But enough from me. His office was kind enough to forward the text of his statement, and I'd like to share it with you.
At the outset I want to make clear that the Lehigh Valley is not a collection of governments with budgets and bureaucracies but it's a collection of people - people who work here, people who live here, who run our businesses, our schools, our community organizations. People who make our neighborhoods strong and our economies healthy. Our governments, if they are being run well, recognize that we exist only to do things collectively that we can't do as individuals. This is your government not mine. It belongs to each person who lives here, who pays for its operation and it's incumbent upon those of us entrusted to run it to report to you on where we stand. The news media does that daily in small bites but - just as a company hosts an annual meeting with its stockholders - it's my belief that we need to do the same a few times a year with our stockholders - those we work for and with. Consider this a stockholders meeting.
And, this is a big operation. Next year's budget will be a little more than $400 million. We have a workforce of a little less than 2,200 employees, and another 600 plus part-timers
As you know, our county has been growing. And as with any business, growth makes the bottom line better but it also presents challenges, calls for adjustments and affords the opportunity to take care of those things that are often ignored in the tough times.
Those of you that I've worked with here in the county or in Bethlehem or when I was in state government know that I have a simple philosophy regarding fiscal management: keep your costs down, don't spend more than your making and pay attention to the little things to avoid big problems. Good tax policy comes from good spending policy. Control spending and taxes will take stay in check.
The combination of running a tighter ship and steering it through the calmer seas of a growing residential and economic base has put us on a solid course.
The budget we will officially propose to the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners tomorrow includes no tax increase. And barring any unforeseen circumstances, this county won't need a tax increase as far as our five year financial plan goes through 2011. Our tax rate will remain at 10.25 mills. In addition, next year's budget will see an increase in our cash reserves, or "Stabilization Fund," to $20 million, a growth of $1.5 million from last year.
That's the result of a well-managed operation. And, the big picture credit goes to our Director of Administration Tom Muller and our Budget Director Brian Kahler. I never thought I would meet two guys who were cheaper - er, more financially prudent, than me. And, their plans are executed and followed every day by our entire Cabinet.
Last year, I reported to you that we cut our total health care costs by 4 percent in 2007. Through a combination of thorough oversight, the cooperation of our employees and labor leaders, and the help of our partners Caruso Benefits and Capital BlueCross, next year our total health care costs will drop another 6 percent for a savings of more than $2 million. With our four labor contracts finished and in place, all county employees - union and non-union - now contribute to their health care costs.
Just as with health care benefits, in the area of raises my goal has been parity between our union and non-union employees. Next year we will accomplish that. All employees, whether members of a bargaining unit or not, will receive a 3.9 percent wage increase.
With our reduction in health care costs, the total county general fund will grow next year by a modest 3.6 percent for Lehigh County taxpayers. The 3.6 percent increase is well below the spending limit pledge taken by me and many of our County Commissioners, which correctly says we should hold growth below the rate of inflation, which is about 5 percent in the Lehigh Valley.
Part of controlling costs and spending, requires controlling the growth of government employees. Next year, will see a slight decrease in the overall number of county employees to a total of 2,197 full-time employees. We will, however, continue to shift and strategically realign positions, reducing them in some places and adding them in our priority areas and areas of need. Next year will see 14 new positions in the area of public safety and corrections, while eliminating unnecessary administrative positions.
We continue to look for ways to save more. Under the guidance of our director of general services, Jan Creedon, all our facilities starting next year will be changed out for full energy efficiency. Working with energy savings companies, or ESCOS, our facilities from nursing homes to prisons to office buildings will be evaluated and upgraded. Things such as insulation, window replacements, HVAC upgrades and new light fixtures will be changed. The upgrade costs will be borne by the ESCOs and then paid out of the savings we realize on our utility bills. During the next ten to fifteen years, we expect to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on energy related costs. With energy costs on the rise, it's critical that this be done for Lehigh County's taxpayers now.
Now, is also the time to fix what's broken and make sure our house is in order and that never again will we let buildings leak for 40 years and bridges to be closed or deteriorate because we don't want to spend money on core responsibilities. This fall we will embark on an $85 million bond issue for that purpose, with the lion's share going for the $61 million Courthouse renovation and expansion.
At the start of my administration, I successfully fought to reduce the cost of the planned courthouse renovations by $20 million, in part, so we'd have money for other needed improvements, such as our bridges. I also didn't think we needed 20 foot courtroom ceilings and all the schmaltz. The recent bridge collapse has reinforced how important it's to maintain our roads and bridges. We have 47 of them. On my first day in office, five of them were closed and one - Linden Street in Allentown - was weight and lane restricted. We've embarked on a course that will pump $10.5 million of county taxpayer money into our bridges during these four years, including $5.5 million to replace Linden Street. Next year's budget will see the addition of nearly $2 million to the program. By the last day of this term in 2009, all five closed bridges are scheduled to be reopened and Linden Street to be replaced. This has all been done under the watchful eye of Glenn Solt, our Manager of Capital Projects, who has fit this in while building an AAA baseball stadium and starting a new Courthouse.
