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Friday, May 23, 2008

Twenty Soldiers Get $10K in Tax Rebates From Lehigh County

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa last year vetoed tax rebates for military personnel deployed overseas in 2007 and 2008. The American Heroes Grant, as this measure is popularly called, posed legal problems and council's solicitor suggested making some changes. "We can do that after the fact," snapped council member Charles Dertinger.

An attempt to override Stoffa's veto failed. Wayne Grube, himself a vet and at that time council prez, said it best. "I want something more solid, more concrete. We have no idea how many deserving veterans would qualify. Nobody's ever talked about that. This is something that can't be done on short notice. I don't want a half-baked deal ... ."

Well, instead of a half-baked deal, we have none.

Lehigh County adopted a nearly identical American Heroes Grant last year. It offers a full property tax refund to any county homeowner deployed by the military for four months or more. To date, 20 active-duty residents have been granted rebates totaling $10,724.

“As we said when the tax rebate was proposed, it doesn’t matter if it only helps one family, it is simply the right thing to do,” explains Lehigh County exec Don Cunningham. “Many of those serving to support our military efforts are reservists who have had to put their lives on hold. I believe that the people of Lehigh County can make a shared sacrifice and cover the property taxes of these service personnel while they serve our country in a larger capacity.”

Lehigh County’s tax rate is 10.25 mills. The average Lehigh County property tax bill is $479.

The tax rebate covers all full time regular military personnel who own homes in the county as well as reservists deployed for active duty while serving in a guard or reserve unit. Service members can still apply for the rebate.

For complete details on the American Heroes Grant program, a downloadable application form, click here. You can also stop in at the Lehigh County Assessment Office, Room 517, the Government Center, 17 South Seventh Street, Allentown Pennsylvania, or call at 610-782-3038.

“What’s important is that we recognize the difficulties that our service members endure, overseas and on the home front,” says Cunningham. “This initiative has done what we intended, which is to remove one expense from these good people who are doing their jobs and answering their country’s call.”

Cunningham will provide additional information as part of his address at the Memorial Day Program at Cedar Hill Memorial Park, Allentown. The program begins at 11:45 a.m. For more information on the service, contact the Veterans Memorial Committee at 610-437-5534.


Anonymous said...


The Ordinances were identical. Had the County Executive not vetoed the American Heroes Grant our Northampton County service men and women would now be enjoying some small measure of relief that they have earned fighting for us. I hope you tell me in a response to this posting why it is that our measure which is identical to the Lehigh County measure is "half-baked" in the same post in which you are praising Lehigh County ?

Anonymous said...

I failed to sign my previous post.

Lamont McClure

Bernie O'Hare said...


The LC ordinance was, in fact, nearly identical. The person who called it "half-baked" was not me, but Council president Wayne Grube. I do agree with him. I know you look up to him, and he does have good instincts about this sort of thing.

The idea itself is brilliant. But Northampton County, unlike its sister county, has lawyers who will tell the truth instead of what the boss wants to hear. Your solicitor, Leonard Zito, voiced some serious concerns. They were not insurmountable concerns and could have been addressed with perhaps one or two committee hearings.

Instead of working on this idea and perfecting it, as county exec Stoffa asked, you just let the idea die. Why? Your own committee was supposed to meet to review Leonard Zito's opinion. That has not happened. Why not?

If you were really interested in getting some relief to our soldiers, I would think you would have done what you could to fix the legal problems raised by your solicitor and re-introduced the matter. You instead let it die. You did send campaign mailers of all these soldiers saluting each other, claiming that you were fighting for them. Why did you stop fighting, Lamont?

The idea was a good one and just needed some work. Rather than doing that, you and Charles took your marbles and went home. That's not good government. It's a disservice to the service members that you claimed to want to honor. If they had that attitude, we'd have no military.

Why not schedule a hearing to address Zito's concerns and get an ordinance adopted that no one will question? Then you would be doing a service for our military. Right now, you're playing partisan politics both with our soldiers and a county exec who belongs to your party. Until you stop that, we're going to have trouble. If you do drop the gamesmanship, you could be an asset to the county and the people who elected you.

No one has sued in Lehigh County, but that's a different country, believe me.

Anonymous said...

Did Stoffa veto the ordinance, or didn't he BOH? Why do you put spin on all your crap to make Stoffa look like the Grand Pubah? The guy doesn't have a clue what the hell he is doing. He screwed up the Voter Registration office and implied the Election Board is incompetent because he and Conklin saved the elections in the county w/o anyones help. Whatta guy.

Anonymous said...

Was this law passed in Northampton ?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:09,

Stoffa vetoed this ordinance, as drafted, because it is legally flawed. He asked council to correct the ordinance, but they refused to do so. Had council listened, it is entirely possible that Northampton County soldiers would be enjoying tax breaks right now. But in Northampton County Council, partisan politics has priority over doing what is right.

