Friday, December 09, 2011

NorCo Council Increases Spending, But Refuses to Pay For It

Steve Barron
For the first time since the inception of Home Rule in 1978, Northampton County Council on December 8 adopted a $326 million budget that increases spending in 2012, then refused to to increase the taxes needed to pay for it. Baffled, Executive John Stoffa condemned Council's 8-1 vote as "irresponsible," but it's unclear whether he intends to exercise his veto power.

Just one week earlier, Council approved amendments to Stoffa's budget that would cut his proposed 9.3% tax hike in half, primarily by removing $1 million in open space funding for environmentally sensitive land, as well as some cuts that Stoffa had proposed himself. But then Council, by a 5-4 vote, failed to approve the budget as amended.

When Council tried again on December 8, Controller Steve Barron recommended that they just dip into its fund balance, deriding Stoffa's financial plan as "the Chicken Little theory of budgeting," claiming that the fund balance comes in at 60 million no matter how gloomy a forecast is provided. "If you're going to raise taxes and do that, I wouldn't swallow it very well as a taxpayer," he advised.

Under questioning from Council member Bruce Gilbert, Barron conceded that the County's "net" fund balance is really only $20 million, but claimed that was more than enough to cover expenses. Gilbert disagreed, stating money has to be set aside "to protect the taxpayer." Council member Ron Angle was a little more blunt. "You can either believe a political nincompoop, or believe a professional," referring to Acting Fiscal Affairs Director Doran Hamann.

At the time that John Stoffa's budget was initially presented, Hamann had predicted a $10 million deficit without a 9.3% tax hike.

After hearing from Barron, Council reconsidered its amended budget. It adopted a Tom Dietrich amendment restoring $400,000 of the $1 million previously cut from open space funding, over the objections of Angle, Council President John Cusick and Barb Thierry. It also agreed to an amendment giving DA John Morganelli $25,000 to purchase a vehicle, over the objections of Thierry and Gilbert.

Amendments out of the way, Council then voted to approve the amended budget by a 6-3 vote, with Angle, Thierry and Gilbert opposed.

Under the County's Home Rule Charter, Council has no authority to increase the authorized expenditures to an amount greater than the total of estimated funds available. Although this budget would require a 4.6% tax hike, Council adopted a millage rate ordinance that keeps taxes the same as this year, which will force Stoffa to find the money needed in the fund balance.

Only Council VP Peg Ferraro voted against the proposed tax hike.

"If we believe Mr. Barron, we don't have to do anything," explained Angle, sarcastically. But Cusick stated Barron's comments swayed his vote.

Stoffa derided Council for "spending $3.6 million more without a source of income," warning that the County will face double digit tax increases for the next two years. Fiscal Affairs Director Hamann predicted "[i]t's going to be an interesting year, especially when we write out a check for $24.5 million," referring to a swaption payment due in October 2012. "I think that's when the reality will set in."

If Stoffa vetoes the millage rate ordinance, six members of Council can override it. "What good would it do?" Stoffa initially asked. But a few minutes later, he began considering the possibility. He has seven days in which to make a decision. If he vetoes, and Council fails to override by December 16, the Executive's original budget will be deemed adopted.

56 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think John Stoffa should let this budget ride. County Council decided to listen to the politically ambitious Barron over common sense. So be it. The budget probably can stretch, but it will strip the cupboard bare. I am no John Stoffa fan and beleive he is a prone to twisting the numbers to prove a point but somehow the Barron math seems very fuzzy when you break down the numbers. Once again he is displaying a lack of county functions and responsibility.

I am confused as to why skeptical people ultimately voted for it. If this was such a stupid idea why did Angle, Gilbert, et al vote for it?

It would appear Mr. Baron has put his political ambitions over the wellbeing of the county. In a weird twist of fate, Mr. Barron has actually helped make Gracedale's comeback more risky. This plan sounds like the recipe for one of the Reibman era monster taxes in 2012. I just don't get it. I understand that Barron is just fishing for votes but I don't get County Councils vote.

Bernie I know you hated the bond issue but that was a matter of debate, I beleive in the history of Home Rule this is the most irresponsible and intellectually dishonest vote a County Council ever made. I am sure past Council members are spinning in their graves and some living past members are scratching their heads.

What's your take.

Reality Now

Bernie O'Hare said...

I actually agree. Angl, Thierry and Gilbert voted against the amended budget, so their vote against an increased millage rate is consistent. But the other Council members acted irresponsibly and may have acted illegally.

This does seriously jeopardize Gracedale. I believe Gracedale should be sold, but as long as it is in County hands, we have an obligation to fund it and try to make it work. This vote puts that in danger.

