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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dean Browning Leaves LC Comm'rs the Way He Came, With Class

Christmas interrupted me from giving you the parting remarks of all five Lehigh County Commissioners who said goodbye Wednesday night. I saved Dean Browning, the Board's chair for the last two years, for last. Dean, as must of you know, was defeated in the primary after supporting a Don Cunningham budget that included a 16% tax hike.

First, Dean commended the "excellent set of employees at the top," which according to the outgoing Chair, filters down to all levels of County government. He specifically mentioned Assistant County Solicitors like Catherine Roseberry and Eman Jarrah, who provide advice at every meeting, as well as Clerk Dave Barilla. "Without them, we could not do the jobs we do as Commissioners."

Second, he complimented fellow Commissioners who, divided by party, have nevertheless tried to work together and govern effectively, with minimal cost to the taxpayer.

Third, Dean thanked the public for giving him an opportunity to serve, especially those who have taken time out of their evenings to provide input, both good or bad.

I think Dean's thank you meant something to Catherine Roseberry, pictured below. Sitting next to her is Lehigh County's backbone, Dave Barilla.


Anonymous said...

He leaves with class and we're stuck with the tax bill he left us. Your waxing nostalgic for heartless tax increasers is a bit much. I have to go to work now to catch a few extra hours to pay for Dean's tax increase. I wonder how he's spending the day?

Anonymous said...

Bernie – Thanks for the kind words. As I’m sure there will be several comments similar to the one by Anon 5:21, I wanted to respond and provide some context. The tax increase in 2011 was the first in eight years. Since the previous increase (in 2003), taxes had been reduced twice. It was the last tax cut (for 2006) that set the stage for the latest increase in that it reduced taxes without making corresponding reductions in spending needed to sustain the cut. On the contrary, the decision at that time was to use the surplus generated from the 2003 increase to cover whatever difference there would be between spending and revenue until the surplus was exhausted. With that, a future tax increase was inevitable. It was just a question of when the surplus would be used up and how big the spending gap would be once that occurred. That was what confronted the County in considering the County Executive's budget for 2011. An overview of some numbers from that budget worth keeping in mind is follows. Total spending for the County in 2011 was budgeted to be $391 million, of that $110 million was covered by property taxes and revenue from property taxes at the old tax rate would have been $91 million. So avoiding a tax increase for 2011 would have required cutting spending by roughly 20% (once debt service of $15 million is backed out of the $110 million).

Contrary to what is often stated, I did not “vote for the tax increase”. Rather, I voted against a motion to send the budget back to the County Executive and have him make arbitrary, across the board cuts to produce a budget without a tax increase. I did that since I believed there was no realistic way, given the size of the deficit, that this could be done and still have the County fulfill its specified responsibilities. In short, I believed that sending the budget back and asking for a new one without a tax increase would have led to an expensive legal battle that would have resulted in the same tax increase (if not a larger one). However, that is a counter factual argument and those that ran against me had a different view. They also had a much easier case to make in saying that I voted against a plan for a zero tax increase budget and that if only I had sent the budget back that no one’s taxes (including Anon 5:21) taxes would have increased a single penny. A majority of the voters in the Republican primary agreed with that position.

So the case has been made that the 2011 tax increase was unnecessary, that it should be rolled back to where it was, that spending can be cut to sustain that roll back and that all this can be done in a fashion that allows the County to fulfill the responsibilities assigned to it by the Commonwealth and by the Home Rule Charter. I wish the incoming Commissioners much success in making this a reality.

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...

"The voters were wrong, I was right" schtick is quite old. Frankly, it shows a lack of class.

And oh so many holes. The 2003 tax increase was 70%. The "cuts" only reduced the increase to 40%. They were to right a wrong, not a wrong in themselves.

The decision to spend from the reserves continued throughout Browning's term. He became the face of the Board and suffered the fallout. Its that simple.

There was a lesser tax increase alternative for 2011 (i.e. not zero) which he also rejected. And lets not forget the "we spent less than we thought" March "surplus" which came only months after "we can't find one penny to cut".

Moreover, its not always about cutting. It's about finding less expensive ways to do the work. Much, if not most, of the work approved by the Board is not awarded competitively. This can not continue.

My personal beef: When the head of the farm preservation board calls the program, twice approved by referendum, a "tax bailout" it harms the program and those who have or may participate in it. Dean is free to think and say as he wants, but he should have resigned as head of the preservation board. Anything less is complete hypocrisy, which colors the rest.

eckville press said...


Good luck and don't drink the water!!!


Marc Grammes said...

The election is over and now comes the task of governing. The main issues with county governance will still be there: human services, law and order issues, infrastructure and yes nursing homes. Quality of life issues ARE important. How to best fund these programs will be the job of the new board of commissioners and the administration. Campaigning and governing are quite different. Consensus building is required. Trust is required. Respect is required. Strength is required...and yes the ability to cross party lines and forget about politics is required. Enjoy your time as an elected official..you will find that in this job your service to others is your true reward. To those who served and will not be here come January, this former commissioner says Thank You for your service and dedication to the people of Lehigh County.

Chris Casey said...

Marc, you say it well. Dave, I disgree strongly. Dean, I'm glad someone still lives in reality.

Slogans don't make for good governing. Reform team will get a dose of reality. Only one with a brain may be Lisa. Osborne wasn't part of their troika. Good for him.

Anonymous said...

backbone? looks like the whole body