About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, January 22, 2016

NorCo Council Approves $500,000 in Hotel Tax Grants

Bruce Haines
Northampton County is expected to generate about $2 million in hotel tax revenue this year, based on a four per cent hotel room rental surcharge. Most of that money goes to Discover Lehigh Valley, a bi-county tourism bureau that also helps fund the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. In addition, the Steel Stacks Performing Arts Center and PBS-39's broadcast studio will collect $270,000. The rest of the money, nearly $500,000, was awarded in the form of hotel tax grants at Council's January 21 meeting to 32 different organizations. These were based on applications vetted in advance by the County's Department of Community and Economic Development, and are designed to promote community development or enhance tourism within Northampton County.  A list of the various projects considered is located here.

These grant requests were originally scheduled to be considered the previous day at Council's Finance Committee.But a bomb scare phoned into the courthouse earlier that day resulted in an evacuation, and the building was off limits until about 4 pm, right around the time that the committee had been scheduled to meet. Road blocks set up around the perimeter of the courthouse prevented access until after the meeting had been scheduled to start. As it happened, several of those turned around were grant applicants who wished to address Council.

I raised this possibility to Council before they started yesterday, having no idea at the time that I was actually right. Go figure.

"How many people are there who are on their way in here, who wanted to speak to this issue, who were turned around?" I asked. "We don't know."

Meeting at a place where the public had been turned away all afternoon is a pretty obvious violation of the Sunshine Act. Our open meetings law specifically provides that "the right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decisionmaking of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process." But that right fell by the wayside for a Council that was unwilling to do the right thing and reschedule the meeting.

Glenn "I wanna' be a Congressman" Geissinger, who chairs the Finance Committee, decided that the show must go on. And without the public's presence, that's precisely what it was. "While I understand your concern, I don't believe we are violating the Sunshine Act," he ruled. "So we will proceed."

This was great news for a few hardy souls, like Hotel Bethlehem's Bruce Haines and the Bach Choir's Bridget George. They had managed to slip in under the velvet rope, and had their hands out. Thanks to their well-reasoned arguments, Council voted to increase their funding. But others like Lynn Cunningham of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Gerry Yasso of the VIA Marathon, had been turned away. The Committee voted to reduce Yasso's funding, even though the VIA Marathon is without a doubt the most worthy application in terms of promoting tourism and hotel stays. Geissinger's Committee also recommended the elimination of a $4,000 arts study, even though applicant Randall Forte was among the missing, and as it happens, was one of those who were turned away.

Prior to the Council meeting, County staffers called applicants and told them they were welcome to pitch their projects. But many who had already been turned away once were unable to adjust their schedules at the drop of a dime. Some did come.

The "Docents on Main" and "Blacksmith Shop Demonstration," which had been pitched by Bruce Haines the previous day, saw their funding by $10,000 over the $55,000 recommendation. The Bach Choir will get $18,000 instead of the $13,000 allocated by County staff. The South Side Film Festival will get $1,000 instead of nothing, thanks to some juggling by Ken Kraft.

Gerry Yasso managed to get his funding restored, thanks to an amendment proposed by Geissinger.

Randall Forte of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council did get a chance to pitch his project, but was still shot down.

Lynn Cunningham was unable to squeeze a nickel for website redevelopment for the Bethlehem Visitor site. She had sought $15,000. She was asked whether she sought the money from the CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, who just happens to be her husband. "I have not but I'm sure I'll read about it on Bernie's blog tomorrow," she joked.

He was a last resort.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why the Hell should the county government give the Chamber of Commerce a dime??? Let her go with Tony 'its my show" Iannelli to Saucon Valley Country Club and hit up their membership for more money. If they can fund Tony's silly self-promoting TV show, they can fund this. Howe dare they ask for government money while pissing about government waste to their followers.

Maybe she can get it from the tourism folks who backdoor money to LVEDC. Her husband, the Don C has always been good when it came to getting money.

Ah the incestuous nature of the local ruling elite and their polite disdain for government all the while holding their hands out for it's money.

Vince Foglia said...

The essentials of corruption: Tax businesses just a little each so that they don't complain. Hide that tax if you can and pretend that it does not even effect locals, such as this hotel tax, or tax out of town workers. Gather a pool of money you control through the coercive power the state (or other threat of force). Then have secret meetings to select the favored few for the distribution of your largess via grants to projects that a free economy would not support, for things the public would not want as a priority for the fruits of their labor if they had a say. But you know what is best because you have that money now, not them.
This is what the mob did to the economy by adding small costs to many businesses, in things like the protection rackets. John Gotti was smart enough to throw block parties for his neighbors in Brooklyn, thus pretending the good guy to those he screwed. The Taliban and other terror groups keep their publics fooled by running schools. Fascists got the trains to run on time, so people kept quiet. Apathy let them keep their secrets. But its only a little County program, so "let them pick winners behind closed doors." Say good bye to freedom, SUCKERS.
Vince Foglia

Anonymous said...

Good analogy Vince. No argument here as you just hit a home run.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie, just to be clear:
The funding I was asking for was to go to the City of Bethlehem's Visitors website. This is not a Chamber website. You don't need to be a member to be in it, you only need to be a business or organization based in Bethlehem. We do not charge to be in it.
The current one is eight years old and is sorely in need of redoing.
Lynn Cunningham

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hi Lynn, I made the correction. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Any idea ow much of this money goes to Discover Lehigh Valley?

Patriot2 said...

One has to ask why the city of Bethlehem would not fund their own website but rather send Lynn begging County Council for hotel tax money. Websites are necessary business functions for all cities that should be budgeted by that city. Sets a very bad precedent to start funding city websites across the county from a tourist tax In my opinion & apparently council's as well. Shame on Mayor Donchez for throwing Lynn to the wolves on this.

