(Allentown, PA): Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham released his administration’s 2008 budget today while announcing that, barring unforeseen circumstances, Lehigh County will not need a tax increase through 2011.
“The combination of running a tighter ship and steering it through the calmer seas of a growing residential and economic base has put us on a solid course,” Cunningham said.
The proposed 2008 budget includes no new tax increase, keeping the county rate at 10.25 mills. In addition, next year’s budget will see an increase in cash reserves, referred to as a stabilization fund, to $20 million, a growth of $1.5 million from last year.
Next year’s budget will be $400.5 million and includes a slight reduction in workforce to a total of 2,197 employees. The total county general fund will grow next year by a modest 3.6 percent for Lehigh County taxpayers, well be low the rate of inflation in the Lehigh Valley, which is about 5 percent.
“I have a simple philosophy regarding fiscal management: keep your costs down, don’t spend more than you earn, and pay attention to the little things to avoid big problems,” Cunningham said. “Good tax policy comes from good spending policy. Control spending and taxes will stay in check.”
Cunningham has focused his Administration’s efforts next year on rebuilding the County’s infrastructure. The budget includes an $85 million capital plan that will renovate and expand the County Courthouse, relocate and upgrade the 911 Communications Center, continue to invest county dollars in fixing closed and deteriorating bridges, renovate the men’s work release facility and start complete energy efficiency overhauls of county facilities.
“Now is the time to fix what’s broken and make sure our house is in order and that never again will this county let buildings leak for 40 years and allow bridges to be closed or deteriorate because we don’t want to spend money on core responsibilities,” Cunningham said.
Last year, Cunningham cut nearly $25 million from a proposed Courthouse expansion in order to invest in bridges and other facilities neglected by the county, he said. He has invested $10.5 million in county dollars to reopen five closed and one weight restricted bridge, greatly expediting replacements of those bridges and improvements to others.
In addition to the usual focus on cost-cutting and spending control, Lehigh County’s 2008 budget also includes new investments in public safety and the addition of about $30 million in state and federal support for new efforts in human services.
Along with opening a new regional county-run central booking facility for police departments across the county, 2008 will see 14 new positions in public safety, including a new homicide detective, three new deputy sheriffs, an additional emergency preparedness coordinator and others.
While keeping county spending level in human services, the 2008 budget will increase spending by about $30 million from state and federal sources that will go toward creating an autism resource center, provide child day care services to parents going from welfare to work and to address increased needs in children and youth, aging and mental health and retardation services.
Next year’s budget also includes the shift of $12 million accumulated in reserves to the county’s Green Future Funds program to continue the aggressive preservation of farmland and open space along with the creation and support of urban parks.
“Lehigh County is a state leader in open space and farmland preservation, ranking fourth in the Commonwealth,” Cunningham said. “To date, we have preserved 212 farms that total 17,346 acres. Last year we invested a record $8 million in farmland preservation.”
The proposed 2008 budget combines a fiscally responsible approach with an aggressive agenda to invest in infrastructure and buildings, fight crime and improve public safety, grow our economy and preserve our farmland and open space while taking care of our people in need, Cunningham said.
The Lehigh County Board of Commissioners will begin hearings on the proposed budget on Thursday, September 13.
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