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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, September 18, 2015

Despite State Budget Impasse, NorCo Continues Providing Human Services

Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter
Pennsylvania's state budget impasse, which is nearing the 101-day record set in 2009, has already sparked a lawsuit by a consortium of private human services agencies that are being denied operational funds. But in Northampton County, these nonprofit providers are being paid, and on time. Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter reports that the County has spent $17 million to make sure that non-profits and other human services providers continue to meet with the nearly 18,000 County residents who have a need. "I think we're OK until the end of the year," he predicted. "We have not nor do we anticipate eliminating any of the services."

Hunter, who made these remarks at County Council meetings on September 16 and 17, credited Budget Administrator Doran J. Hamann for foreseeing and building a budget around this possibility. He and Executive John Brown warned Council they will have to spend between $5-7 million more through October.

No Smoking Ordinance Goes Up in Smoke

Though the County will be spending more of its own money for human services, none will be spent for "No Smoking" signs. That's because Council narrowly defeated a Seth Vaughn ordinance that would ban smoking on all County property, except for designated areas at Gracedale and at county parks. It would ban increasingly popular electronic cigarettes, and even remove designated smoking areas.

This ordinance was tabled in July, but Vaughn succeeded in getting the matter re-considered after walking into the courthouse through a cloud of smoke in a designated smoking area outside.

Hayden Phillips called the proposal "an infringement on our personal freedoms," and both he and Ken Kraft referred to the "nanny state" regulating people's lives. Admitting to being "fully torn," non-smoker Glenn Geissinger said he had difficulty "continuing to regulate something that's legal."

Denying any intent to take away anyone's rights, Seth Vaughn's argument was quite simple. "Smoking kills people," he declared. In response to concerns raised by Scott Parsons and Bob Werner about the lack of a penalty, Vaughn called the ordinance a "culture change" that would be followed without the need for sanctions.

Lamont McClure was persuaded by a tobacco sign he recently saw at a gas station, warning him that second hand smoke kills people. Peg Ferraro argued that measures like these will reduce health care costs.

After everyone had weighed in, Vaughn's measure was supported by McClure, Ferraro and Mat Benol. It was opposed by Parsons, Werner, Kraft and Phillips.

Glenn Geissinger simply voted "present," which in this instance was the equivalent of a No vote. That effectively sent Vaughn's measure up in smoke.

Lamont McClure
Health Care Coverage Problems Discussed

Council, particularly Lamont McClure, was also concerned about the increasing number of employee complaints that health care coverage is being denied for medications and procedures ordered by physicians, from Nexium to mammograms. "It's one thing to ask people to pay more, but also to see the quality of care diminished?" he asked. "That's mean." McClure questioned whether these reductions are coming from the Brown administration, but Executive John Brown and Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen strongly denied that they are behind any of the reductions that have come from the County's third-party health administrator, Capital Blue Cross.

Seth Vaughn, who works in the nursing field, called it a "systemic problem." He added that "[i]nsurance companies are finding new and creative ways" to reduce costs. "I think it's terrible. The Affordable Care Act is the main driver to this." Scott Parsons blamed the "health care industry as a whole."

Allen told Council that employees with health care coverage problems should contact her and she will work to resolve the matter, in some cases seeking exceptions. Brown echoed Allen."We encourage employees to come forward and make us aware."

"Illegal" payraise

Council also had a lengthy discussion about payraises that Executive John Brown gave to 14 employees in 2014 without Council approval. Council Solicitor Phil Lauer had ruled they were illegal for that reason, but County Solicitor Ryan Durkin argued that the Executive provided these raises in accordance with an employee policy manual.

Whether legal or illegal, one thing nearly everyone seemed to agree on is that the employees who benefited from these raises may now rely on that extra income. Sensing that there was an "opportunity to de-escalate," Lamont McClure suggested leaving the raises intact until the end of the year, and then reviewing them as part of the budget process.

McClure's measure passed 8-1, with only Hayden Phillips dissenting.


Anonymous said...