I was surprised by Barron's arrogance.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Let me add that I opposed the 2001 bond and sued, but did not consider the Council approving it to be irresponsible. In fact, individually, I liked each member of that Council, and have remained friends with them. More importantly, I respected them. It is hard to respect this.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Also Ferraro is in the clear. She was willing to pay for the budget she supported.

Anonymous said...

yes, Barron may very well have actually hurt Gracedale's resurrgence with his stance. Cusick goes along with it so he can quote Barron's comments on his political mailers and robocalls in a year for his County Executive run. Barron did no good for his political career or for the success of Gracedale last evening. What was he thinking? The Controller spot should never be involved in budgetary policy discussions, just audits afterwards. He really gave future opponents political fodder for 2013.

Anonymous said...

BVF is a political hack. He opened his campaign for CE in 2013 last night. He and Lamont were well rehearsed. Angle was wrong calling them "Superman and Robin." More like the Joker and Two Face.

Anonymous said...

Is Mr. Stoffa the weakest County Executive you've ever seen ? Can't pass budgets. Gets clobbered over Gracedale.

Anonymous said...

Well at least Mr Barron admits that he does "swallow", sometimes!

Anonymous said...

This is nuts.

Anonymous said...

County Council is irresponsible and should be held in contempt. Do your job, revenues and expenses must match. Council is mandated by law to have a balanced budget.

Barron is another story. Instead of making believe we have a fund balance that is three times the actual (so much for his financial expertise) he should have been at the meeting AS CONTROLLER asking how expenditures get approved around November when the budget runs out of money to pay the expenditures.

Do your job Barron and stop worrying about your next political move.

This whole mess is the reason why voters ousted Angle. People are tired of out of control government from the federal level to the state and donw to the county.

It has to stop! And Stoffa, unlife Angle who didn't care about getting his colleagues to vote with him, should be a leader and bring the players together working in harmony for the good of the taxpayers of the county. The constant bickering and posturing has to stop!

Zorn the Great said...

you deserve to get screwed - you voted for them. i doubt next year will be any better.

Anonymous said...

Well, it seems like the only one here with common sense and political courage to boot was Ferraro, whom you always deride..She has an elction in two years but decided to do the right thing and vote for the taxes to pay for the budget increase..If I were the gracedale folks , I'd be steaming at Barron for this tickering and McClure for his vote...If I were the unions I'd want to strangle him and McClure because now they have to negotiate contracts in a tight budget atmosphere. Finally, if I were his fellow Democrats who just got elected to Council I'd really be pissed off because he leaves them and the County no breathing room if his figures are incorrect..What the hell were he, McClure, and McHale thinking here??? As a Democrat and a Gracedale supporter I have to wonder whose side they're on??

Sanctifying Grace said...

Bernie,

In your 2:49 AM comment, you wrote." But other Council members acted irresponsibly and and may have acted illegally."

Can you expound upon the "acted illegally" part? I get the irresponsibly part, but I am confused on how they acted illegally. Thanks.

Finals are finished; getting prepared for next semester (6 courses, a practicum, and field-education.) Looking forward to the Christmas break and time in the Holy Land.

Peace, ~~~alex+

Anonymous said...

Zorn the great is right for once..See what happens when you put all of thease tea bag Republicans on Council..They slice the budget to it's bare bone and thereby force the new Democrats coming to council to vote for a tax increase to support good Government.They then rant and rave about how those evil Democrats always increase your taxes...Gotta love it..

Anonymous said...

At least something good came out of this..They won't have the money now for that ridiculous Health Department idea..When the State and feds are pulling back on Human Serices and the like , do you really think they will help fund and continue to fund a health department??? The answer is no! So now that the cupboard is bare a new Council would be out of their collective minds if they even came close to considering a health department..

Anonymous said...

Bernie, did Norco's fund balance increase through the last three years of recession, or did it not?

c said...

I wish them all the best. We are in uncharted waters...never in the history of this country have we ever been in such a dsimal state of fiscal insolvency....we are in the midst of the Greatest Depression, Act II. Give the new council a chance to do their best and thank the old council for their service. We need to stop bickering and move forward for the greater good of all people in this county. The silly politicking and self serving political agendas need to go.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:10, That's what Barron said. I do not believe him. It is completely contrary to what Vic Mazziotti, the former FA Director had been saing, as well as Doran Hamman. I trust their opinions. I do not trust Barron.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Well, it seems like the only one here with common sense and political courage to boot was Ferraro, whom you always deride..She has an elction in two years but decided to do the right thing and vote for the taxes to pay for the budget increase"

I have to agree with you there. Ferraro did do the right thing instead of following prevailing winds.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Fr. Alex, I suggest that Council's action might be illegal bc, under the Home Rule Charter, it must adopt a balanced budget. This is not a balanced budget, but will lead to a deficit next year.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing here is even if Barron is half right, why would anyone in their right mind take the chance that he might not be??
Again, if I were a Gracedale supporter or a union negotiator, or a new Democratic Councilman I would choke Barron..If Stoffa's budget had gone through relatively untouched the County would have been in a much better fiscal position...Also, as had been mentioned, if I'd been an open space supporter or a health Department supporter I'd be pissed at Barron also. Because if i were County Executive I'd prioritize Gracedale and Human Services and if the open space folks and the Heath Department folks don't like it, I'd say cry to Council..They decided to backhandedly not fund these issues...Stoffa needs to veto this and hope that the new Council has better sense than the present one..I expect they do..