Next year, we also will build a new 911 emergency communication center. It will move from the Courthouse to the recently acquired Hamilton Financial Center building, next to the County Government Center in Allentown. For the first time, our 911 center will use GPS technology to locate callers through their cell phones, minimizing emergency response time. Keeping the center in downtown Allentown allows for the future possibility of merging Lehigh County and Allentown City operations. It also has given us more space for county operations and allows us to lease space to other tenants, covering the cost of operating a new building.
This year we also will fix the hodgepodge of leaky trailers that were intended to be temporary 20 years ago that we call the men's work release facility along the Lehigh River in Salisbury Township. Finally repairing these ailing structures and expanding the capacity of this facility, allows us to save precious and costly space in our main prison as we can house nonviolent offenders eligible for work release in a less-costly facility. Through the excellent oversight of Ed Sweeney, our director of corrections, we lease space in our prison to other counties, now at a rate of $90 per day, resulting in a new $1.5 million in revenue for Lehigh County.
With a focus on improving public safety with regional solutions, a new Lehigh County Central Booking Facility will open at the end of the year. By locating one centralized booking and intake center directly at the Lehigh County Prison, we will achieve two important goals. We will save time for countless municipal police officers who will have one drop off location for offenders and, perhaps more importantly, we will have better tools to identify those who may be wanted in multiple jurisdictions. Our District Attorney Jim Martin has led the way on this project.
County spending on our nursing homes will remain the same next year with only a small Lehigh County taxpayers subsidy of $1.4 million going toward the nearly self-sufficient excellent nursing homes we run for our senior citizens in need. We will also invest a much-needed $4.5 million into building upgrades and improvements, in addition to the energy efficiency and energy-savings upgrades.
The area of Human Services about half of our total budget -- will get a big boost next year, which I will go into in detail tomorrow when we release the budget. But, while keeping the Lehigh County taxpayer contribution of $7.1 million the same next year as it is this year, we will see an increase of about $30 million in state and federal funding for everything from creating an autism resource center to providing more child day care services to get parents from welfare to work to addressing increased needs for our senior citizens and those with mental health and retardation challenges. This has all been done under the progressive leadership of Lynn Kovich, our director of Human Services.
In addition to new federal and state funding for human services, next year, Lehigh County will begin receiving $1.4 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to invest in our community. Because we've been designated an "urban county," by the federal government, we will receive twice what we'd gotten previously and we will get it directly instead of as a pass-through from the state. I'd like to thank our Director of Community and Economic Development, Cindy Feinberg, who worked a lot of very long hours to make sure that this, came to fruition.
This money will support what we're doing in Allentown, Bethlehem and our urban boroughs. We can now couple it with the grant programs we started to help with things like streetscape improvements, our borough business façade grant program, our countywide housing rehabilitation program, and projects in our municipalities, such as curb cuts, sidewalk replacements and sewer and storm water renovations.
In addition, next year will see a new approach toward creating better affordable housing not low-income housing but housing that working families can afford so people raised here can afford to stay here and raise a family. We will coordinate our housing activities closely with Northampton County as we continue to move towards greater regional cooperation.
One of last year's great successes was the creation of our Congress of Governments, a confederation of all 25 of our local governments in Lehigh County boroughs, cities and township, both rural and suburban. It's all about regionalism and results. It's a first in Pennsylvania and its goal is to give our local government officials a powerful forum for them to work together and have their voices heard on regional issues and solutions. So far, we are tackling new plans on emergency preparedness and response, better coordination and communication between our law enforcement agencies, regional transportation planning. It's been very encouraging. I've seen monumental progress in the Lehigh Valley since I started in this work 12 years ago in the viewpoint of local leaders toward regionalism and finding solutions to issues that reach across municipal boundaries to save all of our taxpayers' money.
We continue to move down the path of smart growth and regional cooperation. Lehigh County is a state leader in open space and farmland preservation, ranking fourth in the Commonwealth. To date, we have preserved 212 farms that total 17,346 acres. Last year, we invested a record $8 million in farmland preservation. Next year's budget will see us shift $12 million from money set-aside by the last administration for general operation of government to our Green Future Funds program to continue purchasing open space and helping to develop urban parkland.
We are combining a fiscally responsible approach with an aggressive agenda to invest in our infrastructure, our buildings, fight crime and improve public safety while we preserve our quality of life as we maintain our farmland and open space, hopefully, shifting our growth onto our brownfields and into our cities where we have the infrastructure and need the help.
Good things are happening in Lehigh County. Hopefully, we are helping by creating a stable tax rate that isn't increasing, investing in our infrastructure, fueling both economic growth and preservation and taking care of our people in need. We need the private sector to drive the economy and create jobs. You need a government that is sound financially, focuses on the basics and gives you a good value for your dollar.
But, the bottom line is that we need each other. And, this is why Lehigh County and the Lehigh Valley have emerged as a state-wide leader in growth, regionalism and quality of life. When we communicate with each other, work together and drive toward common goals we can move mountains.
Thank you for your commitment and your time and attention today.