Follow the dollars: Loan for Rural Regional College building part of revenue from Walmart development

Times Observer file photo The funds utilized as a bridge loan for the purchase of the PNC Building originated with the sale of this North Warren property — now the home of the Warren Commons. The photo was taken in 2005.

The $450,000 that the Warren County Commissioners have loaned for the purchase of the PNC Building in downtown Warren is not coming from revenue generated by property taxes.

It comes from the proceeds of the land deal that brought Walmart to North Warren, funds have largely been left untouched since the deal closed in 2005.

Here’s the nuts-and-bolts of the saga from an archived article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Warren County owned three parcels in the area where Walmart is currently located. The state owned a parcel that, added to what the county owned, would have made a tract of sufficient size to attract Wal-Mart and the other development that has occurred at the site.

Other property owners, including current County Commissioner Cindy Morrison, lobbied for Wal-Mart to be placed at other locations.

The state agreed to sell the 30-acre parcel — once part of the Warren State Hospital — for $340,000.

Echo Real Estate Services, Wal-Mart’s development, agreed to purchase the tract for $4 million — $3.4 million to go to the state and $586,000 to the county.

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly subsequently approved legislation — Act 54 of 2003 — that lifted agricultural restrictions.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said that the Erie Bank checking account in which that money was placed has a current balance of approximately $746,000 and that the fund was created when the funds were released to the county in 2010.

“Nothing programmatic has been done” with the money since then, he said, indicating that previous boards of commissioners have dipped into the fund as an “emergency fund.” Kafferlin said the prior boards would “pull a couple hundred thousand (dollars) and put it right back” rather than borrowing the money from a tax anticipation note.

While potential restrictions to economic development and conservation were discussed, Act 54 of 2003 does not appear to contain any such restriction.

“It is taxpayer money in the sense it is owned by the taxpayer,” Kafferlin said. “Whether or not the money was raised via property tax, the answer is no.”