Anonymous said...

Time will tell who is right about the fund balance. I have a hard time believing Barron who really is a political hack over Mazziota and Doran who are not. For those who wanted Gracedale kept in county hands this does not look so good. The money will have to come from somewhere. If not there then where?? Dietrich is a little boy who can not be trusted by either party. He is Arlen Specter, except Arlen could speak intelligently and not sound goofy glazing over the eyes of all trying to follow him. He made this deal with Lamont and then provided no money to pay for it.They too were rehearsed. They kid no one. The new people coming on board support the health dept. Let;s hope Lehigh county can stop it.

Barron von Footinmouth said...

Everyone familiar with Generally Accepted Accounting Principals (GAAP) knows that there are three types of Controllers: the kind who can count and the kind who can't.

I'm all over this money stuff. Your controller is hard at work.

BTW, anyone want to travel to the upcoming Philly flower show? It's a long winter around here and they'll have plenty of shrubs to stomp on. I'm bringing my camera.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are funny as hell. Too bad you can't do a stand up act.

Tom Foolery said...

Council action was irresponsible and foolish..Barron gave his best assessment of the situation..Stoffa's financial people disagreed..Either way, it was council's decision to make..If you disagreed with Stoffa's budget then you should have to say what you'd like to cut and take the responsibility for that..To agree to spend more without agreeing to tax to pay for that spending is irresponsible, as Cusick even said..yet, he decised to do it..Give me a break..Angle is just as culpable as the rest of them,Ferraro being the shining exception..If he or the other two decided to vote against the budget they should have said why and produced a budget with appropriate cuts..They didn't , so they sirked their responsibility also...

Tom Foolery said...

I can spell, lol, I just can't type..They shirked their responsibility putting many County programs at risk..

Anonymous said...

The people who voted no wanted to sell Gracedale. Do you really think they would vote yes on a tax increase. They stuck with their principles, like it or not. Mr. Angle offered to get the budget to 0 and only one hand went up. The taxpayer and Gracedale will likely suffer because egos come first. This was the first time some members have sat through a budget deal. Last year Mr. Angle made it easy. Do we really want people who do not have enough knowledge of how the county runs making cuts? This was the presidents job to handle. He failed to do so. No one should accept that position without the time and the knowledge and also the willingness to work with council members. The experienced ones need to lead and if they can't they should not take the higher position. Would you be hired for a position you were not ready to handle? I hope not. There is and should be a learning curb. It only works though for those who do not already believe they know it all. It's a job like any other. If you are principled that may be all you start with and sometimes it is enough.

Anonymous said...

Barron is a political hack who spends tome where he doesn't belong. How can any trust him? Did Angle really refer to him as Robin????? Not Robin Hood. Batman's counterpart.

Anonymous said...

If Barron invented a pill that eradicated cancer, you'd say he only did it to attract attention.

Your long and tireless record of Barron baiting and Barron hating means that nobody can believe you on anything where Barron is involved.

First the electorate and now council siding with Barron: How can you suffer the stigma of you and a couple dozen other rightwingnutjobs being the only ones who are ever right?

Anonymous said...

Hey, BVF @10.05

I haven't heard that joke since 1952, and it was accountants then, not controllers. I remember telling it the very next day to my 70 year old father. He gave what I can only describe as half a chuckle and said 'wow, that takes me back. I haven't heard that joke in over fifty years.'

So much for sparkling wit.

Anonymous said...

Gracedale wasn't the reason for the entire increase..All of those who opposed the increase should have come up with their cuts to balance the budget..Even if they didnt support Gracedale, the majority of voters did..Therefore they still had the responsibility of finding a way to pay for it..Maybe they aren't there anymore because they have ignored their responsibility..

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:29,

The joke is STILL funny, even if it is recycled from 1952.

Go Green, don't ya know. It's the latest craze. Just ask Mr. Sparkles and his buddies at Solyndra.

I am happy to misappropriate your tax-deductable donation whenever you are ready. Get a hold of me.

CHAIRMAN,
LOCAL RE-ELECT OBAMA CAMPAIGN

Bernie O'Hare said...

12:17, we'll see how things are this time nect year.

Bernie O'Hare said...

12:17, we'll see how things are this time nect year.

