office and say, ‘Mike, I owe $38,000 in real estate taxes, and I spent the money here in the county and on other things, but the economy hasn’t been so great ... could you forgive the $38,000?’ I’d have a hard time saying, ‘Sure, we’ll write it off because I know you spent the money in the county, and the economy is tough,’ ” Pipe said. “I might have a problem with that.”

Pipe also said that if the county was taking over some staff responsibilities, shouldn’t it see the latest audit before deciding?

“I think it might be our due diligence to let the 2012 audit occur, then approve,” he said.

Exarchos said the county doesn’t assume any financial responsibility for the authorities. The money is invested back into growing the economy.

“These are independent of the county,” Exarchos said. “Whatever the audit is, we are not responsible. We’re here to offer staff support, not tell them how to run their organization.”

Beard said it’s a question more of trying to clean up the balance sheet. “We’re an appointed commission by the county,” he said.

Dershem and Exarchos touted the merits of investing in economic development and said having the organizations start with a clean slate would be beneficial.

“(The IDA) is a very essential component (of economic development),” Dershem said. “I’m looking forward to moving forward and doing some good things for the county.

“I want to see that money poured back into the Centre County economy,” he added.