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Thursday, December 04, 2014

NorCo Approves One Mill Tax Hike

Hayden Phillips and Phil Lauer
Along straight party lines, Northampton County Council has approved a one mill tax hike for next year at their December 4 meeting. Instead of the Democrats, the party usually associated with taxes, it was Republicans who supported the increase. They did so even though Executive John Brown, who happens to be a Republican himself, had proposed no increase. In fact, conservative member Hayden Phillips had originally sought a two mill tax hike, but that measure failed in a 6-3 vote. Only Peg Ferraro and Glenn Geissinger joined him. But when he quickly lowered his request to just one mill, Seth Vaughn and Mat Benol joined him. Democrats Lamont McClure, Ken Kraft, Bob Werner and Scott Parsons all voted No.

What does this tax hike mean? For the average Northampton County home, which is assessed at $58,800, it means a $693.84 County tax bill. That's an increase of $58.80 over the the current tax bill of $635.04.

What prompted Republicans to propose the tax hike? Concerns over the depleted rainy day fund. Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter has predicted that the County reserves will be down to just $1 million by the end of next year. The County spends between $8-10 million per month.

This news caused a sleepless night for Phillips, who is concerned about the County having no funds for an emergency.  Part of his proposed tax hike would place that mill of extra taxes into the rainy day fund, which is technically called the stabilization fund. Phillips added that he would propose a new ordinance to "beef up" the requirements for dipping into that lockbox.

Lamont McClure scoffed at the notion of a tax hike "that can't be used for anything," But Geissinger, who was chairing the meeting while an ill Peg Ferraro tried to participate from home by phone, explained that the intent is to make sure that Council approves any future spending done from that fund.

Referring to Phillips' sleepless night, Lamont McClure stated that what keeps him up at night "is the elderly lady in Northampton, who's trying to stay in her house." He added, You want to raise taxes, and don't want to give me the parameters for what can and can't be done. You realize your stabilization fund could probably be raided by the Executive if he needs to."

Glenn Geissinger was uncharacteristically blunt. "We have sat and watched over $40 million get pissed away." He also added that he wants to make sure money is there to make payroll.

In addition to approving the tax hike, Council also adopted the revised budget that Executive Brown had submitted, but not before considering five amendments, four of which were adopted.

Tourism grants increases. - These are funded by hotel tax revenue, and not real estate taxes, and may only be applied to projects that enhance tourism. Ken Kraft proposed $25,000 for docents at The Historic Bethlehem Partnership. Peg Ferraro sought $30,000 for Easton's State Theatre. This passed 8-1, with only Hayden Phillips opposed. Noting all of Easton's fiscal problems, Phillips complained that Easton has adopted a resolution supporting driver's licenses for illegal aliens. Quoting from remarks by District Attorney John Morganelli, Phillips complained that granting licenses to illegal aliens places Yemeni terrorists and gang members on the same legal footing as law abiding citizens. "Easton is in a hole, it's dug it's own hole,and it's still digging," he remarked. "Don't pull us down." Though Ken Kraft noted that Easton and the State Theatre are not quite the same thing, Phillips called his vote a "protest vote."

Open Space funding restored. - Though John Brown gutted open space in his proposed budget, Scott Parsons proposed restoring $750,000 for farmland preservation as well as $400,000 for environmentally sensitive land purchases. Instead of using rel estate tax revenue, Parsons suggested dipping into $2.9 million in table games revenue. Solicitor Phil Lauer ruled that table games money can be used for any project "in the public interest." Hayden Phillips,an opponent of open space funding, was the sole No.vote.

Elimination of Deputy Director of Administration Position, $93,500. - This measure, proposed by Lamont McClure, was aimed at Deputy Director of Administration Cathy Allen. Her travel expenses were recently flagged by Controller Steve Barron. he has called on her to reimburse the County $1,006.85. Brown, whose travel expenses are also under attack, defended Allen, claiming it "wasn't an intentionality." He called the attack at her a "political jab" and stated he "wold love to have ten more Cathy Allens." This amendment failed in a straight-party, 5-4 vote.

