Thorpe: Train off track again
The off again, on again relationship between the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway and Jim Thorpe borough is off again, according to a borough news release issued Friday afternoon.
In a letter addressed to borough residents and businesses, council said although it has drafted an ordinance exempting the railroad from paying an amusement tax for its passenger train service, the railroad is stopping its service again due to other demands.
“Recently we had been told by the railroad that they do not accept the proposed ordinance change and will not restart the railroad without a binding written agreement that the railroad does not owe the amusement tax, has never owed the amusement tax and will never owe the amusement tax,” the borough’s release states. “The borough can’t legally agree to these terms.”
Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway stopped its rides out of Jim Thorpe on Nov. 25, as it went back-and-forth with Jim Thorpe borough over amusement tax money the municipality felt the train company owed it.
The dispute goes back to 2011 when Jim Thorpe’s tax collector notified the railroad it was subject to the amusement tax. The railroad, however, claimed it was exempt under a federal transportation statute.
“Despite insistence, the railroad has never provided that statute to either the tax collector or the borough,” the borough stated.
The railroad was added to the delinquent tax roles in 2017. A complaint was filed with the local district justice, who determined the railroad had failed to comply with the amusement tax ordinance. The railroad appealed the decision to the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas in 2019.
Berkheimer, the tax collection agency representing Jim Thorpe borough, sought nearly $100,000 in unpaid amusement taxes for the past three years, leading to train’s decision to stop the rides in late 2019, including the popular Santa trains in December.
Soon after the train made its announcement, the two sides met on multiple occasions, with the borough eventually agreeing to drop the lawsuit.
According to Jim Thorpe’s council, when a meeting was held in late January 2020, the railroad said it would continue passenger service in the borough under three conditions. The conditions were that the railroad would not make any contribution to the borough toward the amusement tax or any similar contribution; that the borough amend its ordinance to exempt the railroad from the amusement tax; and that the borough agree not to reinstitute the lawsuit against the railroad.
“The borough received input from the Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency and from several businesses, and decided to accept the terms of the railroad,” council said. “Based on this, the railroad did run its passenger service during the Winter Festival in February 2020. Since that time, the borough drafted an ordinance to exempt the railroad from the amusement tax and advised the railroad it would not rrefilehe lawsuit. Council was criticized by some residents for this stance, but felt it was best for the good of the town to have the railroad return.”
As of Friday, council said its efforts to bring the railroad back have not succeeded.
“They have told us they will not return,” council said in its news release. “Although we have not given up hope the railroad may return in the future, this is the decision of the railroad. The borough can’t force the railroad to return. Ultimately, that is up to them.”
Officials from the railroad were not available for comment Friday afternoon.