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 Wal-Mart Grows In County


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By Gretchen Metz , Staff Writer

February 10, 2003                                                                                                                                                               

Wal-Mart is not yet one of Chester County’s largest employers, but it is moving in that direction.

Over the last nine months, Wal-Mart has opened a store, a supercenter and a Sam’s Club that together employ more than 800 people in the county.

Another store in East Marlborough is under construction and is expected to be completed this summer. A fourth location is still before Lower Oxford supervisors.

While school officials in Chester County welcome tax revenue from Wal-Mart properties, the pride of Bentonville, Ark., still hasn’t won over all municipalities.

"They’re a big help to the area. We’re basically farmland with no industry. The store is a help to our tax base," said Marge Miller, in the accounting office at Octorara Area School District. The district got a new Wal-Mart supercenter in West Sadsbury Commons at routes 10 and 30 in May.

The tax parcel where the Wal-Mart store is located is billed $234,000 annually and accounts for 1.5 percent of the district’s $15.6 million in annual tax revenues, Miller said.

West Sadsbury officials said West Sadsbury Commons, where Wal-Mart is an anchor and employs 400 people, pays $10,114 in annual municipal taxes.

The West Chester Area School District collects $157,000 for the 22-acre Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club property at Main Street at Exton, said Florence Miller, school district spokeswoman.

Wal-Mart at Main Street at Exton employs approximately 270 workers, and the neighboring Sam’s Club has another 170 workers. Both stores opened in the summer.

"They’re a windfall for the school districts," said Steve Ross, West Whiteland manager, adding that stores don’t generate more children like residential developments. But "they’re of minimum value for us. We provide greater service than what we receive in taxes -- police, ambulance, fire."

The Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club in Main Street at Exton pay $1,523.70 annually to West Whiteland on the property assessed at $2.5 million.

Ross would like state lawmakers to give municipalities the right to pass an impact tax on retail and commercial properties because they generate costs to the municipality.

"Our numbers are way off the charts," Ross said. "Our police respond to parking lot accidents, false alarms, shoplifting."

People drive through Exton and assume the township is making a lot of tax money from retailers, Ross said, but that is not the case.

What really irks Ross is the $197 million in Wal-Mart sales tax revenues that go to the state.

"We don’t get any of it," Ross said. "It’s not fair."

The hotly contested Wal-Mart on Route 1 and Schoolhouse Road in East Marlborough is being built. Township Manager Jane Laslo expects the 135,000-square-foot store to be open by late summer.

Township supervisors and some local residents fought off the nation’s largest retailer for 10 years. Now that it’s going up, Laslo said several township residents have told her they wanted it all along.

But there are still opponents.

David Yeats-Thomas, of West Marlborough, is not impressed that Wal-Mart will be paying into the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District coffers.

He opposed it when he was the editor of the Kennett Paper, and he still thinks it’s a bad idea.

"It will bring more development, more traffic," Thomas said. "It’s unbearable to get through the Longwood part of Route 1 during the busy part of the day. With Wal-Mart, it will be impossible."

Thomas is convinced Wal-Mart will also add to sprawl as well as take business from shops in Kennett Square.

As for the township residents who told Laslo they are anxious for the Wal-Mart open, Thomas said they are probably new people who moved to the township.

Thomas has no plans to shop at the Wal-Mart when it opens later this year.

"I’m not impressed," Thomas said about he visit to Wal-Mart when he was a newspaper editor. "I don’t know what the excitement is all about."

Nancy Mohr, of East Marlborough, raised $135,000 for traffic and environmental studies to fight off the Wal-Mart when she was a member of the Citizens for Responsible Development.

"Over the course of 39 hearings, I knitted all but one sleeve of one very large sweater," Mohr said.

Mohr said her concerns were the economic, safety, environmental and open space damage Wal-Mart would do that would outweigh any revenue advantage.

Like Thomas, Mohr does not expect she will be shopping at the Wal-Mart.

"I’ll pay a few cents more to support local entrepreneurs," Mohr said.

Wal-Mart’s plans to build a superstore in Lower Oxford is still before supervisors. That plan has been delayed by sewer hook-up issues.

Wal-Mart’s first Pennsylvania store opened 13 years ago in York. It now is the largest employer in the state with 39,000 workers, beating out the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia School District.

According to Wal-Mart figures, the retailer paid $48.3 million in Pennsylvania and local taxes in 2002 and remitted $197 million in sales taxes from its 49 stores, 35 supercenters and 19 Sam’s Clubs in Pennsylvania.

In 2002, Wal-Mart planned to build 200 stores nationwide to add to its 1,603 stores, 1,179 supercenters and 517 Sam’s Clubs. The company employs more than 1 million associates in the United States.

Reports from the Norristown Times Herald contributed to this story.

İDaily Local News 2003


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