Stoffa does not know what he is doing? Really! For someone who is so clueless, he's done a pretty good job of making a fool out of Charles Dertinger every time Dertinger has tried to throw a monkey wrench into things. Whether it is the tax increase for open space, trying to force a bloated IT contract down our throats, or forcing us to cook the books and spend down our cash reserve, clueless Stoffa has made Dertinger look pretty dumb. It hasn't been hard.

As far as the elections go, there is no question that HRH DePaul was illsuited to her role. Her comments on this blog, all by themselves, demonstrate that. But Stoffa was confronted by two disaster elections under her "reign," as she called her term in office. Thanks to Cinklin, that problem stopped. No one ever implied that the election comm'n was incompetent, but it certainly was unethical and partial. Chairman Walter Garvin was a party officer, conducted a partisan radio talk show designed to defeat a congreessman seeking re-election and even attended rallies promoting his ouster. Stoffa tried to make the commission a little lesss political. Party Boss Joe Long should not be running the elections office, as he seems to think he does.

If you don't think people have noticed, think again. Branco went down in flames. McClure barely escaped with 100 votes against an unknown candidate who spent no money. And now, thanks to Joe Long and John Maher and Charles Dertinger and Lamont McClure, local democrats have a $9,000 debt tied around their necks, and it's a debt to Scissorhands Severson, of all people. I'm sure that will really help local Democrats look very good in the next county race.

Instead of fighting Stoffa, why not help him govern? That's what I asked Dertinger to do when I interviewed him in 2006. He has not listened. He hasn't hurt Stoffa, but he has hurt the people of Northampton County.

Anonymous said...

Charles passed the same American Heroes law in NORCO that Cunningham passed in LEHIGH. Don's a hero and Charles is a goat. This makes no sense.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Lawyers in NC had problems w/ the legality of the ordinance that lawyers in LC did not see. All Dertinger had to do was redraft the ordinance in a way to accomodate those concerns. They were small suggestions. Rather than do that and give us an ordinance, Dertinger screwed the soldiers he supposedly wanted to help by taking his marbles and going home. So yes, Don is a hero and Charles is a goat. And if LC lawyers had problems w/ the ordinance, I'm sure Cunningham would have made the changes they suggested.

Anonymous said...

Cunningham isn't an incompetent petty politican like Stoffa. Zito is afraid of Angle, and the ordinances are exactly the same, dispite you believing Northampton County attorneys are somehow smater than Lehigh County attorneys.
This latest spin by you doesn't do anything but show how pathetic your dog and pony show for Stoffa has become.
He will go down in flames in 09, then maybe grownups can get things done. If its not Stoffa or Angles idea it is no good and needs 'tinkering'.
Come on Berniie, on this one you are talking out both sides of your mouth.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Cunningham makes being county exec look easy, just like he made being mayor look easy. He is a very gifted politician and civic leader. John Stoffa struggles in comparison, and will be the first to admit that. He lacks Cunningham's political skills. In fact, he shuns that sort of thing. it's his strength and his weakness.

But John Stoffa is no "incompetent petty politican." Calling him that or "clueless" does not make it so. Like I said in the comment above, he's made Northampton County Council look pretty damn silly, and more than once. It is a major mistake to underestimate an opponent. How many times must you be embarrassed before you learn that lesson?

Zito is afraid of Angle? You obviously don't know Zito very well. I do, and know him from his days as a practicing attorney. Zito is afraid of nobody. I remember a time when as a young attorney when he simply decked another lawyer in Scranton. In addition to being fearless, he's also brilliant. And as he's aged, he's learned to channel his passions. He is probably Northampton County's best lawyer right now, and I'd want him on my side.

My position concerning the American Heros Grant has been consistent from the beginning. I always thought it was a good idea. When Zito suggested some small changes so that it would mass legal scrutiny, I thought his recommendations should be adopted. That's why council has a lawyer. Dertinger may think he's an expert on everything, but he's not. Even McClure, himself an asbestos attorney, would have to concede that Zito is an excellent lawyer.

My suggestion is that we take a great idea and make it better. That's not talking out of both sides of my mouth. That's what grown ups, as you call them, do if they are interested in governing instead of partisan politics.

As far as Stoffa going down in flames in '09, he will be overwhelmingly reelected, should he choose to run. The only people who detest him are machine politicians, like Dertinger and Joe Long, and deputy sheriffs who moan because they can't take cruisers home with them anymore.

Joe Long and Dertinger control about 6 votes. The anti-Stoffa deputies are a small number whose union just railroaded two wonderful men out of their jobs, instead of helping them keep their positions. The people who work here know that, and no one will be listening to the white shirts come election time.

Stoffa has restored integrity to government. If he accomplished nothing else, that would be reason enough to retain him. But he has accomplished much more. He has returned the county to a good fiscal position from the layoffs that Reibman gave us. He made history with his open space initiative. He will be the first county exec to actually do something about the damn windows at Gracedale. He has moved slowly with respect to county capital projects, but very deliberately. if you do something right, you only have to do it once. A lot of you don't seem to get that.