Reducing Administration Budget, $150,000. - Over the past year, Council and Brown have sparred over his penchant to use consultants, including a controversial $75,500 contract with public relations consultant Sahl Communications and $58,000 for a series of contracts with cost control consultant C3. Lamont McClure proposed "breaking this culture of consultant cronyism" by making it more difficult for the Executive to negotiate these contracts without Council approval. This amendment passed in a 5-4 vote. It was supported by all four democrats and Hayden Phillips.

Reducing Inmate Treatment Program, $750,000. - Former Executive John Stoffa, a proponent of rehabilitation, had long advocated for rehabilitation of inmates at the County jail, arguing that programs that treat inmates reduce the rate at which they re-offend. But a performance audit performed by the Controller revealed that the jail is still a revolving door for 51% of the people treated in these programs.  McClure recommended scrapping the program, arguing that it was time to come up with another treatment plan. Executive Brown argued against this cut, stating that Council was "artificially handcuffing" departments that need time to do it right. Council voted to eliminate the funding anyway, in a 6-3 vote, with only Ferraro, Benol and Geissinger siding with continuing the treatment program.

After considering all amendements, Council voted to adopt the $340 million budget, as amended. Only Lamont McClure and Ken Kraft voted No.

Blogger's Note Updated 12/5, 1:25 am

56 comments:

Anonymous said...

The hypocrisy of the tea party. Suck on that voters!

Anonymous said...

This was a smart move. Forget about partisan politics - this is a necessity unless someone was going to take out a cleaver and hack some major expenses. The budget already was pared more than what 1 mill will raise. We'll need another 1 mill hike in a year or two.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Agreed.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how Republicans voted unanimously to raise taxes, when it should have been the incompetent Republican executive to propose this instead of moving forward two preposterous budgets.

Anonymous said...

Amazing how Kraft has become a Lamont puppet. Has he even stopped thinking for himself?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I agree that Brown has displayed a complete lack of leadership, putting Republicans on Council in an awkward position. I will add they rose to the occasion.

Anonymous said...

And just what did you think would happen? All the Dems are up for election next year. The R's are the at large seats that don't come up for two more years. Brown is the the one we should be looking to for leadership. Instead the asshole let Council do his dirty work. This man is a danger to the County. He makes me want to vomit every time I mention his name. I voted for Brown. He suckered me in once but I guarantee you that he won't sucker me again. I am an "R" and I take pride in my elected Republican Council Members. Brown on the other hand will get his next time around.

Anonymous said...

Credit where credit is due. I got to give it to the corporate overlords at the Partnership. They once again harnessed the power and anger of the teaparty. The Republicans campaigned as fiscal conservatives. Got elected and hatched a Hell of a plan in the back room. Let Brown produce a no-tax increase budget and have the Republicans on council say they have no choice but to raise the taxes.
The Republican bosses win, the voters lose and the Partnership rules the county.

Nice job!

Zappo said...

should have cut more employees and raised what they pay for their outrageous bennies

Anonymous said...

So I'm an old Democrat trying to make ends meet. Last year I figure I vote for Callahan and at least a few of the older experienced Dem's I know for county council. So my neighbor, a Republican says,"you crazy? Your Democrats will raise taxes. You think you are struggling now, just wait.". OK, I say, so maybe he is right and I vote for the Republicans for a change.

Now within one year with their seats not even warm yet, the Republicans raise my property taxes almost 10%.

So "What th4 Hell", I say.

Anonymous said...

Lauer looks like one of those black and white plates you find buried in your grandmother's chest. Or like Ben Franklin. Yeah, that's it.

Phillips just looks and acts like a d*#ch@. His bringing up credentials for illegals and terrorism as his rationale to not fund repairs at the State Theater was pathetic, and a waste of everyone's time while he incoherently droned on and on.

Anonymous said...

"should have cut more employees"

Yeah right. As it is, there are over 130 unfilled jobs, and growing every day.

Their pay SUCKS. Think of that when you are telling people what wonderful benefits they have. Those go hand in hand you know. Crappy pay + good benefits = a moderately pleasant breadwinner who isn't thrilled to go to work, but grateful to have a job.

