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.