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.