A healthy dose of skepticism characterized Monday's marathon York City Council session, which ended with a unanimous vote to create an authority charged with overseeing a hypothetical economic-development zone in the city.
The public hearing offered an opportunity for public comment on the state-sponsored City Revitalization Improvement Zone -- or CRIZ -- program. It attracted several skeptical residents, local economic-development pros, a state legislator, an eager developer and one rock star who's recently been investing millions in York.
For nearly four hours, council members digested the pros and cons, then tried to sort through the technicalities of creating a new authority.
They agreed on three amendments to the ordinance, essentially a form document provided by the state. For example, Council President Carol Hill-Evans wanted to include language allowing for dissolution of the authority if York does not get the CRIZ.
In the end, they passed the ordinance and appointed seven people to the authority.
And it might all be for nothing.
York is one of eight Pennsylvania cities competing for one of two CRIZ designations. The program aims to attract business and jobs to cities by offering developers state and city tax revenue to pay off project debt.
Only two cities will be chosen in the first round. A second round is tentatively scheduled for 2016, but that's not guaranteed.
Applications are due to the state Saturday.
To comply with the state's requirements, all cities must have created a CRIZ authority before submitting an application.
At this point -- just 30 days after the state released its guidelines for the applications -- details of how the program could affect York are few and far between.
For example, Councilman Michael Helfrich said he'd been crunching the numbers to estimate how much money in local tax revenue the city would have to invest -- money that would normally go into the city's general fund. With a CRIZ, the city would divert the revenue toward economic development.
Helfrich said he came up with a figure of roughly $400,000 a year, which would come from business privilege and local services taxes generated from within the CRIZ.
That's small potatoes compared to the tax revenue proponents say would be kicked in by the state. And, the city would get to keep its property-tax revenue -- a key difference between the CRIZ and opportunity zones of the past.
"If we get CRIZ established in York, it's going to be absolutely huge," said Blanda Nace, senior development manager for the York County Economic Alliance.
In terms of the designated zone, the CRIZ legislation allows for flexibility over time, state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said.
The CRIZ authority can amend the map as needs change, and it can set aside dollars for public improvements, Schreiber said.
Bill Hynes, CEO of Think Loud Development, said his company is poised to invest $50 million if York gets the CRIZ. The company is committed to hiring local workers, particularly veterans, he said.
Chad Taylor, Hynes' business partner and rock band Live's guitarist, said he saw transformation in Allentown thanks to a program similar to CRIZ.
"This can change people's lives," Taylor said.
But not everyone at Monday's hearing was so enthusiastic.
City resident Eric Kirkland questioned the need for the rush when planning is at the core of a strategy's success. Once an authority is created, "You're pretty much out of the ballgame," he told the council.
Past economic-development zones have promised revitalization, Kirkland said, but, "How many jobs were created for city residents?"
He urged the council to appoint people committed to improving the quality of life for city residents.
Resident Manuel Gomez said the program's proponents have speculated about the CRIZ but haven't shared real data.
"These zones just do not work," Gomez said. "The risks are held by the taxpayers."
Resident Jeff Kirkland also cited the "abysmal record" of past opportunity zones, which, he said, leave residents "holding the debt burden."
"It's time that we got one right," he said.
York City's CRIZ Authority:
Charlie Bacas (recommended by Mayor Kim Bracey)
Larry Homsher (recommended by York County legislators)
David Confer (recommended by Bracey)
Kendall Menzer (recommended by Bracey)
Bob Pullo (recommended by York County legislators)
Bobby Simpson (recommended by state Rep. Kevin Schreiber)
Patti Stirk (recommended by York County legislators)