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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cunningham Laying Groundwork For Tax Hike in Lehigh County

This can't be good.

Last week, Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham announced the elimination of 50 positions, bringing the County workforce to its lowest point since 1990. During a news conference yesterday, things got worse. Cunningham announced the elimination of several programs.

Is this his way of bracing everyone for a tax hike? That's what Morning Call reporter Jenna Portnoy asked, and although he told her she'll have to wait for her answer until he unveils his budget next week, it's clear that a tax hike is coming. The only real question is how much.

Claiming local governments are like "junkies addicted to property tax revenue," Cunningham stated that revenue has been stagnant the past three years. He's doubtful that will change anytime soon. But he's unwilling to freeze wages, noting that union workers have negotiated contracts and that it is simply impossible "to balance the budget on the backs of County employees."

In January, he asked for help. "If you have new ideas send them our way in the next 30 days…before February 4th. Democrat or Republican. Elected leader, community leader, county employee or high school student. Anyone." Aside from Commissioners, few took him up.

Cunningham's chief priority is public safety. He considers that the basis from which everything else, including economic development, flows. His budget axe is falling on the following four programs:

1. Organics Recycling Facility in Schnecksville, North Whitehall Township, located on 15 acres of county land. The facility is used by municipalities in the county to turn yard waste and natural debris into compost. The facility has operated at a financial loss to the county since a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision eliminated its funding source.

2. “More for Children” program. This has been funded by hotel tax revenue, but that has dropped 19 percent since 2007. The county has historically provided $100,000 to $150,000 a year to county school districts to support student educational visits to cultural arts and educational facilities in the county. “All of these programs have merit and benefit,” Cunningham said. “In normal economic times, these are initiatives that we would fund. When revenue levels drop, however, spending has to be focused on the things that we absolutely need to do in government.”

3. Quality of Life grants. Last year, Lehigh contributed about $200,000 to more than 20 cultural arts and community organizations. Cunningham is proposing a 13 percent reduction in funding, which will result in a cut to the Allentown Art Museum and the Mayfair festival in the city. Other organizations will receive the same funding level as this year with no increase. Pip the Mouse is safe.

4. Doe hunting license operations are being eliminated as a county function and turned back to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “We are not required to do this and have not been doing it very well in recent years because it is not a core function,” Cunningham said.

“Everyone thinks that government only ever gets bigger,” Cunningham said. “Here in Lehigh County our government has gotten smaller. We are working to balance the impact of the necessary reductions between employees and programs. There will be shared pain in these cuts. ... Where the rubber meets the road is local government."

Cunningham plans to release additional information on the county’s financial situation this Thursday (8/26) at the Lehigh County Annual Financial Outlook Luncheon, sponsored by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce at Allentown Symphony Hall. He will release his 2011 budget next Tuesday, Aug. 31.


Anonymous said...

What a mess he's made. And to think he wanted to be governor or something more important.

Anonymous said...

Don has done a great job. You want to see the difference competence makes, look at Lehigh and Northampton counties.

They both are facing tough times but Lehigh County has done many things and has seen great achievements in the past five years.

Northampton county has, has done nothing. A lot of speeches, plans, promises and complaining but no accomplishments.

There Is your difference.

Anonymous said...


nice comment john but don't u think you should try to run bethlum instead of supporting ur bud. well u screwed both up anyway

no congess for you. just like cunning ham...........a hasbeen

Anonymous said...

When he tells you he can't balance the budget on the backs of employees, what he's really saying is "But I have no problem mounting your backside and drivin' it home, baby."

Anonymous said...

Cunningham as usual is doing what all good leaders do in these situations. he is spreading the pain..Employees have been cut but he also will be asking residents for a small increase in taxes to cover needed services..That's fair and it is also what Northampton County should be doing if they were responsible instead of trying to put it all on the backs of the employees...Way to go Don!!

Anonymous said...

Don Cunningham said:

"...it is simply impossible "to balance the budget on the backs of County employees."


What a crock!

What got us into this problem was payments made to county employees.

The backs of county employees are exactly the backs the budget SHOULD be balanced on.

Anonymous said...

All I can say to 1043 is kiss my ******* ***...Jerk! I doubt that you could even get a County job because you need more than a second grade education *******.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:12 -

Precisely the level of discourse that I would expect from an overpaid county worker.

Even if I only had a second grade education, that would still be twice as much as you!

Anonymous said...


That was an in-your-face, Anon 12:12

(and you had it coming)

Anonymous said...

Where is Scott Ott when we need someone, anyone with some sense of honesty and fiscal responsibility?

The guy with money from returned soda bottles nearly beat Cunningham, despite Don's huge war chest and impressive list of connected donors.

By last November, half of Lehigh County voters had already decided Don was incompetent liar and should be fired for his gross mismanagement of the county. I wonder what that number is now?

At least Scott succeeded in substantially damaging any hopes this Rendell stooge had to take his horror show statewide.

Lehigh County took one for the entire state. Unfortunately, it's going to cost a lot. Enjoy that tax increase.

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing that anyone, with half a brain, could reasonably criticize Cunningham. He has shrunk the County Government in a responsible way. I find it laughable that some on this board would even make comments that balancing a budget should be done on the back of the very same people that provide the services. Cunningham has done a professional job in Bethlehem and the County and is a class act. Can't say the same about his Northampton County counterpart.

Anonymous said...

7:56, I consider it amazing you consider criticism of Cunningham amazing. Please refer to the results of the last election and see he'd already lost the confidence of half the county's voters. Get out of your bunker and understand he's one of the least popular incumbents in any office in the Lehigh Valley. As Casey Stengel said, "You could look it up." He wouldn't survive a recall.

Anonymous said...

If the Republicans didn't already have their "Manchurian Candidate" in John Stoffa, there would be a Republican in office as County Executive in Northampton County.

Even that simpleton disc jockey that was originally on the ballot in Northampton County would have probably beat Stoffa

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"Don has done a great job. You want to see the difference competence makes, look at Lehigh and Northampton counties."

What happened to the surplus?

Next step for Cunningham - Escape to yet another government position, touting himself as a master of fiscal management, while leaving insolvency in his wake. All the way, hoping and praying people remain uninformed, disengaged and willing to vote for a young guy with a crooked smile.


Anonymous said...

God Bless you Don. You are one of the good guys, despite what the haters say.

We love you man!