Taxing questions

By on August 10, 2016

LR Wilbur photo Jan 22, 201

How will redevelopment at former Wilbur factory impact income for school district, borough, county?

By Patrick Burns

Sure, we’re all anxious to hear the winning bid to see what will move into Wilbur Chocolate’s 11.3-acre, three-parcel property in downtown Lititz.

It’s been five months since Cargill Inc. put the property on the market, and seven months since it halted industrial chocolate production at the 48 N. Broad St. plant.

Local and county government officials are perhaps the most curious about the future of the site, as tax revenue changes will come with the redevelopment of the property.

The sales brochure for interested buyers promoted the properties as an opportunity for “multi-family, condo, retail, office, senior living, and hotel to name a few.”LR20160128_Wilbur19

The three parcels currently rake in $30,364 in taxes for Warwick School District, Lititz Borough and Lancaster County, according to tax records.

The majority of that ($24,138) goes to the school district, and most of that ($18,500) comes from the 3.3-acre plant and 13 structures at 48 N. Broad St.

But, what would the prime real estate &tstr; currently composed of two baseball fields and other open space &tstr; on the 7.7-acre parcel at 120 Warwick St. bring in taxes when developed?

Warwick School District business manager Nathan Wertsch resisted the temptation to forecast.

“Still far too early to speculate related to Wilbur, and we don’t have anything more than what the Lancaster County Assessment office has there,” he said.

Wilbur Map two drawingCargill has refused to comment on the fate of the baseball fields or about who placed bids on the property, though sources in Lititz say sale details are being finalized.

If so, the school district may have sent its final tax bills for the three parcels to Cargill’s Minneapolis corporate office on Aug. 1.

The 7.7-acre baseball field parcel is currently assessed at only $176,800. It generates a total tax bill of $3,668 for the district and a paltry $460 annually for Lititz Borough.

Still, the prospect of building housing in the steadily rising Lititz real estate market could generate exorbitantly higher taxes.

During his 2016-17 budget presentation, Wertsch noted how the real estate market is “actually headed in a very favorable direction since our assessed values continue to climb related to the residential and commercial projects going up within our district.”

Warwick School District’s budget noted that 120 new properties added between June 2015 and May 2016 would add more than $36 million in assessment value.

The newer, higher-end properties averaged about $300,000 in assessed value, compared to the district’s median assessed value of $146,700.

Furthermore, community housing and other building projects still under construction “could not only continue to drive up assessed values, but also allow for us to budget higher interim and transfer taxes,” Wertsch said.

Total tax assessment of the three properties is just over $1.12 million. That includes the main plant and 13 structures assessed at $891,300.Wilbur Map STATS

The buildings total 180,000 square feet of space, built from 1920 to 1972. The shutdown of the plant in January also eliminated 100 jobs. Another 30 administrative employees were reassigned to Cargill offices in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, or offered jobs there.

Lititz Borough and the Warwick School District each lost 0.5 percent in earned income tax collections from those workers. But new housing would likely add tenants and owners, and new incomes to be taxed.

The third property included in the sale is a .14-acre parking lot across from the plant. It’s assessed for tax purposes at $53,100 and is adjacent to the new home of the Wilbur Chocolate retail store at 45 N. Broad St.

The retail store and museum continues to operate at 48 N. Broad St., but will soon relocate to the former Freeze & Frizz building. Meanwhile, a salvage sale at the old factory went online this week. Tools and other equipment related to the industry are being sold at www.aucto.com.

LR WilburThere are two other properties generating tax revenues of nearly $80,000 from Cargill in the Warwick School District.

One is Cargill’s other chocolate manufacturing plant at 201 W. Lincoln Ave., assessed at $2.94 million.

The other is the Lititz Mutual Insurance property at 15 N. Spruce St. which Cargill had leased for administrative functions. Cargill was billed last week for district real estate taxes of nearly $16,000 on the property, which is assessed at $896,300.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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