Anonymous said...

very disappointed in these so-called conservatives. Considering that three of them wanted to raise my taxes 20%. So much for the teabagger sense of ethics.

Must have learned that t the Obama school of economics. The is past election was a farce.

Anonymous said...

These guys wanted to raise taxes 20% in their first year on county council. Even after they were handed a no tax increased budget.

I don't know of any Democrats that have even done that. What a load of crap they sold during the campaign. Thank you teabaggers for more of your hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

John Brown is /was/ will always be a numbnut. He is in WAY over his head. And he has surrounded himself with bigger losers than himself. If that's possible? Send him packing back to bangor, although I doubt that they even want him back!

Anonymous said...

When there's no difference between taxing and spending Rs and taxing and spending Ds, a majority D county will elect Ds. Bye bye Rs. You're gone next election. Brown's chances just improved. Don't think so? Yeah, neither did that Callahan guy who was a shoo-in.

Anonymous said...

Much needed tax hike and good start.

I agree with all amendments. I was hoping that Allen's position no longer be funded. 93000 could go to useful services nt for a personal favor. Her actions speak for herself.

Council who voted no should ask about her as well as research how the county ran without this position for several years.

Anonymous said...

Brown first budget and almost first year has been a complete disaster.

Here is to hoping to a referendum vote in 2015! He will then see not just from council how he is viewed by the majority of the voters.

the truth be known said...

It's all stoffa and greedy union peoples fault

Anonymous said...

It is Gracedale honey.

Anonymous said...

Whatever respect I had for Brown is gone with his comment that he would love to have 10 more Cathy Allen's. That plus his ridiculous claim that Allen is popular with employees is enough to make me sick. Kudos to Lamont for trying to dump Allen. It is incredibly disgusting that she and Brown have yet to apologize and repay illegal, fraudulent travel reimbursements. They should be sued or criminally charged if they don't.

Anonymous said...

So if you make $93,500/year you seriously can't afford a few dollar lunch or breakfast or a tank full of gas? It is ridiculous how she took advantage of the reimbursement policy. Maybe some of the low pay employees should start to do this...Oh that's right they would get shut down in an instant but the higher up you are you can do whatever you please and get away with it. Your job should have been aliminated, you are a disgrace to the county!

Anonymous said...

they might as well take the county for everything they got. Afterall, none of these hacks will be here in 3 years.

Anonymous said...

Please tea baggers. If I must put up with your childish view of economics, then at least give me a tax cut.

The tea baggers are all talk and no action. I've yet to see any of them actually cut government back drastically like they pontificate. (That's because once elected, they realize how foolish their childish view of economics really is and that they need to govern.)

Anonymous said...

Lamont is a blowhard that loves to hear himself talk. He is ultra political and not interested in doing the right thing for the county. Barron needs to start taking his meds. He seems to be decompensating. He is at least partially responsible for the reserves being depleted because he provided the financial back up to allow the Council to vote down past tax increases that would have avoided this mess. He is at least an anabler. I have to give some credit to the R's on council for having the courage to do what was needed although their behavior last night seems out of line. And lastly, what can you say about Brown? He really has been a train wreck in all facets as County Exec. Poor leadership, poor hiring, poor understanding of County gov, poor fiscal management, poor communication, and on and on. Sad for Northampton. I think JB Reilly owes us all a big apology for making this happen.

Matt M. said...

In the grand scheme of things, 1 mil isn't bad. School districts are doing much worse. $60 over 12 months is $5 a month Again, it barely moves the needle for most folks. Seniors in modest homes will see less, Bigger homes and businesses will see more.

My guess is that we'll see another mil again next year, and probably a half mil after that. Maybe some of the state funding can get straightened out this year with DC North. I just wonder when the next reassessment is coming.

Anonymous said...

If Cathy Allen is being overpaid $2,000.00 per week, she should fix her front porch. The roof fell off months ago and it looks like hell. The neighborhood is going down hill and this overpaid hack is doing NOTHING for the area. Resign and move, Please!

