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Politics & Government

Legislation To Expand City Revitalization Program

Lancaster and Bethlehem were chosen to take part in Pennsylvania’s City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program this year, but some state lawmakers feel like their cities are missing out.

CRIZ, which came into effect last summer, helps struggling third-class cities jumpstart their economies by fostering investments and job growth through a system of tax collection and payments. State and local taxes collected within the CRIZ are to be used to repay debt service to stimulate economic development within the CRIZ by developing vacant and abandoned space for commercial use with the goal of job creation and reviving local economies.

But according to some Pennsylvania senators, the number of applicants is too restricted.

As it stands, the program excludes 45 of the state’s 53 third-class cities due to program requirements. Cities eligible to apply for a CRIZ designation based on population--between 30,000 and 250,000--and "local economic indicators" include Altoona, Bethlehem, Erie, Lancaster, Reading, Wilkes-Barre and York.  Delaware County, as a home rule county, was also eligible to apply on behalf of the city of Chester.

State Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) introduced legislation this week that would allow the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to award 15 CRIZ approvals until 2016. After that, two would be awarded each year.

Schwank said more Pennsylvania cities should have the opportunity to improve their economies.  Gov. Corbett says that the Department of Economic Development will work with eligible cities which were not accepted to improve their applications for the next round of CRIZ designations.

“Why shouldn’t all of us be able to help our communities, to give them this tool to jumpstart their economies,” she said.

The legislation would also change the minimum 30,000 population requirements and allow more cities to become eligible for the program.

State Senator Tim Solobay (D-Washington) supports the legislation and said the program needs to be more accessible if Pennsylvania’s cities are going to succeed.

“It’s about jobs,” he said. “It’s about opportunity and it’s about helping those communities that were once the stalwarts of our commonwealth (that), because of time, have had a shift of population and a shift of oversight as to what goes on in those communities.”

The bill would also create five pilot programs for boroughs and townships with more than 7,000 people.