Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reynolds: Donchez "Fear Mongering" About Bethlehem Finances

Willie Reynolds inside the belly of the Pi
Last December, when Bethlehem City Council adopted a 7% tax hike, both Willie Reynolds and Bob Donchez agreed it was the "most difficult budget" that each had ever faced as members of Council. Reynolds added, "It's only going to get more difficult." Now that both Donchez and Reynolds are running for Mayor, Reynolds claims that Bethlehem is a "strong city," thanks in no small measure to the way it has managed finances. At a news conference yesterday afternoon, he claimed that Donchez paints a "sad picture of our financial situation." He then accused him of "fear mongering."

I'd accuse him of being realistic. This year,pensions will cost Bethlehem $11.1 million. To put that in perspective, it's 55% higher than it was the year before. To put that in even greater perspective, that one payment completely gobbles the $9.4 million casino host fee. And this high payment will be made each of the next five years.

In addition to pensions, health costs have increased 60.9% since 2004, even though the workforce is at its lowest level in thirty years.

Reynolds' news conference was at a technology center, the Pi Center for Innovation, located atop the Cantelmi Hardware store on E. 4th Street. This 8,000 sq. ft facility is leased from Cantelmi by the Bethlehem Economic Development Corp. A conference room, conversation rooms, lounge, kitchenette and even an ADA‐accessible shower are shared by a number of post-incubator businesses. Tenants are attracted to this site because it is in a state‐designated Enterprise Zone and a Keystone Innovation Zone.

They like the tax breaks.

According to Reynolds, there should be more places like them. "We need more Pis," he said, though he's rather slender.

Claiming that Bethlehem is in the midst of an "economic renaissance," Reynolds claimed that more economic development is the solution to Bethlehem's fiscal stability. "Economic development is the most important thing," he said.

What about public safety? I asked. Isn't that important, too?

That's a given, responded Reynolds. He agreed that questions about safety are what he hears most often from voters as he knocks on doors. So I guess economic development is the most important thing after public safety, which is the most important thing.

Historically, Bethlehem has shied away from KOZ properties, which exempts business owners from almost all state and local taxes. But Reynolds stated yesterday that Bethlehem should consider all economic development tools, even a mini-NIZ that is under consideration in some municipalities. He claimed the City needs this to remain "competitive" with other municipalities.

Reynolds also stated that he'd try to bring more efficiency into City government.. He claimed that replacing street lights with LED lights could reduce the cost of energy consumption. He also talking about centralized accounts payable and receivable, and making online payment of tax bills a reality.

Reynolds was confronted about the propriety of partisan political activity inside a publicly funded office.  Frankly, the space is rented to BEDCO, which in turn rents to private tenants. They do get tax breaks, but are private businesses. I don't know the answer to that one.

All in all, I'd say that the Reynolds' "fear mongering" crack is a bit over the top. But since Donchez took a cheap shot himself with a mailer that included Willie's middle school picture, I'd say they're even.

21 comments:

Uncle Remus said...

Both of these guys have contributed to the city's financial woes. booby d is more guilty as he's been part of the problem for 17 years but wee willie has done his share. Leaders have to have guts. Here's a couple of ideas for these 2 followers.

Make the union personnel as well as management pay more for the health benefits. Check out what they pay BO. It's a drop in the bucket compared to what the real world pays. This is especially true of those with families.

Consider privatizing city operations. The golf course city garage and ice skating rink are good candidates. Why is the city paying people $50,000 a year to cut grass. I'd be willing to bet a private company could do it cheaper and better. Privatizing would help reduce medical costs and future legacy costs.

public safety is important but it's not the only game in town although it will get you a lot of votes if you make promises to the masses (that you won' fully keep because you can't afford to.)

At any rate these two will not light the town on fire. Best you can hope for is the status quo.

maybe dg can at least attempt to rein them in

Anonymous said...

Is Donchez still aide to D Representative/

Anonymous said...

Reynolds is handling himself well during this campaign> Not sure if he can win, but he has solidified his place in Bethlehem's politics for some time.

Anonymous said...

6:42 Yes, Donchez is still an aide. He also bought time so he could collect his third pension. Why hasn't anyone brought that up? He can bitch about pensions, but he is going be be collecting three of them when he retires.

Uncle Remus said...

