|Willie Reynolds inside the belly of the Pi|
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.