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Can Thorpe keep train on track?

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Published October 17. 2019 12:34PM


Local politicians, business owners and tourism officials are weighing in following Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway’s announcement Wednesday morning it would be stopping excursion train rides out of Jim Thorpe on Nov. 25 over an amusement tax dispute with Jim Thorpe Borough.

Earlier this month, Berkheimer, the tax collection agency representing Jim Thorpe borough, filed a suit against the railway for nearly $100,000 in unpaid amusement taxes for the past three years.

In a press release on Wednesday, LGSR officials said they “made it clear to the borough council that it is not an amusement and it will not pay any so-called amusement tax.”

State Rep. Doyle Heffley had been working to bring the two sides together for a meeting and said it’s “unfortunate things have come to this.”

“The trains are an asset to tourism and the community,” Heffley said. “I’m not going to give up. I’m hopeful conversations can continue and we can get the appropriate people to the table. Everyone involved owes it to the other businesses in town to try to keep these trains running.”

Though LGSR’s announcement seems grim for the future of train rides in Jim Thorpe, Council President Greg Strubinger said eleventh hour discussions did take place Wednesday between the two sides.

“There has been discussion today about a meeting,” Strubinger said. “We’re trying to get something together possibly for next week.”

An initial meeting had been scheduled for Wednesday between the two sides and involving Heffley, but it was canceled.

“That was a big point of contention as to how that got canceled,” Strubinger said. “Different people had different recollections of how that happened. The bottom line is that we’re open to talking and hopefully that will be able to happen soon.”

Michael Rivkin, acting president of the Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency, called LGSR’s decision to stop the rides, “sad.”

“I’m extremely disappointed that (LGSR) has opted not to come to the table and try to come to a solution,” Rivkin said. “It’s a slap in the face of everyone that has helped support them for so many years.”

Speaking in his role as co-owner of the Parsonage Bed and Breakfast in Jim Thorpe, Rivkin said he’s lived in tourist towns his whole life and amusement taxes are one of the ways to help manage the effects of tourism.

“The expenses for transportation, police protection and crossing guards alone for the Fall Foliage Festival may exceed $40,000,” Rivkin said. “That money has to come from somewhere. In communities around the world, it is paid for by users through things like the amusement tax, which is added on to the ticket price. It is one of the ways a city or borough recoups those expenses and not further tax the residents of the community.”

Reading and Northern Railroad, the sister company of LGSR, was awarded a $10 million state capital budget grant to build a new railroad bridge over the Lehigh River near Nesquehoning.

“I think the state should withhold the funding for that new Gorge bridge until LGSR comes to the table in good faith,” Rivkin said.

In LGSR’s press release Wednesday, president and CEO Andy Muller Jr. said, “since it is clear that the mayor and borough council do not care about what we have done to assist Jim Thorpe over the last 15 years, a period in which Jim Thorpe borough government has done nothing to assist the railroads, I have decided to focus our energies on communities that want to work with the railroads.”

Contacted for comment, Jim Thorpe Mayor Michael Sofranko, as he has at council’s workshop and meeting in October, said, “Mr. Muller needs to sit down and talk to council in attempt to work things out.”

Other municipalities within Jim Thorpe Area School District, such as Penn Forest and Kidder townships, have also historically collected amusement taxes.

The Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau leases space inside the Jim Thorpe Train Station and PMVB President Chris Barrett said he’s had a firsthand look at the impact of the train rides.

“This is a very unfortunate development,” Barrett said of Wednesday’s news. “I’m hopeful discussion will continue to take place. We’re very supportive of that process. The trains have an incredible impact on not only the county, but the Pocono Mountains as a whole.”

State Sen. John Yudichak called the loss the train excursions in Jim Thorpe “a huge blow.”

“The closure of the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway in Jim Thorpe is a terrible blow for the merchants and taxpayers of Carbon County, who have witnessed an extraordinary growth in the tourism industry as a result of the substantial personal investment Andy Muller and the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad made in the region,” Yudichak said.

“I will work with all parties, especially the business community of Jim Thorpe, in the coming days to do everything possible to keep the passenger excursion train rides of the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway coming to beautiful Jim Thorpe.”


Let it go folks...
Let go of the train, parade, hiking the falls...
Let em all go, and alleviate that annoying parking problem.
Towns need to move towards more anti-fragile policies. There needs to be more than one major revenue stream. Not one or two entities that have the power to potentially cripple an entire area economically for decades when they decide to take their ball and go home. You'd think we would have learned that lesson when the steel, mining, zinc and other industries left or downsized.
It would be nice if the Railroad tourism business could be staged/moved to the:
Lehighton, Weissport & Franklin twp confluence area.

Never again would one have to worry about the Mansion House Hill problem.

Tons of parking in the Packerton Yards

Parking Problem Solved...........................................Learn from the "redneck fest-able"

Make Weissport the Anchor
If I were the railroad, I'd tell Jim Thorpe to stick it. The people and revenue they attract in any given year for the area far exceeds this 100,000. It isn't their fault people can't manage money effectively.

Without the train, what does the borough have besides a bike shop, a Chinese restaurant, and beef jerky store? Bringing that train in allowed the town to expand.
An "Amusement" can be taxed. Doesn't it state something about "amusement" on the back side of the train tickets?
Just asking.
Well it looks like the Train company refuses to pay tax that they owe and is sticking Jim Thorpe for $100,000! That is what the issue is about.
They have not been collecting the tax or have been pocketing it themselves as they do not see themselves as an Amusement.
Clearly they are an Amusement. People go for a ride for amusement. They are not Amtrak! So they are providing people with Joy rides and that is an Amusement. They do not want to pay.
Jim Thorpe is not in the wrong. The Railroad is.

I do agree with not putting all your eggs in the same basket.

I think Jim Thorpe should go way of Gatlinburg Tennessee. Populaton wise it is no larger than Jim Thorpe. But they no how to Market their area well!
It has the same narrow layout as Jim Thorpe. They get 10 million people a year down there. Of course they have the smokey Mountains. But it looks so much like this area. They have a huge Arts n Crafts driving loop. You go through the country and go to shops with homemade items made by locals.
Downtown they sells Moonshine. Jim Thorpe could sell Boilo in mason jars!. There are so many different flavors.
The town just needs to be reinvented.
Is this amusement tax something new? If not, was the railroad paying it before and just stopped? And why did it take three years to get to this point?
Do the rafting and biking companies pay this tax? If the rr must, then these companies should as well because that least rr has done more improvements for the town. I would also find out what percent of the the income is generated form freight v tourism. IS it really true the rr is primarily a freight company. i doubt it but would like to know. There is a mini swamp here. The media does not know how to ask the right questions, and the borough is greedy and lacks commonsense.
NOW I see the problem-ITS BERKHEIMER trying to get their cut-their commission. They have tried to even squeeze my husband and I for tax money he didnt owe working in another county-telling us one county didnt pay the other county so we owe it. THEY ARE THE PROBLEM. Someone needs to sue them into oblivion and put them out of business-THEY ARE CAUSING THIS-they want commission on a debt that doesnt exist-THEY ARE THE GREEDIEST MONGRELS around.
Berkheimer is just the collector. If one county didn't pay the other, that's on them. The originator of the tax bill is the one to blame and the one to contact to settle things. Berkheimer only goes by what municipalities give them. If I have a car loan with Chase bank and then purchased a new car through Wells Fargo, but rolled over the outstanding balance from Chase to Wells, I don't blame and sue the collection agency that Chase hired because they screwed up paperwork. I settle it with Chase. Same applies to Berkheimer.

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