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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, October 16, 2009

Norco Council To Use Gambling Funds for Tax Relief, Not Public Health

In June, during a rare joint meeting of Lehigh County Commissioners and Northampton County Council, a new bureaucracy was born - the Lehigh Valley Health Bureau. Funded exclusively by a private $1 million grant, public health professionals are currently meeting to provide the Lehigh Valley's first ever regional approach to health.

Now, in the wake of a recession as well as a proposed 9.3% tax increase in Northampton County, is a bi-county health department still a good idea? Council members Ron Angle and Lamont McClure, who have both opposed this concept since its inception, last night tried to kill it. Here are excerpts from what different council members said, as well as an exchange between Angle and County Bossman John Stoffa.

Ron Angle: "It almost reminds me of the people who have the guy sizing up the yard for the inground pool when they're eight months behind on their mortgage. ... I make a motion that we abolish the bi-county health agency until such time as we have an economy that we can afford to pay a dime. ... It's criminal that we take those people's time serving there who are believing that somehow, we are going to at some point approve it. ... A lot of you are hoping this somehow goes away or dies. That's not leadership. Leadership is when you take the bull by the horns and you do something that needs to be done and you do it whether it's popular or unpopular, it needs to be done."

Lamont McClure: "There is no money set aside for the bi-county health bureau. What I do notice is that it's projected we are going to take in about $1.2 million in casino revenues that would be discretionary to the county. The only reason I ever supported gaming in Northampton County was because of the original promise of the Act, which was property tax reduction.

"We're now being told that we need to raise taxes a mill. Take the $1.2 million, and knock off some of the $7.3 million, as opposed to what we're doing, because it's not in the budget, is ferreting this money away for future expenses on the health bureau.

"Here's $1.2 million, right off the top. Some of you may think a tax increase is necessary - I do not and I'll explain why - but this is a good start so I'll second Mr. Angle's motion."

Joe Capozzolo: "I have my concerns about it, too, and I don't want tax dollars to be spent on this. The reason I voted for it at the time is because they were using private funds. If it wasn't for the fact they were using private funds, I wouldn't have voted for that budget. I don't like that budget. I don't know if we can actually stop them now. I agree with you that they are wasting time. I don't think you're going to have enough votes. I would agree with your motion even though I voted for it that night and I think they should use the private funds to find out how much it should cost. But when it comes to paying for it with public funds, then it should stop."

Jerry Seyfried: "You're talking about some pretty stiff tax increases. However, you have come this far, why wouldn't you wait and see what the final report is, and also, if there's a dollar amount attached to it?

"This is supposed to be done in the next couple of months if I'm not mistaken. ... [A] lot of time and effort gone into this. If you believe that you are going to have a bi-county health board and you are not going to have to fund it, then I would think you also believe in the tooth fairy and might be living in la la land. It's going to cost money. There's no doubt in my mind. But I want to see what the report says, and if they come in to us with a report that says they have funding from other sources and it's not going to cost you any money, I think you have a decision to make."

Charles Dertinger: "We have charged a group of people to come up with an answer to a question, to provide us a scenario as to how this may or may not work. I think it's incredibly discourteous to tell them, 'Thank you for all your work so far, we really don't want to know the answer to the question.'"

Mike Dowd: "They are volunteers who have spent their time thus far. If they're prepared to continue to do the research, I'm not sure why we would be so discourteous to say we don't want to have the benefit of their research. If we find out the cost is an unacceptable cost, then we have to vote to say yea, we have to vote to say no. I think we're all mature enough to be able to do that."

John Stoffa: "I have never preferred tax money for this project. It would be the casino money if and when we need it. ... [T]o short-circuit that until you know whether or not they can do that [without cost], I think, is foolhardy. We can always say no later on."

Angle: "Do you really believe that the state, in the conditions it's in, is going to furnish the money to run a health department and do you really think we can run this like it's a buffet and we can just pick a little here and a little there? ... You said from square one, which is cockamamie, quite frankly, is you're only going to put the gambling money in, and how far it goes, it goes. You can't run a health department that way."

Stoffa: "Why not?"

Angle: "It would be nUtZ is why."

When all the shouting was over, the only two council members who voted to kill the bi-county health bureau were McClure and Angle.

That's when Angle pulled out his real play, proposing that casino money be dedicated to tax relief. Dertinger called the motion "intellectually dishonest," stating we'd just get the money for public health from somewhere else. Angle objected to what he considered a personal attack, at which point junior college grad Dertinger snarked, "I understand these may be big words for you."

McClure agreed with Angle for the second time in one night, noting the resolution is meaningless but would tell the Executive that Council wants gambling money restricted to property tax relief. The three incumbents seeking re-election - Dertinger, Ferraro and Cusick - voted against the motion, joined by Dowd.


Anonymous said...

Good move by a majority of County Council. After Stoffa's irresponsibly giving over half of our money to Allentown and Lehigh County the rest was intended by law as an "impact" fee, not a lets start a new mega-bureaucray fee.

