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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shut Up and Take the Money!

According to Northampton County Executive John Brown, the County spent $13 million more than it took in last year. This year looks much the same. Seven of the eleven unions are working without a contract, and they are understandably going to want more, not less, money. What's an Executive to do?

You get money from every place you can. I'd even consider charging the public to park.

In the Recorder of Deeds, an increase in recording fees has been in place about a week, with no advance notice to the public at all. The Governor needs the money. We're getting nickeled and dimed, but have been spared an income tax hike. There've been grumbles, but nobody has really complained.

So when I hear that Register of Wills Gina Gibbs wants to raise fees in her office and collect an additional $100,000 per year, I'm all for it. That money would pay for two jobs without raising real estate taxes. But President Judge Steven Baratta, who has been asked to approve the fee increase, is opposed.

He argues he lacks the power. In addition, he claims it's unnecessary because that office already makes money.

I have no quarrel with his first reason, which limits the power of the courts in favor of the other two branches of government. He is a judge. I am a bottom-feeding blogger. I certainly wouldn't want to pick a fight with him on that point. I'd lose. A fee increase can simply be adopted by ordinance.

But the argument that makes no sense at all is his policy argument - the claim that the office already generates a profit.

Excuse me?

There is absolutely no legal requirement that any row office be revenue neutral. In fact, the goal should be to make a few bucks wherever we can to defray the costs of all the other money-losing offices in the Human Services arena.

If the goal is to break even, as PJ Baratta seems to suggest, then it's time for him to eliminate all fines on criminal Defendants because the Criminal Division is making a killing. The Recorder of Deeds should reduce fees. Civil Divisions should send rebates to all attorneys filing complaints.

It's a silly argument.

So naturally, the Express Times editorial board and Council member Mat Benol adopted it.

In a County that is in the hole, you take your money wherever you can. It would be fiscally irresponsible to avoid this revenue stream. If the fee hike were unconscionable, I'd see the point. But even where fees are doubled, they go from $5 to $10. Come on! At budget time, watch how fast council members grab this money source.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

No government agency should be hiking fees on taxpayers in this economy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Really? Would you prefer a nice bif, fat juicy real estate tax hike? It is these fees that keep other taxes away. It is a use tax, is not regressive and is dependent on the service being used. Governor Corbett just raised fees across the Commonwealth wihout batting an eye. The county imposed a fee for parcel checks two years ago, and is raising $300,000 per year from that fee. Yes, these are really taxes, but they help the old widow on a fixed income stay in her home. In a county without a tax hike in 7 years, this revenue is needed.

Anonymous said...

But the office is not revenue neutral, and Baratta didn't recommend a change to make it revenue neutral. It wasn't clear, but it appeared it was $500 or $600K in the black for each of the last 5 years, or over the last 5 years.

I thought the policy argument was valid, but I'd want to see more numbers - for example what the gross is that the profit was generated from.

Anonymous said...

You know Bernie, some communities and maybe the county need a real estate tax hike. Our town has been resisting it under political pressure, but when things are falling apart, there isn't staff to do everything that needs to be done, it's pretty rough.

Yes, it's darned hard on the elderly and bottom feeding bloggers, perhaps. Tax relief for seniors should be considered. Are you almost there?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Read the artcile I linked. The office is about $300k in the black over three years. PJ Baratta certainly advanced the view that no increase is needeed bc the office is generating money. In effect, he is arguing for revebnue neutrality. That would be wonderful if everything else were revenue neutral, but that is simply not so. The County is like a money funnel. Gracedale alone is on track to cost taxpayers $5 million this year or more. If you can bump the fees up in the wills office, that will make life easier for those paying real estate taxes. This is really a no-brainer, and I am surprised anyone would even feel the need to discuss it. If the fees were outrageous, I could see the point. But basically, the county is simply playing catch up.

Bernie O'Hare said...