Anonymous said...

Well Barron Von Poppinfresh got his political campaign going. problem is he did it on the backs of county employees and Gracedale. He not only help load the gun but handed It to Stoffa.

should be interested.

Sanctifying Grace said...

Thanks Bernie for the response.

But your response leads to another question:

If Stoffa doesn't veto it, and it gets put into action; how does the matter of an illegal budget get rectified?

Peace, ~~~alex+

Anonymous said...

Bernie, Stoffa's auditors' report is available online to be perused by Joe and Joanne Citizen, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Barron's point, that government should spend its own money before it spends the people's money, is hardly likely to make him unpopular, but it is also a vote of confidence in the county's ability to weather the recession at a time when confidence is obviously in short supply and much needed.
Your point, Bernie, that people who disagree with you should be thrown in jail is not likely to win you any friends. Even your buddies Angle and Dent will run away from the chilling effect of that one.

ironpigpen said...

Don't be ridiculous, Anon 2:17.

Only people who disagree with Obama should be thrown in jail outright.

Which is why it is such a good thing than Gun Walker Holder is the current sheriff in town.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have no idea what 2:17 is talking about. I said the budget might, and i stressthe wrd might, be ilegal. But if that is so, that's certainly no indication that peple belong in jail or that those who disagree with me belong in jail.

Bernie O'Hare said...

In answer to the anon question, all audits are online.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of jealous people attacking Steve Barron. Well attack away. He has caught Stoffa in his own game. Mr. Barron knows county government inside and out and made Mr. Hammon look like a fool on the budget.

As to the snarks about his running for another office. Laugh all you want but he will scare all other potential candidates out of the County Executive race.

He is the face of the new Democrats and they are in control now.

Anonymous said...

@5:59, so not true, way too many other professional politicians available, un-goon like...

Anonymous said...

five five nine

You got that right, my man

Except expect some cat calls from the loser brigade.

I think they are 0 and 10 since last year.

Anonymous said...

anon 5:59, you do make one crack up. If he is the "new" face of the Democrats, the Democrats better go on a diet.

So the "new" Democrats are dress wearing lispy chubby boys. Oh my!

He just sold Gracedale down the river to advance his political career. Those fanatics won't realize tha until it is too late.

Anonymous said...

Barron Von Puffinstuff says,

I am not only the face of the new Democrats but the body as well! You want me, you all want me!!

Anonymous said...

Peg voted the way she had to. She was shamed into it all year since she supported keeping Gracedale. She has never met had a county service or met a person she doesn't want to give money to. The problem is that it is the taxpayer who gets to pay. Take from one and give to another. Like Obama. Barron really ought to look in the mirror. He is a woman's nightmare. He wears his suits like Columbo and is about as appealing as a wart on a nose. He certainly can see that if he is as smart as some of you believe. Oh and honest too. This is how downgraded this country is becoming. The poor children.

Anonymous said...

I love how a group of what I suppose are "adults", if you want to use the term loosely, can spend so much time on a message board thinking up insults. Wow, you got up this morning and really made a difference in the world.

I'm going to personally come over to each of your houses, one by one, (possibly accompanied by the people from what not to wear), and ensure that each one of you has 0% body fat, perfect hair skin and teeth, a college education from an ivy-league school, impeccable clothing and dress sense, AND perfect speech articulation.

Maybe you could spend 5% of the time in your day you utilize thinking insults about other people and go and actually make some kind of positive difference. Just a thought. Steve Barron can actually look at himself in the mirror in the morning. I doubt I could if I were any of you. What a great use of your brain cells and creativity. Well done, all.

Anonymous said...

Easy there Tim the Barron Solictor, he has a job lined up for you and the ther Long Dem's.

What your weight challanged patron did was jepordize the future of Gracedale in order to kiss union ass and kiss up to the COAF folks.

His shallow attempts at poltics are sad and ultimately dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Barron is the "Barney Frank" for Northampton County.

Anonymous said...

Barron is the "Barney Frank" for Northampton County.

that would ba a compliment unless you get your ideas from FOXnoise
try thinking foryourself
Dodd / Frank is a good thing
wince baby

Anonymous said...

Barney Frank was an effective congressman. Barron is a corpulent fool.

Anonymous said...

Franks was a little man......He certainly did not add any class or professionalism to his position. People like him would be a joke if they weren't so busy breaking the law and getting away with it. Fannie and Freddie come to mind along with his significant other running a brothel in their basement? Oh and growing pot in their house. Now they know how to party.....Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the Faux news gang is back. You teabaggers got to get out of those double-wides every now and then.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Steve for saving the Taxpayers of Northampton County from paying unnecessary taxes. Your opinion is much more valued than Stoffa's and the Republican council even agrees.

Anonymous said...

3:26 is joking, Right?