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Friday, December 07, 2012

NorCo Adopts No-Tax-Hike Budget, Looks For Repeat Next year

With minor amendments, Executive John Stoffa's no-tax hike budget was adopted tonight 8-1, with the sole dissenting vote coming from Tom Dietrich. This was more or less expected. But Fiscal Affairs Director Doran Hamann supplied the surprise of the night when he predicted there will be no need for one next year, either. He did caution, "We don't know what's going to happen in the next 365 days."

According to Hamann, this is for three reasons. First, the County has begun using its self-insurance fund to pay benefits. Second, it borrowed money to pay off part of the swaption instead of dipping into reserves. Third, as a result of bond refinancing, it was able to avoid a debt service payment due on October 1.

Hamann was proud to report that the County has managed to retain its AA bind rating.

But there are still clouds on the horizon.

Hamann noted that Gracedale, the County-owned nursing home, is in need of "Major repairs." Council President John Cusick noted that the County will still be paying $4 million for operations at nursing home next year. Despite a private management firm, it continues to lose money.

In addition to Gracedale, Hamann noted that 2/3 of the County's revenue comes from the state and federal governments. The state, in particular, has made substantial reductions in payments for human services.

Council President John Cusick noted that, despite a declining tax base, the annual pension cost next year will be $12.5 million. Fifteen per cent of the County's real estate tax revenue will have to pay for the pension.

In addition to these concerns, the County is looking down the barrel of $19.6 million in bridge replacements and repairs over the ext three years, which will almost certainly require a bond. Council member Lamont McClure argued against including these cost projections in the capital plan, but Cusick countered, "Repairing bridges has been a core function of government since the Roman Empire."

This budget appears to include (I'm not entirely sure) an across the board 2.25% wage hike for its non-union staffers.

Here's a sampling of some of the wages:

position 2012      
county council solicitor           $50,124 $51,252
controller solicitor $18,360 $18,773
county solicitor $55,533 $56,782
first ass't cty solicitor $47,268 $48,332
ass't cty solicitor (4) $40,686 $41,601
assistant das (7 pt) $43,377 $44,352
chief public defender $55,399 $56,646
first ass't public defender $55,260 $56,503
ass't public defender (14) $43,377 $44,352

Full-time Assistant DAs and public defenders will have a salary that ranges between $61,901 and $92,080, depending on years of service. Cabinet level officials will be paid between $81,594 and $121,373.


Anonymous said...

One big non-needed item is a Human Services building. In a time of more and more privitization, the need for a builindg just to house Human Services is short sighted.

Hopefully county council will not allow any dramatic decisions like that in Mr. Stoffa's last year.

Also, the sad reality is no tax increase next year sets up the next Administration and council for a double digit tax whammy in a few years.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Let's see. You borrow $9 MM for the swaption and get excused from debt service on a bond for one year as well. What happens next year? Doran is very sharp and I'll accept his projection, but I suspect the next County Exec will have to raise taxes big time. In my view, it's an irresponsible budget.

Anonymous said...

I agree Bernie. This budget may make the people feel good but the inevitible hammer falls with big double digit tax increases. It has happened in Northampton and Lehigh and other counties as well.

I don't understand this notion of thinking that over a decade of increased spending and decreased revenues you can live forever on this surplus.

Since Stoffa appears to be signaling he won't ask for a tax increase again next year, it can become really serious looking to 2014. Unfortuantely, at this point I think Mr. Stoffa is mailing it in. My fear is the idea of an uneeded building may be more about a leagacy than a wise policy move.

The John Stoffa Human Services building is neither needed nor necessary at this point.

If they go for that, I predeict a tax increase of 13-16% in 2015 and it will be the incumbents fault.


Anonymous said...

Every year we don't have to fork over more to a cost center is a good thing. The way things are today, we can't worry about motives.

As for the great big tax increase down the road? The bigger the better. Finally, people will be forced to face the cost of "essential services" and to evaluate if it can be done without a bloated, unresponsive, bankers' hours, entitled class bureaucracy or, more importantly whether the services really are "essential' at all.

A grand game of chicken well worth playing, I submit.


Anonymous said...

Amazing to me how many folks are jealous of the Stoffa Administration`s success. Good people selected results delivered. No tax increase in 7 years since he took over other than fulfilling the people`s choice for open space with a half mill increase. Probably no increase next year as mentioned tonight. A 40 million dollar fund balance. Raise taxes ? He tried for two years to no avail . Best Executive in county`s history.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Overall, I'd agree with much of what you say. Stoffa has been very prudent in many ways. But I also believe this budget called for a tax hike, as Stoffa himself had urged last year. Instead, as he himself observed, the county is dipping into the seed corn. It is possible this Council might have listened.

