Monday, July 29, 2013

The Lehigh County Bagmen

Not all that long ago, I wrote an essay excoriating both Lehigh County Commissioners and Bethlehem City Council members for even questioning pass through grants like one from CDBG for Meals on Wheels and another from RCAP for an Arts Charter High School.

But nothing is ever black and white. Last week, Lehigh Commissioners Mike Schware, Brad Osborne and Vic Mazziotti questioned three of these pass-thru grant proposals. They were absolutely right to do so.

$220,000 for one-bedroom apartments

The first of these is a $750,000 grant through Health Choices for six units at Cumberland Gardens Housing project in Allentown. The total project cost for 70-units is $15.4 million. That translates to $220,000 per one-bedroom unit.

That "seemed to be a little excessive to me," said Commissioner Mike Schware.

D'you think?

That grant was tabled 7-0 (Scott Ott and Tom Creighton were MIA - Summer Hours) while some suit harrumphed that "prevailing wages" is what makes this project so costly.

Those damn unions.

Feds Instruct Counties on How to Avoid Prevailing Wages

While paying prevailing wages with one grant, mindless bureaucrats in Washington did their best to avoid (evade?) them in a second, $500,000 grant intended to bring a block in Catty up to code. In fact, they gave County officials instructions on how to get around the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires local prevailing wages for public projects.

"So they're telling us how to get around the federal law?" asked Commissioner Vic Mazziotti.

If HUD or the the County were to hire the contractor to bring these homes up to code, they'd have to pay prevailing wage. If the money was given directly to homeowners, that would never do, either. Heaven forbid that a $500,000 actually go directly to the parties who need it. That might cut down on paperwork. So the feds have instructed that there be contracts between homeowners and contractors, prepared in quadruplicate, which will then be reviewed on thirty levels and the contracts can then be paid with CDBG funds.

Commissioner Vic Mazziotti, no friend to the Davis-Bacon Act, is a bit bothered about a scheme devised by the feds that seems to be intended to avoid it. "It's a hard thing," he told me late last week. "You don't want to say No but we shouldn't be put in a position where our only role is money launderer."

Then they laundered the money, 7-0.

"If you question any of this, you're accused of hating poor people," explained Vic Mazziotti.

Bagmen For the State

While Commissioners might be money launderers for the feds, they are bagmen for the state. You see, the state uses counties to funnel money to entities that it is unable by law to find itself. So it simply used Lehigh County last week to send $250,000 to Luther Crest for site improvements at an $8 million project. Barred by the state constitution from giving Luther Crest the money directly, Lehigh County will be the bagman.

Pointing out that it "makes little sense to me," Mazziotti noted, "We had nothing to do with this grant. We didn't receive proposals, we didn't evaluate proposals, we didn't make this decision. The State made this decision."

Now I've told you before that Mazziotti, a mild-mannered, unassuming bean counter, is a gold mine of pithy quotes. Here's a few from last week's meeting.

"This is an avoidance of the state Constitution that we're asked to participate in. "

"If the state wants to give a grant to this organization, that's wonderful; they should just do it."

"If a private sector organization did this, they'd be in jail."

"I'd rather not be the bagman."

"Given my nationality, I'm a little sensitive to that term."

Another accountant, Commissioner Mike Schware, likens the process to a teenage neighbor coming over and asking him to buy a six pack for him. "It shouldn't be this easy," he said.

Of course, the grant passed 7-0.

Lehigh County Commissioners don't mind being called money launderers or bagmen. Just don't call them bogeymen.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mazziotti was a clown and out of touch in Norco, why think he would be any better in Lehigh.

The guy is just another tea party ideologue.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

Those who bother to find out how government works usually end up disgusted. That said, government is as bad as it is precisely because by in large the public pays no attention.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

The Mad Mazz has been a disaster in government. As a self-aggrandizing do nothing in Northampton County and as an impractical ideologue in Lehigh County.

The guy richly deserves his bagger reputation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Vic Mazziotti is one of the finest people I have ever seen in local government, while 4:48 and 8:35 are anonymous cowards.

Anonymous said...

What was h9is opinion of Stoffa's $186,000 parking spaces?

Bernie O'Hare said...

There never were any $196,000 parking spaces. Repeating a lie over and over, does not make it true.

