|John Brown surprised union workers at meeting|
"For every dollar taxed, we're spending three on people," he said, reducing the problem to its simplest terms. Brown noted that revenues have been stagnant over the past eight years, only growing an average of $905,000 per year. Over that same time, personnel costs have increased an average of $3 million per year.
To make matters worse, the County contribution to its retirement fund has grown from $6.8 million in 2008, to $18 million last year.
"Our cash demands have outstripped our ability to raise revenue," he observed.
In previous years, the County has dipped into its reserve fund to finance deficit spending. But the cupboard is bare. Brown believes the County will spend as much as $18 million this year, leaving it with just $12 million left for the following year.
One of the biggest drains on that budget is Gracedale, the County-owned nursing home. Even with a privatized administration and active marketing that has increased census dramatically, it will still cost the County $5.5 million this year.
At this point in his tenure, he's looking for cash leaks. He noted that when he assumed office, a stack full of job requests were on his desk. He's put a hold on them and is bringing department heads in to justify the need. In one office, he's determined that the new position would be unnecessary if the 30% turnover is stopped.
As a longer term solution, he will seek cost-saving ideas and help from the workforce. "The key to doing this is our employees," he said. After his presentation, he acknowledged this proposal is similar to the "Continuous Improvement" program advanced by his opponent, John Callahan.
In addition, he emphasized the importance of working regionally, stating he has contacted the Mayors of Bethlehem and Easton, as well as Lehigh County Exec Tom Muller, to look for areas in which economies can be achieved.
He also cited three Stoffa administration projects as a "silver lining" for the County.
First, the Chrin TIF, located at the northern tier of Palmer Township, will produce 5,000 jobs while at the same time making money available for farmland preservation.
Second, thanks to a centralized human services building in Bethlehem Township, the County has been able to shed the Wolf and Bechtel buildings. "The employees love it there," he remarked after his speech. "So do the clients."
Third, Brown cited the bridge bond, which will enable to repair to 18 bridges over the next three years.
In a brief meeting with reporters after his speech, Brown promised biweekly meetings with the press. He agreed that the Home Rule Charter and Administrative Code need a review. He also acknowledged that he has hired Bangor Borough Council President Cathy Allen as a Deputy Director of Administration. Though Allen has no education beyond high school, Brown said she is well-versed in all lines of insurance and he will use her for risk management.
In addition to his entire cabinet, Brown's speech was attended by Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller, Judge Craig Dally and County Council member Glenn Geissinger. Other members of Council were unable to attend as a result of conflicts.
"It's not how many speeches I give," Brown told his audience, "but how the county workforce reacts with the public that matters."
Brown's speech was hosted by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.