2:49, Unfortunately, seniors can be exempted from real estate taxes. Uniformity clause and all that. IK agree a tax hike is needed. I thought so two years ago.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god, something must be wrong with me, for once i agree with O'hare! Is there a cure to this madness?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Don't worry. I'll pissd you off by tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I am not arguing seniors should be exempt. But they could be exempt from *increases* like they do in Jersey. Property tax freeze program - very successful and vital for seniors.

I'm sorry I missed your link, Bernie. That is consistent with $500K over 5 years. That is not an astonishing amount, but $1m would look better.

I guess I may have to pull the giant pole out of my ass and see things your way on this. It isn't realistic to expect every office to be profitable. And besides, you want to see your GF in the deeds office get some needed help or relief.

Anonymous said...

( 2:16 PM ) No government agency should be hiking fees on taxpayers in this economy.


NO County SHOULD BE SPENDING MORE THAN IT TAKES IN EITHER ... BUT IF YOU DO NOT Want to Give Up Services than You MUST EITHER Raise Fees OR Raise Property Taxes ... BUT Something Has Got to Give Either Way. Either Cut Some Services OR Raise Fees OR Raise Property Taxes. BUT YOU CAN NOT Continue to SPEND MORE THAN YOU TAKE IN !!!!

Anonymous said...

We elected the Republican team to cut county government and not raise taxes. It was obvious the Democrats were tax raisers. The Republicans did not sweep in because we wanted another ridiculous tax increase.

No tax or fee increases, cut, cut ,cut!!

Enough is enough!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Stop being such an asshole. My fear is there won't be a tax hike.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Criminal Defendants found guild should pay fines HIGH ENOUGH that the people that don't violate the rules, skin other people and don't break into somebody elses property get an honest tax abatement. I would have these bastards slaving 20 years to pay it off. Look at Reading ,Pa. in that County of Berks, the property taxes collected don't even exceed the criminal justice costs. Bullcrap I say, make slaves out of them. OLD PETER.

Anonymous said...

I received a mailer from Mr. Brown during the election in which he compared his record to Callahan's. Brown clearly stated HE was the candidate you could trust to CUT TAXES not raise them not even let them where they are but to cut. I have the mailer he said it now I expect him to live up to his pledge to trust him.

Was I wrong to vote for him based on his asking for my trust to CUT TAXES?

Anonymous said...

Mr. O’Hare,

Generally I would chose to remain quiet with regard to political discussion, but because your comments raise important matters of governance, the role of the Court and the separation of powers (and perhaps of equal importance to me, because this discussion has mischaracterized my position), I think that it might be appropriate to weigh in.

First, please know that my letter was directed to the County Solicitor’s Office in response to an Assistant Solicitor who rendered an opinion that the President Judge had the authority to consider Ms. Gibb’s request to raise fees in Orphan’s Court. I disagreed with that conclusion based upon the Home Rule Charter and Pennsylvania case law.

Second, I did not recommend against action by Mr. Brown to raise fees. Issues related to the generation of revenue should be the province of the executive and legislative branches of county government. The Court has no business interfering with such authority.

However, I did state that I would not support the request to raise fees because it was not my decision to make. I also stated that if I was incorrect as to my authority, I saw no need to raise fees, as Orphan’s Court was consistently generating excess revenue from its operation. Thus, the Court has no need to raise fees to cover court operations.

I think that we can both agree that even if I had the authority to raise Orphan’s Court fees, raising court fees to cover the County’s general fund deficit is improper action for the Court. Raising fees in Orphan’s Court for the purpose of stabilizing the general fund is an indirect tax placed upon those who must access the court system to negotiate or resolve issues which impact fundamental family matters, such as decedent estates, adoptions, marriages, and guardianships for minors, the elderly and incompetent persons.

The Court should not be in the business of taxing citizens or deciding how the County should raise revenue. It should be a decision made by the County Executive in conjunction with County Council’s approval.

