Thursday, November 20, 2008

Northampton County Council Gets Wake Up Call

Northampton County Council has been whacking the Stoffa administration like a piñata over next year's "no tax increase" budget. Let me give you an example.

A planned $5 million juvenile center expansion was never included because of uncertainty over the funding mechanism. For that reason, council members on both sides have been calling Stoffa's sparse budget "fraudulent." That's a tad harsh, especially since everyone knows about this project.

Council wants to spend, spend, spend. Prez McHale told the finance committee yesterday that she'd like to give Easton's State Theatre more money than the $25,000 already proposed. She'd also like to throw some dough at Bethlehem's Christkindlemarkt. Dertinger wants to spend millions for a park at Weaversville and Neiper lobbies for an archives building across the street from the courthouse, even though nobody will be able to park there.

Late yesterday afternoon, Fiscal Affairs Director Vic Mazziotti gave council members a wake up call. Like most governments, Northampton County has a defined-benefit pension plan for its workforce, something that has become increasingly rare in the private sector. This kind of retirement package typically guarantees a specific payment for the remainder of the employee’s life after retirement.

When the budget was originally proposed in October, the actuarially determined contribution to the retirement fund increased from $2.4 million to $5.1 million. At that time, the fund had lost $50 million. One month later, it's $60 million, and the administration will be required to contribute $6 million to that fund next year. It already needs to amend the budget.

If the pension fund continues to lose money, it's very possible that the county contribution will skyrocket while real estate tax revenues remain flat or go down.

Heeding council's concerns, the administration is also amending its budget to include an $8 million bond for the juvenile center expansion and repairs to a crumbling parking deck and three county bridges. It will postpone purchasing new county vehicles and power-washing the courthouse. "You don't wash your car when you're three months behind on the payments," notes finance chair Ron Angle.

Instead of spending money, county council has now scheduled two extra budget hearings in December to look for places where they can cut.

They can start with their $500,000 slush fund.

For more details concerning yesterday's finance committee meeting, check out Sarah Cassi's Express Times report.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is sad that mismanagement has created a huge deficit in the Human Services Department. They already moved nerly a million dollars at the end of last year, extra $$ this year and still they will need close to a million more dollars. Those of us in the Department can't believe the way things are going.

This money was already in the pipeline and not the result of the economy, just dumb management.

Anonymous said...

Good point. But the Suburban North Y in Catty is in Lehigh Co. and they got $10 K from the slush fund. Guess that Chriskindlemart benefits NorCo residents as well.
It is ludicrous that either this enterprise or the State Theatre gets any extra $$ given the county's financial woes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chriskindlemart is in LC? Wow! I can't believe the arrogance of these people. McHale is sending money to rich people's artsy fartsy groups while people scramble to find money to heatr their homes. This is tourism money qand is suposed to be used for projects that enhance tourism. Well, feeding the hungry should enhance tourism, too. A creative council could finf ways to put that money to good use.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:41,

There is no deficit in HS. Next year, it will need more money, and for the same reason LC needs more money. The state is cutting back. The state and dfeds are also arguing over how much each is supposed to contribute.

If there is dumb management, send an email with details to the county council. They are constantly looking for ways to trash Stoffa. But in an open counmcil meeting, where people have to ID themselves, there's been no evidence of poor management at HS. Quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

The bottom is falling out and the walls are falling in and McHale and her ilk choose to ignore their jobs and continue to pass out gifts to cronies using my dollars. She's a despicable representation of a responsible public servant. She thinks money grows on trees for her to use to impress friends at cocktail parties. Shameful.

Tom Dietrich said...

Irks me. Don't know how to put it. Our county's workforce went ignored for years, money spent on water fountains, and soon a 'newer' parking deck.

We need people focused on providing services the county government is required to provide.

Anonymous said...

Chriskindlemart is I believe in Northampton Cty. If you cross the rr tracks you are in LC, still Bethlehem though.