7:16,

that's because you are no allowed to ask tough questions. it's the bethlum zombie way. wait until the upcoming so called debates - it will be nothing but fluff.

Anonymous said...

Why does Willie shave his head? Head lice, it must be head lice. Who wants that in the Mayor's office?

And, Uncle Remus, I used to think you were Joe Kelly, but there is too much commonsense in your 12:47 AM comment. You must be, hmmm....

Anonymous said...

There is no pension for Mayor or City Council so neither candidate will be getting a third pension. Additionally, I believe Willie is eligible for the same pensions as Bob having been both an aid to a State Rep himself and now being a school teacher.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Reynolds is handling himself well during this campaign>"

Not yesterday. He made three reporters wait for nearly a half hour for a news conference he called, while he sat in a nearby room, talking to businesses there. He had no real answer about conducting that news conference inside the Pi building. His remarks about Donchez were unnecessary, and he himself was painting that same bleak picture just a few short months ago. I'd call it an off day.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Is Donchez still aide to D Representative/"

Yes, he works for Dan McNeil.

Anonymous said...

Remus is a disgruntled former city hall employee...

Anonymous said...

When will they stop talking about a NIZ? All a NIZ does is deny the city revenue for the period they are in effect. Creating more of them only compounds the result, which is lost revenue. At the end, many businesses move to another NIZ, rather than pay their fair share of the taxes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bethlehem historically has been leery of what I would call corporate welfare gimmicks. The city never had a KOZ. Also, I see no reason why one City should be forced to compete with another. That's not economic development, but is more accurately called poaching.

Anonymous said...

So then Unlce Remus... Callahan is also directly responsible for the financial woes of the city too. Since he is the mayor of the city and all. While I know this is a post about Donchez and Reynolds it is clear Bob is saying the city is not as fiscally well off as Callahan is trying to sell in his bid to be executive and Willie is clearly pushing that as well. It's all every interesting isnt it!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Callahan has stated that Bethlehem faces difficult budgets for the next few years, and the main reasons for that are the skyrocketing pensions and health benefit costs. He ha ended each of the last two years with a surplus, and has made decisions that save costs so that Bethlehem, unlike Easton, has not been forced to adopt a commuter tax. Bethlehem, unlike Allentown, is not trying to sell off its water. It is in the strongest position of the LV's three cities, but it is by no means out of the woods.

donmiles said...

Willie is right: as long as other LV municipalities are using tax-incentive zones to encourage improvements in their local economies -- besides the Allentown NIZ, for example, Upper Macungie used them to lure Ocean Spray from Jersey and Lower Macungie is considering one to induce the LV's first Costco there -- Bethlehem cannot be holier-than-thou and foreswear them. And its way better for Smart Growth to have those new businesses here with our established urban infrastructure than plopping them on farmland or some of our disappearing open space like they're doing in Upper and Lower Mac.
Sure they're a form of City expenditure, as much as any other budget expense -- but they're expenditures that don't require borrowing and interest payments by the City and they're expenditures that have a long-term payoff.
A community must spend to induce new businesses and jobs, they ain't gonna show up via wishful thinking.
Cantelmi's is one of Bethlehem's oldest businesses (Rick's a good friend of mine) and holding a news conference in one of the city's newest businesses upstairs from Rick's was a nice mix.
But Williie shoulda been on time :-)

Bernie O'Hare said...

Philosophically, I oppose most of these corporate welfare gimmicks. It is really poaching, and once the benefit run out, the company moves to another site willing to offer tax concessions. I would argue that no economic development tool should be use to induce a business into an area unless it is a new business or the distance is more than 100 miles away.

Anonymous said...

Donchez bought years as a state aide. He didn't earn them

Anonymous said...

The companies in the PI center may be the future of Bethlehem but the city dropped the ball big time on that project.

How come there are no mailboxes? How come you can't get phone service on a land line? What about the lack of security and the how come it cost three quarters of a million dollars? Riddle for the day. How many architects does it take to design a floor plan? At the PI center the answer is two.

Anonymous said...

"Will I be an 'evil' Mayor? What do you think"

Anonymous said...

If economic development is such a priority, why is it that Bethlehem's Director of Economic Development dispersed almost the entire staff of that Department? The ones that were forced out were the ones who did the most good. No one worth a damn is left.

Anonymous said...

Will it be "evil" economic development?