Anonymous said...

Nice comment at 1:41 John. Now let us look at the facts. You inheritesd the largest budget surplus in county history, over $60million. You raised taxes half a mill and not all of that money has gone into open space. You spent $26 miullion to get out of a swaption that was in profit mode when you took office. Even thenm you could have dumped it for under $9 million but sat on your hands.

You tried to dump Gracedale, spent thousands on failed legal bills and bought an uneeded building in the middle of Forks twp.

Now you want to buy another building so it is named after you.

Other than that, you have not addressed the growing prsion building problems.

All in all you have continued to spend your inheritance, do little and claim great deeds.

A solid record that is not. You lead just as one would expect a lifetime bureaucrat to lead, from far behind.

Anonymous said...

The nursing home does not lose money, it uses money to operate. Like the prsion, the courts, the DA, etc.

County Services cost money, they don't make money.

Try to be consistent in your attacks.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how no one on Council ever complains about the Prison losing money, or the Recorder of Deeds office losing money, or the Courts losing money. As I recall, these operations as well as many more in the County Government all charge FEES to cover their costs. Its amazing how improvement projects are proposed for County services an no one talks about that service losing money. Gracedale and the care for our County seniors is a core function of this Government. It was decided many, many years ago. Its time to move on and make the appropriate investments so that our seniors have the "best" care. I do believe that the voters of this County have decided the Gracedale question.

Hokie Joe said...

Counties are in existence for one reason and one reason only, To provide services mandated by the State and Federal Government on a local level. These services are
(1) provide for the Courts who do not have taxing powers, and (2) provide Human Service needs. The State Legislature "mandated" the form, powers, and limitations of all local governments in Pennsylvania. Home Rule Charters such as Northampton County places the primary responsibility for local decision making in the hands of the elected officials and the people of a local government. That is exactly what happened with the ballot question on "Gracedale" The people have spoken. Gracedale has never made money in the history of the facility. It is not in the business of making money. It is in the business of providing service to the needy and those unable to care for themselves. Gracedale doesn't lose money. It may be able to improve on efficiency and those avenues should be looked at an remedies implemented. When Gracedale was shown to have made a profit, it was nothing more than "cooking the books". They never made money

Anonymous said...

It is time you face reality Bernie. Northampton County did not get a cash balance of 60 million dollars under the Stoffa Administration. They got it because Reibman stuck it to the taxpayers by raising taxes 70% when a tax hike of that magnitude wasn't needed.Stoffa didn't do anything with his bunch of wacko's to make Northampton County a solvent institution. He is in way over his head. Being a nice guy and being honest isn't enough to be a leader. He has failed miserably as a leader. You are finally seeing him for what he is. A decent guy, a back slapper, just not executive material.

Anonymous said...

It's Hamann, damnit!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Sorry about that. I do it all the time.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It is time you face reality Bernie. Northampton County did not get a cash balance of 60 million dollars under the Stoffa Administration. They got it because Reibman stuck it to the taxpayers by raising taxes 70% when a tax hike of that magnitude wasn't needed.Stoffa didn't do anything with his bunch of wacko's to make Northampton County a solvent institution. He is in way over his head. Being a nice guy and being honest isn't enough to be a leader. He has failed miserably as a leader. You are finally seeing him for what he is. A decent guy, a back slapper, just not executive material. "

I agree with the first part of this statement, but not the second. The fund balance was $60 MM bc of 70% in tax hikes over two years. But Stoffa has not "failed miserably." He has done some things well and others poorly. I have praised him when I have thought he is right and criticized him when i have thought he was wrong.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Interesting how no one on Council ever complains about the Prison losing money, or the Recorder of Deeds office losing money, or the Courts losing money"

That's bc most of those are money-making operations and are mandated by state law. A nursing home is not, We've had this discussion. I've lost. But don't delude the people into thinking it makes money or that we are not paying through the teeth for it.

Anonymous said...

Im voting for the 3 amigos from bangor ABC!

Anonymous said...