Regardless, why do they need money?
Same as State Theater.

Has Vic mentioned his plan of replacing the computer software system that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars?

He'll tell you it will save the county money but what does he care, he lives in Allentown and will be long gone if software is replaced.

It's not broken and no reason to replace.

Just ask those who use it day in and day out...

Anonymous said...

Human services need to battle the State for the needed monies before dipping into county coffers. They always have in the past. Why are they depending on county money now..Someone needs to manage better..

BethlehemDem said...

Christkindlemarkt is in Lehigh County, although its offices are in Northampton County.

The Monacacy Creek is the divider in that area. Christkindlemarkt lies just west of the creek.

But why give them money? It is not like Christkindlemarkt is a free event the public can enjoy. It has an admission price and has lousy entertainment. Someone will have to explain to me why people will pay an admission fee for entry into a tent just to buy stuff.

The money should go to soup kitchens or some other charities.

lighthouse said...

Bad enough that our NorCo taxes went up after Reibman's $110 million dollar bond, followed by the $30 million (?) open space bond....agree or disagree, at least those were approved by the voters.

But from your post, it certainly seems as though they are trying hard to give away money....and tends to be the same Councilmen giving it away (if your reporting has been "fair and balanced" on LVR the past year).

Anonymous said...

Denial exists in two places; Egypt and theis Blog.

You use to care about employees in Human Services and understood why we usually don't identify oourselves at meetings. With this new crew that has all changed. I have worked under three Directors and this is the worst we have gone with deficit spending.

You refuse to believe it because of the Stoffa Administration but if you were to really check you would see $$ was given to CYF at the end of last year and more this year and now even more.

It is a shmae that a once Human Services advocate is now just a slogan.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 7:00,

I understand why employees need to remain anonymous, but there simply is no deficit in HS. Moreover, I know some of the divisaion heads who have nothing to do w/ the Stoffa administration. If Ross was mucking it up over at HS, I know we would havce heard about it.

Ross & Dolan have both been very forthright to Council about the cuts they have to make. And as they have explained, there are two basic reasons. First, the state is giving less money. Second, there is an ongoing dispute between the state and feds over the formula that determines their respective shares.

You made some serious accusations, but you haven't backed it up. As I told you, send an email to council w/ details. if there is anything to what you say, I'm sure they'll relish the opportunity to roast Stoffa alive while you all toast marshmellows.

But frankly, I don't believe you. I'd have to see evidence, not an anonymous allegation. I could anonymously claim that some HS employees are bums who spend their whole day smoking weed. That wouldn't make it true and you would be outraged.

I am sure you think something is wrong, but you don't know it. If you do, get your information together and post it here or send it to council. They still have budget hearings on 12/2 & 12/9. But quit blowing smoke.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, on budget issues, did you get a chance to watch the "Business Matters" on regional rail? Curious what you thought.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the sacred $75000 for the Wall Street Tycoon's rail study. With all the additional government money that will become available soon due to increased tax revenues, a major project like that HAS to proceed. It is such a small amount of money after all.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I thought it was a great show. I weanted to see Angle and marin debate the topic, and Ron is clearly the better debater. After listening to both of them and reading what i could find, my conclusion is that the return of rail is inevitable and we should fund a study. My only objection is that I would not fund the study now. I agree with Peg Ferraro, who thinks we should wait until we have a better handle on our finances.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was great too, and I agree - don't fund now, wait until things settle down. That pension liability issue is HUGE for all governmental entities, it's going to cost the taxpayers millions.

I am really enjoying the show, Iannelli is putting important topics out there.

The Banker

Bernie O'Hare said...

He's very good. And i want whatever drug he takes before he does that show.

gsbrace said...

no drugs... that's tony. He is pure energy. He was fun to work for.

Anonymous said...

Me too, he's amazing the way he does it, very entertaining.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

Ianneli is the luckiest waiter in the world.