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HERMITAGE Officials unfazed by less building



Published: Sun, February 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The city had more than $30 million in new building projects in both 1999 and 2000.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

HERMITAGE, Pa. -- New construction in the city was down substantially in 2001, but the city manager isn't worried.

"Those numbers fluctuate," Gary Hinkson said, noting that Hermitage had a couple of banner construction years in 1999 and 2000, and a drop last year isn't cause for concern.

Hermitage has been the leading Mercer County community for new development the last couple of decades.

The city issued just over $18 million worth of building permits for residential, commercial and industrial construction in 2001, however, down more than 45 percent from the previous year.

"I'm not reading into it as a trend unless there are two or three years in a row with lower numbers," Hinkson said.

What happened: The city had nearly $33 million in new construction in 1996, and that number dropped by more than 30 percent in 1997 but then climbed above $30 million again two years later.

The city had some major building projects in 1999 and 2000, which helped create some very high numbers. The city didn't happen to have any "mega projects" developed in 2001, Hinkson said, suggesting the numbers are really just a matter of timing and not of building trends.

Last year didn't see big-ticket construction projects such as the $18.5 million Hickory High School renovation and expansion project in 1999 or the $4.3 million John XXIII nursing home expansion, the $3.5 million city building renovation and the $5.1 million Whispering Oaks retirement community project, all started in 2000, he said.

Most of those bigger projects are owned by tax-exempt bodies and pay no property tax but they are part of the city's total property value.

What's expected: Hinkson said there might not be any major commercial or industrial projects seeking building permits in the city right now, but there are a number of substantial single-family housing developments, such as Pierce Bluffs and Eagle Point, that are expected to generate a lot of new residential construction.

Although officials don't complain about the growth, they have noted that it creates a need for new streets, new sewers and other municipal services that all cost money.

That's why the city spends so much time and money on planning and development issues, Hinkson said, explaining that Hermitage is trying to carefully manage its growth.

The steady growth has helped the city and the Hermitage School District coffers because it automatically increases the value of a mill of property tax. That number has risen from $63,000 per mill in 1997 to about $72,000 in 2001.

The city collected about $1.1 million in property taxes in 2001 based on a 15-mill assessment, and the school district collected more than $9.1 million based on a millage rate of 129.75.

gwin@vindy.com




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