The swing vote came from so-called establishment moderate Brad Osborne. You see, he'd like to be the next Lehigh County Exec. He put his naked political ambition ahead of good government. He chose ideologues over competency and real results.
The "Reform" Team's False Promises
In 2012, Scott Ott and his bloc took office saying they represented the future of the Republican Party in Lehigh County. Through campaign mailers, radio ads and numerous appearances on Bobby Gunther Walsh’s show, Ott and his gang claimed they would “reform” County government and promised to do the following:
1. Reverse the 16% tax increase that went into effect in 2011. During their campaign for office, they said the 16% increase was totally unnecessary and that they had a plan to completely eliminate it.After taking office, Ott and his bloc appointed Mike Schware to the Board. This gave them a working majority of five to do what they promised voters they would do. Yet rather than working to implement their plan, they decided to focus on ideological battles over such things as pass through grants for Meals on Wheels. As a result, less than two and a half years after taking office, none of their promises has been fulfilled. And to top it off, Ott decided to renege on his commitment to Lehigh County voters and left before his term was over, running off to Texas.
2. Balance the County’s budget and refuse to approve any budget that had a structural deficit.
3. Stop using the County’s reserves as a piggy back to be spent down covering the deficit.
4. Reduce spending, not slow the growth of spending or “cut” proposed spending, but actually reduce spending on a year over year basis.
The Lehigh County Reality
Voters eventually smelled the Scott Ott bullshit and rejected him as an Executive in favor of a man, Tom Muller who tells the truth. It's an unpleasant truth.
1. County reserves are down to $17 million from $25 million when Ott and his bloc took office which is below the $20 million they have set as the minimum.So after two and a half years of Ott’s leadership, taxpayers are paying more than when he came into office. Lehigh County is left with spending that is on an upward trajectory, a sizable structural deficit and insufficient reserves.
2. The structural deficit has increased by over 60% to $7.7 million from 4.7 million before Ott and his bloc took office.
3. County spending (covered by property taxes) has increased to $110.9 million from $109.3 million before Ott's "reform" team took office. In spite of claims that they really “cut spending”, all they have done is reduce the spending proposed in the budget. Spending has actually increased by $1.6 million since they have been in office.
4. The millage rate was decreased by 2.75% (from Ott’s campaign mailer last year) and not by the 16% that was promised. Moreover, by not continuing the tax credits given in 2012 and 2013 (Ott called them gimmicks), every taxpayer in Lehigh County will pay more in taxes in 2014 than they did in 2013. And the average taxpayer (accounting for the revenue neutral reassessment) will pay more in 2014 than they did in the 2012 budget passed before Ott took office.
Let's Cut $8-12 Million
The inability of Ott and his bloc to deliver on any of their promises has set the stage for a tax increase in the budget for next year. This seems to have dawned on them, so they passed a resolution earlier this year calling for a budget that eliminated the deficit, increased reserves and accomplished both of these feats without increasing taxes. This passed unanimously, too, with both Democrats and Republicans waving their magic wands.
But this is not Hogsmeade, despite what you see at the trough. It's Lehigh County. The only way to work this magic is through spending cuts of $8 - $12 million (or 10% to 14%) from the County’s controllable spending. That's highly unlikely.
I have yet to hear a single Commissioner propose a spending plan that would avoid a big tax hike next year.
Fortunately, some serious candidates were willing to dive into the deep end of the pool. They included
• three former County CommissionersCommissioners went with the piano player.
• three former Township Commissioners
• an attorney and former School Board Director
• a current Borough Council member
• a current School Board member
• an accomplished businessman and veteran
Instead of playing the violin as Rome burns, Holt can play the piano.