"I don't see anything good" is how the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, started things off. As a result of state and federal cutbacks, the county's annual contribution to the Gracedale Nursing Home will skyrocket from $381,000 to $6.9 million. The county's contribution to the retirement fund will shoot up from $2.4 million to $5.1 million, and according to Angle, it actually needs a cash infusion of $50 million. Personnel costs have also increased a staggering $6 million.
While county expenses go up, revenues have, at best, remained flat.
After reviewing the cold reality, Angle goes on to predict that our taxes will double in five years unless "extreme measures" are taken. But where? The Stoffa budget proposes cuts in general government (-15.3%), public works (-14.6%) and human services (-2.9%). Only the courts and prisons show a modest increase (+4.6%).
Northampton County Executive John Stoffa told Angle he believes that other counties facing the same problem should unite and pressure Harrisburg to increase funding. Angle thinks that's unlikely. Just last week, state representative Craig Dally told the Pen Argyl Area Concerned Citizens that the state government has $300 million less in the till than it should have at this time of the year. Some believe next year's shortfall could be as high as $3 billion, which will certainly mean a reduction in pass trough money. Counties will be forced to decide whether to cut programs that residents have been using or come up with local tax dollars to cover for the state.
Neither choice is very appealing.
I have at least one idea, which I'll explain below. You may have some, too.