What is this personnel policy rule that the administration keeps pointing too? It is absurd to keep referencing this rule and then not citing the rule. Tell us which rule this is so we can take a look at it. This rule either does not exist or the rule is in violation of the Home Rule Charter. Violation of the Home Rule Charter calls for the forfeiture off your office. It's plain simple and easy.

Anonymous said...

Let me add to the above.....By Council not exercising their obligations and mandates under the Home Rule Charter they too are in violation of the Charter. What they need is for a private citizen to come forward and sue them for not doing their jobs. Then the next step is to sue them for violation of the Charter and ask for the forfeiture of their office.

Anonymous said...

This county council continues to come off a seven more inept[t and clueless than the county executive.

Anonymous said...

LOL- this is what these fools are concerned about? I am not a smoker....but I am well aware that the "sin tax" added to cigs literally pays for the kid healthcare/CHIP program. keep eliminating smokers, chip wont be paid for....

BTW, may I be so bold to ask how can an electronic cig or vapor cig be deemed harmful to ones health? It may or may not have the nicotine. Many, use these devices to avoid the real issue which is the tar.

The vapor cigs are exactly that. water vapor. it is flavored water vapor. since when is water vapor bad for ones health. Nicotine is not categorized as a carcinogen.

the little oligarchs know what's good for you. hey Seth and council . if you are so anti smoking , make a pitch to the state to ban the sale of smokes, chew, snuff and anything else YOU feel people need top stop. try to ban the sale of smokes in the county if you are sop anti smoking. As far as I know, these items are available and legal. do not use tax payer cash to buy stupid signs to tell us about it. give back the tax dollars made off of cigs in the county...

hey Seth, what you and your council members might want to ban is politicians lying to the public. especially to those who supported you scammers.

people have had it with politicians. it does not matter from which party you guys come from. you are all the same. a bunch of corrupt liars who look to control every aspect of peoples lives.

Anonymous said...

4:23 4 of them said no to his stupid ploy to stop people from smoking, you owe them an apology for saying all of them are idiots

Anonymous said...

why not 4 independent stories here? you getting tired in your old age?

Anonymous said...

how dumb can this guy be who made this comment..."t's one thing to ask people to pay more, but also to see the quality of care diminished?" he asked. "That's mean." McClure questioned whether these reductions are coming from the Brown administration, but Executive John Brown and Deputy Administrator Cathy Allen strongly denied that they are behind any of the reductions that have come from the County's third-party health administrator, Capital Blue Cross.

Earth to McClure, this is what people have been shouting from the roof tops about since day one of obama/Democare. if you knew anything , you would understand ..this is how insurance companies are cutting costs as a direct result of the implementation of obamacare. for anyone to place the blame on brown is a complete idiot and has no concept of what the obamacare plan is all about.

now, we all feel bad about govt workers watching their healthcare plans go to hell. now I would say to McClure, welcome to the party that 90% of the rest of the People have to deal with thanks to obamacare. People have been making the govt aware of these problems for years and they are called fear mongers and haters of the poor.

THIS IS THE DIRECT RESULT OF BIG GOVT AND THEIR PISS POOR RULES, MANDATES AND REGULATIONS. care is reduced and deductibles are outrageous... welcome to obamacare

Make each and every govt employee participate in obamacare and you will soon see a revolt from the unions. they all support the democrats and all support obamacare , as long as they don't have to use this garbage .

Anonymous said...

anon 5:49, produce your birth certificate. You sound like a Muslim. Your tinfoil is slipping.


Anonymous said...

5:49 is a very simple case of an asshole who doesn't know what he is talking about. The County is self insured and only pays Capital BC/BS to administer the County program. The County tells Capital BC what they will pay for and that is all the County will pay for. Capital is only doing what the County tells them to do.

Anonymous said...

Does 5:49 realize healthcare was a mess before the ACA. What planet was he on?

Anonymous said...

5:49 doesn't have a clue what he is talking about.you are right 10;23. The County dictates what will be covered under their plan and not the company that pays the County bills. The County is self insured which means the medical costs incurred are the medical costs approved by the County. The Administrator of the plan only pays what the County covers.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"why not 4 independent stories here? you getting tired in your old age?"

I thought each story, by itself, was too short.