He cares. If you were smart, you'd rally behind him, forget all this political gamesmanship, and help him do the best job he can possibly do. I assume you are Demoracts. Why not try acting like Democrats?

Anonymous said...

I still don't understand why if this is working in Lehigh and the same exact thing was passed in Northampton that Stoffa vetoed it.

Chris Miller said...

Would you note the differences between the two county ordinances. What changes did Zito want? This sounds like a good idea.
I for one would take Stoffa over Cunningham any day simply because I believe John is an honest man. Can't say I feel the same about Cunningham. But get the things out that Zito wants because you have not made mention of them in you entries

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, the two ordinances are more or less identical. Zito proposed some changes so that a class could be created that did not violate the equal protection clause. in addition, he proposed definitions. How is an owner defined? If a solldier serves in iraq and owns property jointly with his wife, the ordinance was written in a way that could prevent the jointly held property from getting a rebate. That more or less defeats the purpose. Zito simply proposed tightening the language.

Although Stoffa thought the ordinance was a good idea, he wanted council to make those changes. Here is his veto message.

"While I applaud the attempt on the part of Council to recognize those who have participated in the military, I nonetheless intend to veto the Ordinance at this time. I have consulted at length with the County Solicitor and have reviewed the opinion of the Council's own Solicitor. It is my belief that the Ordinance as currently drafted will invite litigation and that the better course would be to introduce a new ordinance consistent in intent that addresses the stated legal concerns. Frankly, I see no difference among someone who served in Iwo Jima, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan or Iraq: all are deserving."

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I am hearing two stories. One is Stoffa cut a deal with Ann McHale to serve one term and leave for her to run, in return for her help in working over Reibman. The other is Stoffa is going to run and McHale is going to run anyway.
What do you think? A few folks say employees are no fan of McHale but some say she will kill him in the primary. Have you heard anything? Whats your take on a possible primary battle between the two?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon, That's the subject of another post, and I'll do one in next week or so. I'll point blank ask them their intentions.

I've never heard that Stoffa cut any deal with anybody. I don't know his intentions and don't know if he's made up his mind. McHale has previously told me she would not run against Stoffa, but is interested should he choose not to run. Rich Grucela may also be interested. On the R side, I've been told Cusick is interested. I've even heard that Dertinger may run.

Chris Miller said...

Thanks for the info. Are they going to make the changes? I take it this is only for this current war and not the ones Stoffa indicated I think he has a good point there and it might not be a bad idea to extend it to other who have served.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Are they going to make the changes?"

It seems there is little enthusiasam for making any changes that might improve this measuer. Lamont McClure, who commented here, has yet to explain why his legal committee has not even reviewed Zito's opinion. Perhaps he is working on something and I know nothing about it.

Anonymous said...

Stoffa has prevented active duty service men and women in Northampton County to get a small tax break, and this is somehow a virtue.

Bill Leiner Jr. said...

Bernie, During my last year as Coplay Mayor, 2007, I requested in writing the Coplay Borough Council do the same thing that Lehigh County accomplished. Great idea ......... the most outspoken opponent was a Councilman who is a veteran of the Vietnam era ??? He essentially shot down the idea. The Council refused to consider the matter. I believe we have one "active" eligible combat home owner in Coplay. It would have amounted to about $350. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Twenty Soldiers Get $10K in Tax Rebates From Lehigh County.

The president still stands.

What a waste of money and weak leadership!

Anonymous said...

It sounded like a good idea. I am glad Lehigh County did it.
Word is out that McHale will do it as Executive and beat Stoffa up over not doing it. At least that is the word on the street.
I don't know what he can say against her.

Anonymous said...

Were on different sides. This is clearly a bad idea. The elected officials didn't have the authority.

Your appeasement allows and enable this kind of behavior.

3:31 PM Anonymous said...

It sounded like a good idea. I am glad Lehigh County did it.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I see no difference among someone who served in Iwo Jima, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan or Iraq: all are deserving."

The first three wars/conflicts were fought by individuals drafted against their wills. The last two were fought by volunteers who willingly signed off on an understanding of the compensation package.

I know it's unpopular to speak out against such populist initiatives, but there are many who haven't volunteered to serve and are in terrible financial straights as well.

At the risk of being called unfeeling and unpatriotic, I believe it's wrong to change rules for special groups whose circumstances are of their own making (i.e. enlisting). Draftees? Perhaps. Volunteers? Sorry, but no.

Bernie O'Hare said...

When soldiers are involuntarily extended, that's the same thing as a draft. They did not sign on for that, nor did they sign for two and three combat tours.

I have no problem with some attempt to provide some relief to soldiers who make such a huge sacrifice. But I agree with Zito that the ordinance needs to be properly drafted. This should not be an election gimmick.

Anonymous said...

A less gimmicky approach might be to pass a bill that simply provides tax breaks to NorCo residents who enlist. Veterans would get a break, and NorCo would do its patriotic duty by incentivizing its citizens to join our volunteer military, and supporting them once they're in. It's not flashy and politically expedient, however.