Rich Fegley said...

"If you question any of this, you're accused of hating poor people," explained Vic Mazziotti.

I used to think like that. But that is ridiculous! We are NOT questioning using this money to help the poor and needy.

We are questioning how effectively HUD and the Allentown Housing Authority are utilizing these taxpayer funds.

If the money is spent on administrative costs and high priced contractors, less money ends up directly helping those who need it most.

I'm glad to see O'Hare, Molovinsky and the County bringing this to our attention.

How are we going to fix this?

Anonymous said...

Mazz will fix it. He found $10 million a year in sasv9ingsw in Northampton county.

Problem is only he and O'Hare are aware of it. Ask the fiscal guys at the county and they smile.

But as Bernie says, if you repeat it often enough and the Press and county council does not do their job, they can all claim it is true.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have previously spelled out exactly how Vic saved $10.2 million annually. It is no secret and many people are well aware of what he did.

"His initiatives have saved taxpayers $10.1 million annually. In the past five years, he's changed health care administrators ($7 million per year); made telephone services changes ($250,000 per year); negotiated a new IT contract ($800,000 per year plus 12 additional employees); replaced the County's Payroll/HR system ($250,000 per year); reorganized Assessment Division procedures ($1 million per year); implemented remote deposit capabilities in the Revenue Division; established an OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Trust to reduce the required annual contribution for retiree health care by over $500,000 per year; and implemented a new recording fee ($300,000 per year)."

All done very quietly and without beating his chest.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"How are we going to fix this?"

I think you have to refuse to fund it until the per unit cost is reduced.

Anonymous said...

There absolutely was a proposal for a parking complex that, divided by the number of new spaces created equaled $186,000 apiece. False? No. Hyperbole? Perhaps, though not in the league of your Scott Ott histrionics.

I like and voted for John Stoffa, twice. It was not the finest moment in his otherwise conservative stewardship.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It was at one time a vague proposal. It never got off the ground, partly bc of cost. You presented it as a reality. That's dishonest.

Anonymous said...

So is saying Scott Ott wants elderly veterans to starve. I don't think Scott wants people to starve and I didn't think John wanted elderly souls at Gracedale put on the streets.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I never said that Scott Ott wanted elderly people to starve. I pretty much quoted him as saying that he did not think it was right to borrow money from the Commies to feed an 85 year old woman. Those are his words and he is stuck with them. I didn't make them up.

Anonymous said...

"It was at one time a vague proposal"

Now who is being dishonest to protest a mancrush?

The only thing "vague" about it was we had a county council that told Stoffa and crew to take a hike.
Once he got his rubber stamp council, he has been able to buy buildings and spend money like a drunken sailor.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That us absolutely untrue. Try being honest, if you can. Council had been bugging Stoffa to build something. Derringer, in particular. Stoffa pulled the project bc it cost too much.

Anonymous said...

This from the guy who gives his pal Mohr $24,999 contacts and is leasing an unnecessary building for over a million a year.

No one needs to show Stoffa how to spend money.

The other side of the coin!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I see. Human services are unnecessary. Let the kid eat lead paint. Fuck the veterans.

Anonymous said...

"Let the kid eat lead paint. Fuck the veterans."

Thankfully the hyperbole of the Stoffa administration will be over and sane and rational minds can work out the problems of the county. He never has been able to argue for a project without the extreme victim card. No matter how much bullshit is involved.

He is fortunate to have a county council that wants to be led rather than lead.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The only time I saw the victim card played was during the Gracedale debate, and it wasn't Stoffa who was playing it. The FACT is that kids at the Wold building ARE exposed to lead paint. The fact is that veterans using the Wolf building DO have problems getting access. After dishonestly shrieking about Gracedale residents being kicked to the curb, you complain that Stoffa plays the victim card when he points to what is really happening. Wjat a phony you are. Thankfully, the human services building debate is over. You lost. Move on.

Anonymous said...

See that's the problem with these so called political purists.Turn back the grant for public housing at Cumberland gardens and all the reasons why.Then allow the grant to pass through for luther crest. Luther crest is not exactly public housing accommidations.Guess he doesn't want backlash from Trivent,or the lutheran community.The left wing liberals that they are.Ya gotta love politics