Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some Northampton County Capital Ideas

While Northampton County Exec John Stoffa recuperates from surgery, Director of Administration John Conklin has been standing in for the boss. After yesterday's budget hearing, he may soon be checking into the hospital himself.

Northampton County Council member Diane Neiper and her colleagues had plenty of tough questions at yesterday's budget hearing. Instead of looking for ways to cut costs, they demanded to know why the county isn't spending more. The usually quiet Mike Dowd summed up the feeling of fellow council members. "We've sat here for three years and, quite frankly, the ball hasn't moved past the ten yard line. . . ."[W]e are constantly shifting objectives and priorities."

Ron Angle , of course, was a lot more blunt. He slammed the paucity of capital projects in its proposed budget.
I got to tell you people. This capital projects part of the budget stinks. There is no capital projects in here. You haven't addressed it. I'm going to go home before you give me the speech that you're working on the big, long-range plan. You've been working on the big, long-range plan for three years. It's budget time. If there was some kind of a plan, it belongs here in the budget. There is no plan.
Conklin quietly laid out some of the county's future projects.

Juvenile Justice Center. - The county is "definitely moving forward" with that $5 million project, and will be ready to start this Spring. It can be financed by loan, bond or budget amendment. Right now, the bond market is in the tank. We are in a "historically scary" period right now, explained Fiscal Director Vince Mazziotti. he's waiting for the credit market to improve.

Archives. - When Neiper voted to purchase the Milides building, across the street from the courthouse, she did so because she believed that's where the archives building would be located. "For whatever reason, Mr. [County exec] Stoffa doesn't think it should go there anymore. So my question is, why should I vote for this because, whatever he presents, it's not happening?"

Conklin agreed most members of council wanted archives located at the Milides building, and noted that Stoffa's recent idea of moving archives into downtown Easton has bombed with Mayor Sal Panto. But the county is hesitating about using the Milides property as a new home for archives. Easton has become "very tight on its zoning requirements, especially regarding parking." The location is great, but the county would be forced to dedicate parking there that will never be used.

Neiper, unhappy with Conklin's answer, told him "that archives building should be built now. It should be done. Every time you change your mind and you go down another avenue, there are just more obstacles in the way. I'm really not liking that we can't get anything done in Northampton County. Nothing. Name me one thing we've done."

Conklin explained that archives is really a "cost neutral operation." The money the county brings in from records improvements fees currently pays to house county records. Conklin, noting that construction of archives will cost us $3 million, urged caution and suggested the Milides building may turn out to be the right location.

Parking Deck. - Public Works Director Steve DeSalva told council that the parking deck depends on long-range plans. If the prison stays at the county campus, so will the parking deck. Major repairs, sufficient to extend the life of that parking deck for another ten years, will cost the county $1 million. Conklin added there is no "immediate need to jump into a new parking deck" that might cost $24 million. If the administration moves to Gracedale, a parking deck is unnecessary.

Relocation to Gracedale. - One idea being considered right now is to relocate county offices, including those at the Governor Wolf and Bechtel buildings, to Gracedale. According to council member Dertinger, "I don't know that there's two votes to even put an ordinance forward for a $139 million master plan at Gracedale. The idea simply being floated has caused a number of people to be calling my house."

Parking Lot at Union Street to Be Paved. - It will cost $400,000. Easton has not given final approval.

Weaversville Park. - Council members wanted to know why this $6.5 million project has not been started. Director of Administration John Conklin explained we're still looking for the money, and may have to use open space money for that in 2010.

These folks seem to have their roles reversed. Usually, the executive branch wants to spend a gazillion dollars, and the legislative branch keeps a tight grip on the purse strings. In The People's Republic of Northampton County, it seems to be the other way around.


Anonymous said...

Well the problem is the Stoffa Administration has been a failure of epic proportions.

Anonymous said...

"Usually, the executive branch wants to spend a gazillion dollars, and the legislative branch keeps a tight grip on the purse strings. In The People's Republic of Northampton County, it seems to be the other way around."

isn't it more a function of the executive and council reaching a consensus that these were, in whole or in part, worthy projects, and then Stoffa not advancing the ball in accomplishing any of them?

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's certainly a fair criticism. But the real problem is that the courty stopped any long range planning years ago. Instead of doing that, we wqereer applying band aids. To his credit, Stoffa realized that he was prtoposing a $30 million band aid himself and stopped. You can nail him for that and call him indecisive. But he wants the county to move in the right direction and make moves that will make sense 50 years from now. Action, just for the sake of doing something, is silly. So is the football analogy because it presumes that we know where the goal is located. That's Stoffa's point. We haven't known that.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are, however, fair in saying that after three years, we should have more definite plans. I think Stoffa himself would acknowldedge that.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the current make up of the NC Politburo is unable to do anything. Their contempt for voters indicates they only stand to harm taxpayers by their actions - if and when they get out of their own way.

I'd like a new cast of characters before making any more serious decisions in NC. This gang could screw up sleeves on a vest and needs to go.

Let's clean sweep them all.

Anonymous said...

They'll all land softly on the bridge commission anyway.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I don't know who you are but admire your moxie. It might be time for that broom. This counciul is the one who attempted to force the exec to enter into an IT that was $1.8MM higher than the one that was ultimately signed. This is the council that refused to listen to its own lawyer. This is the council who established that it can publicly rebuke county workers, as it has done twice in the last five weeks. This is the council who would rather spend money on a bad idea than wait until long range plans are established. This is a council led by egos like Dertinger, who blows up at someone in nearly every meeting. It's a mess.

I will say that Cusick (R) and Neiper (D) are hard workers who ask good questions. Peg Ferraro can't be blamed for that mean-spirited council, either, having just been elected ti the at large seat.

Anonymous said...

There was a plan to add many more cells to the existing prison but Stoffa threw out the plan. Noew it will cost millions more. There is no way a prison will be built anywhere elser in the County.
To play that game belies a total ignorance of Northampton County.

As to the Bidge Commission, Stoffa doesn't need that he has multiple public pensions and benefits, the same ones he wants to take from employees now.

Anonymous said...

The County facilities are fine. There is still "room in the hallways"! These mega million dollar pipe dreams are exactly that. Pipe Dreams. I am shocked that Ron Angle and others are eager and willing to put the County in more debt with all these little band aid albeit Million Dollar Highway (oops, I mean projects). Instead of these here and there projects, its time for the County to freeze all capital spending. Create a master plan using Gracedale. Meet with Chester County officials and look at how they divested from West Chester Borough and moved to facilities out in the County near Route 222? The answer our officials will find is exactly what is happening with our County facilities in Easton. No more room!!! Time to take a breath and figure out what really needs to be done. All those projects listed in Bernies blogs are Million Dollar Highway pipe dreams. Not sure why Ron Angle is not having issues.

Anonymous said...

I am willing to bet a case of poptarts that there will be no prison built anywhere in the County!

Bernie O'Hare said...

It will be very unpopular, but it is needed. There are a few areas where zoning does permit a new prison. As I understand it, that includes a portion ofg gracedale. The best location, however, is currently zoned Agricultural.

The county needs a long-range plan. It needs to build a new prison. The old one is a lawsuit waiting to happen. If the county is unable to expand its campus, it will have to move, and the most logical location is Gracedale.

Instead of going at things piecemeal, I commend the executive for putting the brakes on band aids and saying we need to determnine where we are going to be for the next 50 years.

Yes, he did not do this in year 1 0r 2. he was a little busy putting out fires. But I give Stoffa credit for realizing it now and attempting to do the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Stoffa was putting out his own fires. He can't get out of his own way.
He has broken every promise he made except the unnecessary tax increase.