Anonymous said...

10:25. Pictures of the blight would be telling. Upload them to Bernie and maybe he will do a story on the zoning violations and her multiple foreclosure problems.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

If you want to get into these personal matters, be a man and identify yourself.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Bill The Horny Hick Clinton: It's the Gracedale, stupid.

Anonymous said...

OK, so Republicans are working on asking Barron to resign. It is only fitting that Brown be asked to resign as well, for being invisible, inaccessible, inflexible, incoherent, and incompetent.

Anonymous said...

@5:03AM These R's were handed a "no-tax" budget that made no sense at all. Twice. One contained an illegal letter of credit, the other spent down reserves to zero.

The R council members had no choice given the position Brown put them in.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

As mentioned months ago, if there was to be any year for a responsible raise in taxes, this was the one for all the obvious political reasons of election cycles.

For what it is worth, the GOP majority stepped up and did what they had to do. How they behaved afterwards, however, negates most of that complement.

No one likes taxes, but the bills have to be paid. As oft said, Brown showed no leadership, nor his famous self-touted "business experience" with the budget proposals he put forth. He comes across as doing what's best for John Brown, not NorCo, or even his own party. And while I would have wished the Dems would have stepped up to do what they knew needed done, its understandable why they didn't.

And while the General Fund may have been "pissed away", and it can be semi-spun as "we inherited" the problem, what is the reality of who has been the Council majority since Jan 2010? (5) Dems: McHale, McClure, Kraft, Parsons, Werner, and (11) Republicans: Dowd, Angle, Cusick, Dietrich, Ferraro, Gilbert, Thierry, Geissinger, Benol, Phillips, Vaughn. Who has been the majority? Of course Dems like McClure who sent near daily campaign junk mail promising if elected Exec not to raise taxes, are not to be exonerated, even if Brown makes him look good in comparison.

The Republican Pavlovian voters who salivate at the mention of "no taxes" must be dazed. Reality check, though, you can't freeze revenue forever. No one likes taxes, but how many of you can say you are meeting your increased 2015 cost burdens on the wages you earned in 2007? How many of you would propose paying the bills on a line of credit instead of arguing for a pay raise? Yet you expect the County to??

"As the (NorCo) world turns, so are the days of our lives".... and so our soap opera will continue. Tune in next week to see what Barron, Brown, Kraft, Benol, etc etc do next.

Anonymous said...

The two that really piss me off are Peg and Benol. The fake I care about the employee speechs regarding health care. Then the no vote to cut admin. so Brown cant hire more consultants. THEY BOTH NEED TO GO along with JB and his crew.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Government needs a check point ,a reference point once in awhile to stop certain activities. Example , years ago the Sheriff's Dept.bought BDU"s and boots. They still maintain light bars on vehicles , this is for no reason what so ever,The county does not need to purchase lite bars. They are prohibited from making traffic stops. This one expense unnecessary as an example of run away costs. They just get approved and are because nobody is watching the store. . Sheriffs will have to pick up Domestic Relations again soon. Will they at least hire the people that 'know how to' make the arrests for the sake of the children the dead beat daddies produced ? My comment is no way any criticism toward our new Sheriff,I am personally aware of his fine reputation, being in and out of Trenton ,N.J. from the National Guard side of that house.I support this new Sheriff and you should too,as he is a wonderful man, a leader, and without any known personal integrity issues.

Anonymous said...

2010-2011 the republicans held a 7-2 majority. Put the blame on that super-majority for this tax-increase. Angle and Dowd and the other 5 at-large Republcans (who all ran away after 1 term) did more to damage this budget and cause this increase than Stoffa, Barron or Brackbill.

Put the blame where it belongs.
This cabal of ineptitude will soon pass. Then a future executive (Grucela?) can blame Brown and his Lackeys.

Anonymous said...

Put the blame where it belongs.