In conclusion, I made no argument for "revenue neutrality." I see this as a matter of governance and not for the Court. If Orphan’s Court fees are raised by the Executive and/or County Council, it will be met with silence by the Court.

Stephen Baratta

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clearing this up Your Honor.

It is a shame you have to waste your time clarifying O'Hare's sensationalism. He never seems to get things right.
Again, Thank you for the correction.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Well, this is a first. Your Honor, I will post your comment as a separate blog tomorrow so there is no misunderstanding. I don't believe I mischaracterized your views, and will explain why. Thank you for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Bad advice from the Solicitor's office? Do we see a trend? At least example of lack of knowledge about the Home Rule Charter is merely embarassing and wont cost the County 1000s of dollars.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification your Honor. Mr. O'Hare us trying to come up with excuses for the newly elected county officials to break their campaign promises.

Anonymous said...

O'Hare loves the outrageous spending, so it only stands to reason he is all in favor of raising taxes.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, 90 per cent of this is bullshit including Baratta`s comments. A lot of this is based on prejudice toward the person who proposed this . We saw it in the past and it continues today. If the county is that much behind in revenue it should take every nickel and dime it can from the transportation at Gracedale to unnecessary spending for public relations firms. If Baratta felt his clarified way , he should have said nothing. Does he remember he left the solicitor`s office years ago?

Bernie O'Hare said...

A good idea is a good idea. I don't much care for how Gibbs got her job, but this saves two county jobs.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Also, please don't call PJ Baratta's comments "bullshit." I appreciate him coming on here and spelling out his views and will publish them as a separate blog before checking myself in at the jail tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, you know that the offices that come under the ADMINISTRATION KNOWN AS COURT SERVICES is in dire need of additional employees. How do we get and pay for those additional employees? Yes, the Court Services department makes money for the County. That started under Reibman. Until then it was a drain on the taxpayer. We need to fund more positions in Civil Division and these people have to be paid. The Court System has to be looked at as a whole, not piece meal. That is why they are lumped into one division. How about collecting some of the 60 million that is owed the County in Criminal Division. Then you wouldn't have to raise taxes.

Anonymous said...

No new taxes was a Brown campaign promise! End of discussion!

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's a dishonest argument. No new taxes was Lamont McClure's campaign pledge. For four years, too. Brown always made clear that he would raise taxes if he had to, and I'd rather see that than wholesale cuts or layoffs. I have no idea what he intends to do, but i have been saying we need a tax hike for the past two budgets.

Anonymous said...

"That's a dishonest argument."

No, yours is a dishonest statement. John Brown in his own words promised not to raise taxes. In fac,t he stated he could be trusted to cut taxers unlike John Callahan. I still have the mailer. No do overs on promises.

I accept your apologies.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have no idea what his mailers say. i rely on what he said during the campaign, during his debate with Callahan. He made it clear that if he had to, he'd raise taxes. The only candidate who pledged not to raise taxes was McClure. If you still have the flyer, you must be some operative looking for weaknesses. I suspect you'll take a statement out of context and make it say what you want.

Look I supported Callahan, and think he's make a better Exec for a myriad of reasons. But the claim that brown promised he'd never raise taxes is a lie. I know that.

Anonymous said...

"I can be trusted to cut your taxes, unlike my opponent".

Pretty direct for a quote. maybe what you heard was garbled or a lie. I have it in writing, do you?

Bernie O'Hare said...

What I heard and wrote about was that Brown refused to pledge that he would never raise taxes. Nor does the quote you supply. He can simply argue he saved the taxpayers from taxes being even higher. You go ahead and make your argument, but it's a lousy one and dishonest. You must know that.

Anonymous said...

Mailer, a quote by John Brown. "John Callahan will raise your taxes, I will not." If he lied it will be brought up in four years.

Sounds pretty clear but you were never known to be good with facts.

Bernie O'Hare said...

In several news accounts as well as this Blog, john Brown is quoted refusing to make a no tax hike pledge. The only candidate stupid enough to do that was McClure.