Patriot2 said...

Discover Lehigh Vslley gets something like 40% of the hotel tax money when all is said & done. That is a an organization that in trying to promote the whole valley does a poor job promoting any one city. No tourist actually googles Lehigh Valley but rather is coming to visit one of the cities here. So bottom line is that discover Lehigh valley gets too much money for the value added & each city should keep most of the money the hotels collect in their municipality to promote themselves.

Anonymous said...

Shame on donchez for keeping a $104,000 it guy who can't even keep the web site current.

Anonymous said...

The city of Bethlehem, spends on what they want and beg county or state for what they need

Anonymous said...

I hope someone files a lawsuit and all grants are stayed. This county is rub by SLEEZE AND SCUM FROM THE TOP DOWN>

Anonymous said...

"No tourist actually googles Lehigh Valley"

Bingo. It doesn't exist on the map. It was created in a smoke filled backroom by a bunch of guys slowly dying off and some marketing genius with grant money. Back in the day, it was called the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton (ABE) metro area and we did just fine.

Anonymous said...

Probably Karner's idea since her Dept. probably runs the site and must fund it. Another embarrassment from the barefoot wonder. Remember she went to the Hickey school of DCED, so nothing is a surprise.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The city of Bethlehem, spends on what they want and beg county or state for what they need"

Bethlehem and Easton nonprofits (not the government) receive the lion's share of these tourism grants. Although that may seem unfair, that is where the lion's share of the tourist attractions are located. I completely disagree that, to qualify as a tourist attraction, the nonrofit should be generating hotel stays. That is what Kraft and Cusick were arguing, but that is NOT what the law says.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Any idea ow much of this money goes to Discover Lehigh Valley? "

About $500,000 for hotel tax grants, $270,000 for PBS and Steelstacks, and the rest of the $2 million goes to Discover LV. But Discover LV has to cough up a lot of its money to LVEDC.

Anonymous said...

What about the other non-city entities that do are told they do not qualify for hotel tax proceeds?


Interesting LVEDC would get money? Can other non-essential profits promoting events apply to Discover LV. Why are some Welcome centers able to get promotional money but others are not? Where can I find the hard numbers?

Bernie O'Hare said...

The hard numbers are the approved budget and I linked to all the applications, including those denied.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate your work here. Very informative. I remember when newspapers used to provide this kind of service. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

7:03. Assuming your reference to 40% of Norco tax goes to DiscoverLV is a correct statement, I am curious why Lehigh County gives nearly 69% of its hotel tax to the regional tourism agency? Presumably that is DiscoverLV. Shouldnt the regional collaboration be equal?

Patriot2 said...

Norfolk does the same % but then Discover LV then sends about 40 % of that to LVEDC so hence my comment that DLV nets about 40% of the total hotel tax. My percent may be slightly off but it is in the ballpark. Bernie may have the exact breakdown. At the endow the day the distributable tax amount is less than 20% of the total hotel tax s collected. DLV & LVEDC gobble up the money to run their bureaucracies.

Anonymous said...

Both counties share same amount to discover Lv. It's the law. They give a certain % yo lvedc. That is the law and its mandated by God state

Anonymous said...

These teabaggers in the county give money away hand over fist. I thought they decried all these public money handouts to groups. Make a pitch, get a check?

Sorry but you teabaggers are hypocrites and we voters are not impressed by your tax and spend way of doing business. You really talk a good game. You make county Democrats look like libertarians.
What a bunch of phonies!

Patriot2 said...

So who are you referring to as teabaggers? These are non profits asking for the money & fortunately a small portion of the money is set aside for these entities vs all of it going to DLV & LVEDC.

Anonymous said...

Bruce Haines from the hotel Bethlehem is a hard-core Republican who has hosted many events for the county executive John Brown. Not a surprise that his pet projects were given more money. The Moravian docent program is a joke. They are basically colonial style Panhandlers who harass people on Main Street in their period garb. But if Bruce wants it he will get it. Once again Bernie follow the money. Lynn is a nice person but not a hard worker. She hasn't worked an honest day in years. Too many breakfast at Billy's and lunches at the Apollo. How about a little less talk and more action. The downtown is crumbling on her watch. We all know how she got her job. The only time the Bethlem chamber is successful is when they have a hardcharging events coordinator below her. It's long since time to make a change, but everyone's too afraid of Cunningham to do it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bruce Haines is first and foremost a businessman. His business is hotels, and he has done a marvelous job with Hotel Bethlehem. He has not historically donated more than tokens to candidates for office, and hosts events for BOTH candidates from both political parties and is paid by candidates from both political parties. Your derision of docents is complete bullshit. As for your slur at Bruce and Lynne, I'll note they sign their comments and you don't. That should tell the reader all he needs to know.

hottarandfeathers said...

Indictment needed to oust Ed Polawaski

hottarandfeathers said...

Ed Polawaski.will face all the same charges as the council members, 7 now guilty under RICO Statue Ed assets will be siezed.and given to taxpayers.

hottarandfeathers said...

The mayor has spent more than the President and is now involved with Tennant PPL building legal problems and Shults bankruptcy. THE SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR SHULAS.LOST 50TH RENT TO TAXPAYERS FROM HIS SALARY WHEN FYI SEIZE HIS FINANCES.

hottarandfeathers said...

Citzens, for honest finance in Allentown stand up remove the mayor, and police sheriff.

hottarandfeathers said...

Manager from pep boys once told me code workers lehition area asked for bribes
To complete his home additional .The whole city is corrupt.