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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, December 13, 2013

The John Stoffa Legacy

Barbara Stoffa will get her husband back after eight years
He's pulled his last weed.

As an 8 year old farm boy, John Stoffa was assigned the task of pulling ragweed from his father's cornfield. One was particularly troublesome, but the boy persisted and it finally came out.

That farm boy would go on to become Northampton County Executive. On December 12, he attended his last Council meeting as the County's highest elected official, finishing eight years in office. It was the first time he was accompanied by his wife, Barbara. "He would never let me come before," she explained.

Normally laconic during meetings, Stoffa itemized some of his accomplishments during his two terms in office. "Northampton County is a wonderful place to live," he explained. "Our job is to keep it that way." Stoffa, who provided an office to incoming Executive John Brown to help with the transition, wished his successor luck over the next four years. But Stoffa cautioned everyone against treating government like a business. He said good government occurs when people work together, like during an Amish barnraising.  "They can do in one weekend what takes government a year," he said.

What did Stoffa do over the last eight years?

Basic maintenance. - Courthouse elevators that broke down nearly every day now operate flawlessly. Nursing home windows that had been leaking since the '70s, are now working properly. He fixed the cupola over the courthouse, and restored the building. At county nursing home Gracedale, where one oil tanker was needed every three days, Stoffa converted those furnaces to gas.

The Milides Building Purchase. - Located across the street from the courthouse, this purchase gave the County 60 additional parking spots. It is also home to the Elections Office and Controller.

Recycling. - When Stoffa first assumed office in 2006, the County did not recycle paper. Now there is single stream recycling as well as two annual events for the community.

John Stoffa seems to recognize that guy.
Open Space. - John Stoffa was elected on a pledge to raise taxes a half mill to preserve open space. Preserved farmland has gone from 6,700 acres to 13,007 acres. His program has enabled the County to purchase land next to Housenick Park, which Stoffa calls the "Central Park of the Lehigh Valley." It funded Wayne Grube Park in East Allen Township. Though the County will lose 500 acres of farmland to developer Charles Chrin for a Route 33 Interchange at Tatamy, it will get than land back. Stoffa praised former Councilman Ron Angle for brokering a $2 million donation from Chrin that will enable the County to preserve another 500 acres of farmland.

Archives. - Under a previous administration, the County demolished its state-of-the art archives building for a prison expansion. It was paying $100,00 per year to house its historical records in another County. But in April, a new archives building was dedicated in Forks Township, including climate-controlled high-density shelving and a public reading room.

New Corrections Policy. - "Build programs, not cells," said Stoffa, noting the increased use of treatment to stop the jail from becoming a revolving door. The recidivism rate, i.e. the rate at which offenders return to the County jail, hovered around 69% when Stoffa assumed office. That rate is now down to 35.9% at the jail, according to Corrections Supervisor Arnie Matos. That lower rate translates to saved county tax dollars. Stoffa noted over 400 people volunteer their time at the jail, now considered one of the best in the state.

West Easton Treatment Center. - This work release facility, which can house up to 100 inmates, is used as both a work release and treatment facility for low level drunk drivers.

Bridges. - Thanks to a $19.6 million bond floated by Council in July, the County can begin repairs on 16 of its most critical bridges over the next three years.

Stoffa portrait includes courthouse cupola in background
Centralized Human Services Building. - In March, Northampton County will open a new, centralized human services building along Emrick Road in Bethlehem Township. Human services had been divided between the Governor Wolf Building in Easton and the Bechtel Building in Bethlehem. Thise buildins have been sold. "This was never just about a building," noted Stoffa. "It was about the people," he said referring to 18,000 consumers of human services county wide. "There will be one number you can call to get help," he added.

Retirement Fund. - The fund for County retirees has exploded from a low of $160 million to$328 million. Last year, it earned 17% in interest. Northampton County is also the first in the state to establish a separate trust for other post-employment benefits, called OPEB. That fund is at $24 million and generated 18.6% in interest last year.

Tax Hikes. - Aside from the half mill tax hike he promised before being elected in 2006, Stoffa proposed no tax increases during his eight years in office. But he believes they are a fact of life. "Raising taxes in small amounts is not the end of the world," he said.

Stoffa's Regrets. - Stoffa regretted not moving earlier on the swaption, a complicated financial deal he inherited from a previous administration that ended up costing the County $25 million. He called it a "cancerous sale." He never mentioned his failed sale of Gracedale, but in a speech to a statewide association of county commissioners earlier in the month, he said he rushed things.

After the meeting was over, his cabinet took him to see a portrait prepared by local artist Tom Burke. Stoffa initially refused to have a portrait done, then agreed if it could be done like a Picasso. He finally relented when a local artist was selected.

Stoffa now will resume his quest of building 500 birdhouses. He's at 282.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

First!

Anonymous said...

After reading this, believing in Santa Claus is no big deal. In fact throw in that cuddly six foot Easter bunny as well!

