What is Stoffa's open space plan? Earlier this week, he circulated his own explanation.
"My proposal calls for a half mil of tax, along with utilizing a $10 million line of credit. In the Proposed 2007 Budget, $5 million of the line of credit would be utilized with $3 million State matching Farmland Preservation funds along with $2 million for Environmentally Sensitive Areas. In addition, the half mil of tax ($3.5 million) will allow $1 million for County Parks, an additional $1 million for Farmland, $800,000 for Environmentally Sensitive Areas, $500,000 for Municipal Parks and $200,000 for Debt Service. In total, for 2007, it is roughly $8.3 million. Never in our County's history, have we had such an opportunity to move forward. My fear is that we won't. There will be substitute plans, but there's none as strong as the one that I have proposed."
It's a modest and realistic plan that will generate $84 million over twenty years. And council chambers were packed last night with over forty open space advocates to endorse that proposal. Twenty of them spoke. They included municipal reps from Plainfield, Lower Saucon, Williams, Bushkill, Nazareth and Bethlehem. Most of these municipalities have started their own programs and have kicked in their own dough. And Stoffa himself addressed council in his quiet and casual style. "I'm trying to do what the people want."
But the most compelling speaker, by far, was an 85 year-old William Township farmer, who told us the "sands are running through the hourglass" of his life. He owns a historic 217 acre tract of mostly woodland. It was used during the revolutionary war for ironpit mines and was once inhabited by those powwow doctor responsible for many of the Hexenkopf myths. He'd like that property preserved.
But when it came time for a vote on the half mill tax increase, Charles Dertinger had a torpedo ready for Stoffa. Sure, Dertinger is Council's supposed open space chair, but he doesn't want a tax increase on his record next time he runs for Congress or President or Governor. Neither does Lamont McClure. And Wayne Grube wants to remain council president. So Grube backtracked on a promise to support Stoffa's budget. And these three stooges pulled Diane Neiper and Tony Branco along with them to destroy Stoffa's half mill initiative.
What they decided to do instead was invade the county's two month cash reserve balance, a rainy day fund set aside for large unexpected expenditures like a big union contract or hiring more employees than anticipated. It's irresponsible Afflerbach accounting, the very practice that put Allentown in financial distress. They cooked the books. And in the process, they denied the county an opportunity to establish a regular funding mechanism for open space.
Dertinger and McClure clearly cobbled their majority behind closed doors in violation of the Sunshine Act. Once you start breaking these little laws, you start breaking others. And guess what? Their vote also violated the Home Rule Charter, which prohibits council from playing games with the executive's estimated cash reserve. Duran Hamann, the county's budget director, told council as much and also mentioned that Dertinger's proposal was contrary to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Fiscal Affairs Director Vic Mazziotti told them the same thing. He even provided examples of the kind of trouble they could face by playing games with the cash reserve.
None of this persuaded asbestos lawyer Lamont McClure, who insisted on arguing accounting practices with Mazziotti. Once he had finished making a fool out of himself, Branco and Neiper were both ready to change their votes.
Grube whined he had been blindsided. And erstwhile congressional candidate Charles Dertinger demanded that Stoffa explain why he hadn't warned about the Home Rule Charter.
Stoffa's laconic response - "You're supposed to know that." And he is.
Hooray for our team!
Dertinger, McClure and Grube seriously underestimated Stoffa. They looked like a bunch of phonies out for themselves. Dertinger is complaining he's been "tricked" by a county executive who never deviated from a simple request for a half mill tax increase to fund an honest open space proposal. If Dertinger wants to know who tricked him, he should look in a mirror. The phrase "faithless politician" comes to mind. I think I've heard that somewhere. But I've got a better one for Dertinger, McClure and Grube. The three stooges. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. What's sad is these are the Democrats. And they're idiotic enough to cry foul after attempting to derail the budget proposed by the Democratic county executive.
Update: The Morning Call has characterized Stoffa's half mill "pay as you go" open space plan as a "farsighted approach" that will save us money in the long run.