Carbon County officials are looking to see what can be done to salvage their plans to develop the former Packerton Yards site in Mahoning Township.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, said that the board will be meeting with its attorneys, Edward Hughes and Daniel Miscavige, to decide what to do over a court ruling that denied Carbon's request to layout and construct a county road into the 59-acre proposed business park.
On Tuesday, Carbon County Judge Joseph J. Matika ruled in favor of Mahoning Township supervisors, saying that Carbon County code does not supersede the township's Subdivision and Land Development Ordinances, thus upholding Mahoning's denial for the project.
The board spoke out on their feelings about the ruling and the possibility of losing $5 million in state and federal grants that have been secured for the development of the park.
"It's a severe blow for the Packerton Yards project," said Commissioner William O'Gurek on the court ruling.
"We're losing a lot of money over it," said Nothstein. "It's a shame because no matter what you try to do for this county for business, it seems they fight you tooth and nail over regulations."
He noted that another business that wanted to develop in Mahoning Township has possibly pulled out from developing in the township because of the hassles and hoops they were having to jump through.
"Who loses but the taxpayers," Nothstein added, saying the lack of approval for new development is costing tax revenue and lost jobs. "There's a point in time when it's not worth the cost of doing business in the area because of the issues they present to you because they make it so difficult."
"I think it was the commissioners' intentions when they bought the Packerton Yards to create some jobs and develop the property and bring jobs in," Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard said. "That's what it was all about and right now, we're just fighting tooth and nail with Mahoning Township. Now we have to go back to the drawing table and sit down with the solicitor and review our options and make a decision."
O'Gurek agreed with Gerhard's observation about the board's goal for Packerton.
"The bottom line in this entire thing at Packerton Yards was creating jobs," he said. "Whether it was the prior administration or this administration, the three guys who sat here and the three guys who sit here now want to create jobs."
O'Gurek pointed out that Carbon currently has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the state, hovering at 9.5 percent. Counties currently higher include Philadelphia, Pike and Cameron counties.
"We want to create jobs, others don't," O'Gurek continued. "I look at Ametek in Nesquehoning and they have maybe 60 to 100 people working there. Those are 60 families that have someone working a family-sustaining job. That's what Packerton was all about and that's why we're pursuing it. It just strikes me that people don't want that in an area where we need jobs more than anything. We have a high unemployment rate that speaks to that."
He noted that Ametek pays $107,000 annually in taxes to Carbon, Nesquehoning and Panther Valley School District.
"If you put one of those buildings (like Ametek) at Packerton, Mahoning Township, Carbon County and Lehighton School District conceivably could get $107,000 in taxes, not to mention the number of jobs created there," O'Gurek said. "If you have 100 jobs at $40,000 a year, that's $4 million dumped into households through revenue and health care benefits that come with it, and the money they then spend in the community. It gives you a shot in the arm that you need, and you don't have a community like we do with people leaving the county and never coming back.
"That's what Packerton is all about and I'm just disappointed in the whole thing, that people don't want that," he added. "I just don't understand it."
Gerhard pointed out that currently 51 percent of the working residents that reside in Carbon County are employed outside the county.
"What does that tell you?" he said.
O'Gurek also pointed out that the county is in jeopardy of losing $5 million in grants because of the ruling.
"We're sitting on $5 million in state and federal money that was given to this county to develop this project," he said. "That comes from people who believe in this project, not like the people in Mahoning Township who don't believe in this project. We're talking about people at the state level, at the federal level, who see the value in giving us grant money to get this project under way so we can try to create jobs."
Nothstein brought up the fact that he feels the lack of jobs in the county is causing the county court system to grow in size.
"It (not having jobs available in the county) gives that 9 percent (unemployed) a lot of time to do nothing, cost a lot of money, get involved in drugs or whatever else and end up in the court system," he said. "You wonder why we have a 48 percent increase in taxes? You wonder why the prison board is going to be facing some serious considerations in the near future about whether do we or don't we want to add on to the prison? I think it gives to the fact that not having jobs creates more problems, because the 9 percent is sitting at home. They don't have jobs and they're looking for money."
O'Gurek concurred, saying that he thinks Nothstein is correct in believing the lack of jobs is creating larger problems for the county.
"There are people that want jobs here. People want to work here and Carbon County has good hard-working people," O'Gurek said. "Some of them are begging for jobs and we're trying, but it's frustrating."