Columbia School District building

The Columbia School District administration building, 200 N. Fifth St., Columbia, shown in August 2013.

Columbia School District officials approved tax abatements Thursday that would allow residents to make property improvements without immediately incurring more taxes.

The measure, officials said, would provide an incentive for residents to improve their properties.

That, in turn, would increase property values and help to generate more tax revenue in the future, officials said.

With the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistant Act, businesses or homeowners who make improvements to their properties can avoid taxes on the improvements for the first year.

Taxes on those improvements will then be phased in over a five-year period by 20 percent each year.

"Tax assessments for the borough have been flat over the past several years," Borough Manager Sam Sulkosky said during the public comments portion of the meeting Thursday.

"The purpose of the (Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistant Act) is to reverse that trend."

Borough Council voted last month to reinstate and expand LERTA. Previously the residential LERTA only applied to residential properties in the historic district, but the expansion includes all properties in the borough.

Last month, after council's vote, the school board approved LERTA for commercial properties, but tabled a vote on the residential LERTA because of some errors in the ordinance's language.

The school board's unanimous vote on Thursday in favor of the LERTA for residentially zoned properties was the last step needed for the borough to enact the tax abatements.

In a finance and audit committee meeting Feb. 18, acting superintendent Kennith Klawitter addressed some concerns residents had expressed weeks earlier about LERTA.

According to Klawitter, residents pointed out that several homeowners and business owners in Columbia made improvements without LERTA assistance, which could result in more immediate, additional tax revenue.

"I thought there might be just a smidgen of a misunderstanding that LERTA costs us tax money. It doesn't. We still get the basic appraised value," Klawitter said.

"If you're looking at developing the community, if you're looking at attracting businesses and home owners, then you need both the residential and commercial LERTA."

At Thursday's board meeting, Mayor Leo Lutz also spoke out in favor of the LERTA.

Lutz said that there isn't much assistance available for small redevelopment projects in the borough.

"Money from the redevelopment authority, from community first fund, those kind of monies are available, but the threshold for those projects is around $5 million,” Lutz said. “We don't have too many $5 million projects in Columbia Borough, so that tool isn't available to us.

"If we're going to fill up those properties downtown, on the second and third floors, we need this LERTA."

Despite the residents' concerns Klawitter mentioned in the committee meeting, no residents spoke out against LERTA at Thursday's meeting.