I thank the majority of Council for protecting us from Stoffa's incompetence. To those who would throw money at a new bureaucracy when people are losing their homes, your sentiments are noted and we the voting public will vote accordingly. The big spending liberal Republicans on council will be able to enjoy early retirement soon.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jesus,

No more money for the poor and infirm because I can't pay an extra $100 a year on my property taxes because I live in a tacky suburban home that I never could really afford since I live beyond my means. Besides, having sick destitute beggars on the streets will help the community econonically. See you on Sunday! PS No gay marriage or abortion!

Norco taxpayer

Anonymous said...

6:30, you represent well the coveting class and its throw-'em-a-program conscience salvers. Relax. We'll give you what we think you properly deserve. Put your hand back in your pocket and get back on your hammock with your "friend."

Anonymous said...

Finally. Angle really made Stoffa look like a loony spendthrift with no grip on reality. A health department can't be run that way. Stoffa speaks like a life-long bureaucrat who's never been fully held responsible for the consequences of a bottom line. Such is government monopoly money management when you can simply rifle the wallets of taxpayers to cover your incompetence. He'd bankrupt a private entity in three minutes with his fiscal wizardry. Hat's off to Angle.

Stop The Stoffa Tax Gouge.

LVCI said...

Pennsylvania's selling point for the Casinos was 'property tax relief'. Anything other then that is a bait & switch.

If Pennsylvania wants to be more Jersey (highest property taxes of all 50 states despite Atlantic City Casinos.. then perhaps a few of the Pa. legislators should consider Jersey politics for their future.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The legislation is totally meaningless. I'd vote for it, but it means nothing.

Anonymous said...

Doesn`t surprise me Northampton County is always behind the times...typical reaction to progress.

Anonymous said...

Angle and McClure are right on although Jerry Seyfried had the best comment (and he is dead on) about the tooth fairy. One thing that wasn't mentioned is that the State is using Stimulas funds to support DPW. That is once and done. In a few years Human Services will need the casino monies desperately. The Health Dept is a terrifically bad idea, especially at this time. In the end at least five council people did the right thing and pushed the Casino money to its rightful place. If anyone thinks the County will get 100% funding for a health department they are nuts. Even if some funding comes through and down the road the State says sorry we can no longer afford this..Then what!!!!! Think people!

Tom Dietrich said...

I believe all candidates when on record of how they will use the casino revenue as of Monday this week.


Some good reading.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Delighted to see the ET Voter Guide again.

The Battle Cry of Freedom said...

Use the casino funds for lowering property taxes. Slash the Human Services deparment to the bone. Cut the sheriff's staff in half and do the same with the countless do nothing folks inside the walls of county government. As to a health center, stop it we don't need it. It is well, good and necessary to assist those who truly need our assistance. It is altogether another thing when we begin to make the poor comfortable in their poverty to the point where they are expecting the rewards of our toil to keep them in plasma TVs

Anonymous said...

Dear Battle Cry of Freedom,

I agree. Cut Human Services.. The hell with kids, screw the aged, Let the mentally ill and mentally retarded join the teabaggers like yourself and they'll feel right at home.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:57, Battle Cry said no such thing. He is right on. Stoffa has put millions of dollars into Human Services, over and above the required county match. He is in vilation of a County Resolution, not that he cares.

No one will look into it but in both CYF and Mental Health, the spigots are wide open and money is flying out the door and there is no oversight or accountability. Just check out the union contracts Stoffa signed, wow.

Battle Cry has a right to be concerned.

lighthouse said...

I personally think PA turning to vice to pay the bills is a mistake, and will be disappointing in the long run. That said, reducing property taxes was the selling point. To create new ways to spend it, rather than keeping taxes down, makes the intended selling point a lie.

But hey, “the government can” …if you want a laugh…


Anonymous said...

I believe that liberals are obsessed with the "teabagger" reference because most have been hit in the chin with more balls than Johnny Bench.

It's the only logical explanation for the fascination.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:12,

You, like Battle cry have no idea what you ar e speaking about. Over 90% of C&Y monies come from the state. Over 95% of MH monies come from the state. To say it is flying out the door is utterly ridiculous. The tea bag heads make alot of noise and it sounds impressive because they are so damn loud. But like the two here, they have no idea what the hell they are talking about..

Anonymous said...

Check out other counties like Lehigh who stay in budget. compare them to Northampton and you will see the gross deficit spending.

I remember past Administrations kept that runaway spending under control but now the money is just being spent with reckless abondon and no one is watching the store. County Council is as much to blame as the Administration. No wonder you have a 10% tax increase.

Anonymous said...

Right, 1:47.

Now about Reibman's 68% tax increases.....

Anonymous said...

Stoffa may beat him since he is already up to 10%.

Delete an opinion ohare? How democratic of you!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I welcome your thoughts and love to argue. Feel free to disagree. But remember, commenting is a privilege, not a right. I will delete personal attacks or off-topic remarks.