The Lycoming County commissioners came to a stalemate during their Tuesday meeting after Commissioner Rick Mirabito voted no to a land swap agreement between the county and the City of Williamsport.
The land swap would have brought the county one step closer to selling the Executive Plaza, at 330 Pine Street, however it’s a decision that Mirabito said was too hasty and lacked transparency.
While Mirabito said the land swap, which includes the Executive Plaza parking lot, would hurt the city in the long-run, Commissioner Scott Metzger and some city council members see it as an immediate revenue boost in the form of tax dollars.
Executive Plaza currently houses the bulk of county government offices and departments.
What would normally be a simple property sale is made all the more complicated since the county does not own the land which the Executive Plaza currently sits on. This land is owned by the city and is leased to the county for a ceremonial $1 per year.
The land under the plaza also includes the parking lot next to the building, which has been a point of debate between the commissioners for a number of years. Without the ability to bundle the land with the building, selling the plaza has proved more difficult.
The City of Williamsport and county leaders have been in on-again-off-again negotiations over the past year and a half and an agreement was made to perform a straight land swap between the two entities – giving the land under the Executive Plaza – including the parking lot – to the county and in return the county will give the land under the Third Street Parking Garage to the city.
With the absence of Tony Mussare, who was not able to make the meeting, the vote ended in a 1-1 vote and will need to be brought to the board of commissioners again when the full complement of members is available, according to county solicitor J. David Smith.
The Williamsport City Council voted 7-0 to approve the land swap during it’s July 22 meeting. It was noted during the meeting that an appraisal of the land was not completed due to a high cost which neither the city nor the county wanted to incur.
Each parcel is of comparable size and value, according to Councilwoman Liz Miele during the City Council meeting.
Mirabito took issue with the lack of appraisal and said he believed the city was not made fully aware of the future revenue opportunities to the city should they wish to keep the parking lot and begin charging members of the public to use it.
The assessed value of the Executive Plaza building is just over $1.3 million. While the land, which includes the parking lot, assessed at over $340,000.
Mirabito added that if a private developer purchased the building, local businesses may not be able to use it for parking after 5 p.m. on Weekdays and on weekends as it is currently used.
“It’s bad public policy,” Mirabito said. “Why would we take away from the city something that could bring them $50,000 per year? They have the capability in the future to gain revenue from the parking lot.”
Commissioner Scott Metzger has been pushing to move forward with the sale of the building since he took office in the beginning of 2020.
He said the county has been informed by a number of realtors that private developers would be interested in the building only if the parking lot is included. He also added that the county could require a memorandum of understanding with the developer that the parking lot should remain open to the public in the evenings and weekends.
City Councilman Adam Yoder, who also serves on the city Finance Committee, said the primary benefit of swapping the land and selling the building would mean that the entire parcel would be a taxable entity and bring immediate profit to the city.
He added that even if the city did want to begin charging for parking, those funds would go to the city Parking Authority, and not directly to the city taxpayers.
Mayor Derek Slaughter was also surprised that the land swap agreement was not approved. He said he would review the matter with the City Council and declined to comment as of press time.
The county first announced it was trying to sell the Plaza in July 2019 and an appraisal of the building and land was performed. This appraisal has not been made public, according to Metzger, since the county has yet to decide if it will place the building up for auction, or go through a realtor.
With the sale of the building, the county has plans to move it’s primary operations to the Third Street Plaza, which the county purchased for $13.4 million in 2007.
Metzger stressed that he does not want to drag out the sale of the building any longer.
“We’ll follow up on this and make sure everything is clear, but we aren’t going to drag this out for months,” he said.
The matter is expected to be brought back before the commissioner in about two weeks.