Robinson, Montour, mall reach agreement on taxes

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Robinson and the Montour School District have come to an agreement regarding a tax assessment dispute with The Mall at Robinson.

Following about a year of strife, both parties are in the process of making a deal with Allegheny County and mall owner Robinson Mall JCP Associates Ltd., an affiliate of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises Inc.

The proposed settlement increases the mall's assessed value and ensures the school district and township will receive enough property tax revenue from the mall to pay off certain publicly financed bonds that helped fund development of the mall site more than 10 years ago.

Robinson finance chairman Jesse Forquer said the township had been offered less but held out for a deal that's better for taxpayers.

"It's been a long battle," Mr. Forquer said. "We have a fair settlement that works, and hopefully in the future we'll be able to work these things out in a more cooperative way."

Montour superintendent Donald Boyer said the agreement would allow the district to pay off the mall bonds two years early -- by November 2015-- and free up about $1.6 million a year to help build a planned school for pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.

"It's in our best interest to approve this settlement," Mr. Boyer said.

Montour school directors voted last Thursday to move forward with the settlement, and township commissioners are expected to approve the agreement on Monday.

The proposed deal increases the mall's assessed value from about $76 million to $108 million, starting this year and ending when the bonds are paid off, township and school officials said.

Also, the mall retroactively increases its assessment from $93.5 million to $100 million for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012, Mr. Boyer said.

The deal was set to be discussed during a legal conciliation meeting Wednesday, school district attorney Donald Palmer said.

The mall owner's attorney, Jeffrey A. Mills of the Pittsburgh firm Reed Smith, said he was unable to comment on settlement negotiations.

As part of a tax-increment financing, or TIF, agreement in 2000 with the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, the township, school and county agreed that -- until 2017 -- they would divert some of the property taxes generated by The Mall at Robinson toward paying off $18.1 million in bonds used for road, utility and other infrastructure work needed to build the mall.

The Mall at Robinson, which opened in October 2001, is a two-level, 880,000-square-foot shopping center with more than 120 businesses. It originally was assessed at $104 million, but multiple reassessments later lowered the mall's value and threatened the bond funding arrangement.

The township and the county each pay 55 percent of the property taxes they receive from the mall toward the bonds. The school district pays 61 percent, or about $1.6 million a year.

Mr. Forquer said a second agreement is still being negotiated for other bonds related to peripheral mall properties.

neigh_west

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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