LOL!!

Your best work to date O'Hare

Anonymous said...

Northampton County is also the first in the state to establish a separate trust for other post-employment benefits, called OPEB.

What are the other post-employment benefits?

Anonymous said...

The biggest one is usually retiree healthcare.

Anonymous said...

Stoffa gets a lot of crap from some but that is just the way of politics. As a conservative sometimes I even have to agree to spend money. He believed all of these things and more were needed. His side elected him. Now it is time for another John to take the reins. He will do things differently and will no doubt get crap from some but again thie is the world of politics. Can he avoid a tax increase I don't know. People want all of these services and more so it matters who comes out to vote.
I wish him well in his retirement and believe he did as much as he promised to do. I don't agree with all of it and I am hopeful Brown makes some adjustments. Whatever they be.
I don't agree government can't be run like a business. While it won't happen we can at least work towards it. And will......

Anonymous said...

And Stoffa spent more money on Gracedale than any other county executive.

Anonymous said...

I agree about Gracedale. You should have worked harder to educate people and the get them out to vote when Gracedale was onthe ballot. You complain but did you do anything about it? My apologies if you did but the biggest complainers usually do nothing but that.be there next time......

Anonymous said...

This was one of the sweetest love sonnet O have ever read. Either that or homo-erotic gay porn.

Christ O'Hare. I hope they give you a picture of Stoffa to paste on your inflatable doll.

Anonymous said...

anon 6:42, wrong again. The retiree healthcare plan is shitty and illegal under new federal guidelines.

Anonymous said...

Every time you reference the bird houses, I think "One flew over the cookoo's nest." After 8 years as county executive, Mr. Stoffa might agree that the mental connection is warranted. Build away good sir.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That is pretty much it, to my knowledge.

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:54, this post details what Stoffa claims he accomplished. You apparently think I should not list them bc you don't want to hear his side.

Bernie O'Hare said...

11:05, if it is shitty and illegal, please explain .

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:14, I did pretty much to educate people and fight the referendum. In addition to numerous blogs. I filed suit. But I think Stoffa is right. We rushed things and should have listened to warnings made by Gerry Seyfried, Ron Heckman and Rich Grucela. We should have gone with privatized management sooner. And I never thought of the idea of creating a nonprofit to run the facility. That was done in Centre County, and I believe they can take advantage of higher reimbursement rates.

c said...

Godspeed John, thank you. Truly the greatest compliment that can be paid to you is that in 100 years no one will remember you, but our grandchildren will be thankful for what you have done.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Very well said, c.

Anonymous said...

No jackass, you are wrong. OPEB is any fringe benefits offered to employees after the retire. Healthcare is the biggest biut some employers other other things like a fixed dollar life insurance policy after employees retire. Get your facts right. Whether you feel it is a good plan or not has nothing do oeith OPEB which falls under GASB 45. Look it up and do some research to educate yourself.

Anonymous said...

"our grandchildren will be thankful for what you have done."

Speak for your own grandchildren. Mine will still be paying for that bloated overpriced lease on the Stoffa palace of ego. By that time the forty year lease with built in 2.5% increase a year will be up to about $2 million a year. Also services will be long gone due to the money needed for the building.

Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...

John Stoffa may have many more regrets than he cared to mention. Not mentioning those regrets is a virtue that should be taken as discretion. John Stoffa is a man of his word. He believes everything that he says. He has stood corrected when he needed to do so, and stood his ground when he thought so. That to me speaks more to a man's character then some of the utter bull shit that just seems to fall out of other people's mouths. Mr. Stoffa is absolutely correct in cautioning Brown that applying a business model to government would be a disaster. Government services should not be expected to yield a profit. That is why government services should remain in government control, and not be given to every Joe Shit The Rag Man with an LLC as an investment opportunity. I think Stoffa understood that. Brown better watch is ass if he thinks differently because he may just wind up being the first recalled executive NC has ever seen. The boy has sliced Bangor's services to the point of no return and he is about to absorb the fall out of Mr. Stoffa keeping his word of not raising taxes. Anyone who has Ron Angle as a mentor had better beware. Angle is dirty. Why he is still able to speak is a complete mystery. Right Ron?



Bernie O'Hare said...

Since this blog published, I've deleted a number of angry and vulgar comments. I have had to continue this tonight. Since I have no desire to play blog cop this weekend, I am disabling anonymous comments. if you want to say something critical of a person, own your own words.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the two of you can snuggle up In one of those kooky birdhouses. word is it will only cost you $2 million dollars a year with a built in 50% increase every two years.

The two if you will be very happy.

Anonymous said...

This was a real asslicking commentary by O'Hare. What will Stoffa do without O'Hare around to toss his salad everyday?

Anonymous said...

When did the controller move to the Milides building?

Bernie O'Hare said...

The controller has been there for some time . I believe the office was there before the building was purchased.

Anonymous said...

I thought the controller was at 684 Washington along with the old archives and the prison printery.