First it's easy not to raise taxes when you keep dipping into the reserves. Secondly, where are the cuts? Third, another building? When is the county going to have a physical facilities master plan rather than overpaying for buildings near the courthouse (Militis building is now just Election dept) or building some new grand atrium like the Domestic Relations building. Where is the cost effectiveness? Where is the desire to make county government easily available to the constituents? The county has owned all of the property in the area since the mid nineties -- earth to county -would it not have been more cost effective to build one admin building on one of the huge parking lots and include a real parking deck? Then the courthouse addition in all of its grandeur wouldn't have been necessary becasue all of the admin space could have been courtrooms. Waste, waste, waste. There is so much of it in this county and this budget does nothing to correct the real problems. It's not Gracedale it's the entrie county.

Anonymous said...

12:40 = bullseye. We named a park after a guy who thought outrageous cost overruns were "nice." The county's problems are ingrained and not going anywhere.

Uncle Remus said...

the callahan group would sincerely like to thank stoffa for allowing them to make a huge increase in taxes in the coming years and for being able to blame it on the stoffa administration

Anonymous said...

Give credit where it is due. No tax increase in 7 years. No pay to play or corruption charges to embarass the county. An AA bond rating. All during the worst recession in 50 years. Give Stoffa some props for running a frugal, honest adminstration.

Anonymous said...

"No pay to play", who had pay to play? I don't recall any executive being convicted or charged.

I guess if showinbg up most of the time and having a lot of meetings counts, Stoffa ahd a great Adminstration. But he doeesn't get a building for that. We will name a meeting room after him.

Oh, Bernie. Please tell us how much more the prsion gives the county, than we put into its budget every year?

Anonymous said...

Bernie, just read on "Private Gracedale," that you atacked Barron and Martinez at the council meeting. Is that true?

Anonymous said...

If Stoffa had gotten Gracedale sold for the bid price, he'd be a fiscal legend for generations; this, despite his schizophrenic spending schemes that included a breathtakingly expensive parking garage. The county should not be in the nursing home business. It won't be much longer, and the best deal is in the rear view mirror, unfortunately.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You can watch the video and likely were there. What I did do was blast Barron in front of Council during Courtesy of the Floor for his disgusting and false attack against Stoffa during a publicly broadcast television show. I also blasted him for his ridiculous witch hunt over the litigation I filed against the Gracedale initiative. I stated that Martinez is a fake, which even a cursory review of his blog makes clear.

Last time I checked, I have a first amendment right to petition my government to redress grievances. That right does not just apply to the Fake Rev and Barron. I exercised that right.

In fact, it is pretty clear to me that Barron, in his role as Controller, is attempting to chill my first amendment rights, both with his witch hunt and by injecting himself into my business relationships in the title industry, especially since his accusations are false. interestingly, those false accusations are magically appearing on the Gracedale blog. Obviously, he and they are acting together.

Anonymous said...

Cusick has the righ to gavel personal attacks made during courtesy of the floor. You should have been told to leave the personal attacks out of it.

Anonymous said...

What if medicade rates take a hit and the private nursing homes don't take medicade, or thevery sick on medicase. then what. Oh I know the old teabagger motto, "tough shit".

Well that is not the way it is in Northampton County. But by all means you run on that platform.

Had Stoffa and gang not tried to ram this sale through with little evidence and vicious attacks agianst those who had questions, it might have passed. Now it never will.

Keep hoarding your beans.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That question was answered 1,000 times, but you misled voters into thinking that residents would be shipped 3 counties away. You ran a dishonest campaign and won. It's what I'd expect from Fave Reverends.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:09, There was noting personal about my attack. Barron's disgraceful record as Contoller was called into question. Had I called him a fat queer, then you'd have a point. And since Martinez misrepresents himselfm every time he brays at a Council meeting, I had every right yo tell them he is, in fact, a fake.

Anonymous said...

Hey, bro, slow down on the typos! You must be worked up.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yeah, it bothers me when a supposed Controller has a political agenda, engages in meaningless witch hunts, and uses the authority of his office to harass my customers. But his problems are just beginning.

Anonymous said...

The only lies about Gracedale came from Stoffa and Angle. The concerns of medicade refusal in the future, is a real comcern, just not to you guys.

As to your attacks on Mr. Barron and the Rev. Martinez, Cusick was derelict in his duty by not gaveling you.

The right to speak at courtesy of the floor, is not the right to personally attack people no matter how justified you may think you are in your bizzare mind.

The Truth Miester

Bernie O'Hare said...

Barron was blasted, deserved it, and not one word was a personal attack.

Anonymous said...

Barron's performance has been lazy and dishonest. That's it. Lazy and dishonest. It really doesn't get worse than lazy and dishonest.