OK. The blame lies with 1) Stoffa and Mazziotti who dithered as the swaption blew up despite Angle's pleas to get out earlier, and 2) the "spineless amoebas" in the state legislature who refuse to change the nursing home reimbursement formula ($ 7.8 million loss), enact pension reform ($13 million contribution), or properly fund the 911 centers (4 million deficit). 3) the unions and voters that "saved Gracedale" ($50 million and counting)

Anonymous said...

Now that you're done blaming..what is the solution? A tax increase is a start in the right direction so pipe down and take a deep breath!

Anonymous said...

Blame changes nothing. A tax hike changes something..finally!

Anonymous said...

No one thinks about how they just made it harder to qualify for a home mortgage. How raising property taxes lowers property value. What if a homeowner looses there job, a bigger burdon to carry on the homeowner. The homeowners get screwed.

There are much more desirable places and cheaper property taxes down south. Try to sell your home and than ouch pay 2% transfer tax. Screwed again.

Relocated here 10 years ago much to my regret. Came from area where property taxes by law can not increase like this. Lesson learned don't move to PA.


The people who invest in the community get screwed.

Anonymous said...

Thus the migration of Northern States to Southern. Ever check out the property taxes on all those new homes going up in Delaware on the way to Rehoboth? 1/3 of property taxes in lehigh valley. I knew somone who built there retirement home in Delaware because the taxes on the house up around windgap would have been 10, 000 a year. In Delaware 2500.

Not exactly a building boom going on in the valley. Losts of Bullding in I Delaware.

Anonymous said...

PA has one of the highest foreclosure rates partly due to increasing property taxes. Now that's fiscal responsibility.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is never a good idea to take seriously any factual averment made by an anonymous reader. Check them out. In fact, Pa is not among the top 11 foreclosure states recently listed. Among those top foreclosure states are southern states where taxes are low. Maryland, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and south Carolina. So the commenter is pretty much full of shit. It would be irresponsible not to raise taxes. As it is, 1 mill will only bring in about $7.5 MM and the County reserves are still going to be too low. So drop the nonsense already. http://www.bankrate.com/finance/real-estate/top-10-states-for-foreclosure/

Anonymous said...

It' s 13 pretty bad.

http://philadelphia.citybizlist.com/article/223936/pa-ranked-no-13-among-states-with-highest-foreclosure-rates-nj-at-no9

Bernie O'Hare said...

Other states with lower taxes are worse, so invent some other excuse.

Anonymous said...

One of the other ridiculous things the teabaggerts are pushing has to do with the latest county tax vote. Their people in the county are saying that if the Democrats had been elected the tax increase would have been twice as much. Do these people live in any sort of real world or do they all live in their Koch brother hallucination.
Their candidates, the fiscal conservative no taxers, raised taxes in less than a year. The bagger response is Democrats would have been worse.

When logic and reason are alien to your position how does one discuss these things logically and reasonably with you?

Anonymous said...

Bernie there are other factors why some of those states have high foreclosure rates that have nothing to do with taxes. Look at the rest of list Maryland, New York, New Jersey. All very high tax States. You can't denie that when you are qualified to buy a home it is on currant Property taxes. Who can predict that 10 years later you ll be paying $1200 more a year in property taxes. With no pay raises doubled health insurance premiums due to Obama Care you can't make ends meet. Real smart taxing the middle class poor out of there homes. Not everyone can afford it like you.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I didn't attempt to connect taxes with foreclosure rates. That was one of the brilliant weekend anonymous commenters.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, the gap insurance details have flown under the radar. Who is the broker for the Aegis policy and what is the commission? I am highly suspicious.

Anonymous said...

http://www.timesleader.com/news/opinion_columns/50278411/THEIR-VIEW-School-property-tax-a-moral-failure

Anonymous said...

"With no pay raises doubled health insurance premiums due to Obama Care"

Better to have no insurance or the crappy kind that you pay into and doesn't cover you when you are sick. You baggers just go on an don.
Thanks for your county candidates that juts "really" raised my taxes.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you are describing Obama Care. Crappy high deductible and out of pocket. Not happy with the candiates either, agree with you there

By the way do you ask realize what you are saying when you Refer to tea baggers? How vulgar.

Bernie why do you allow such personal vulgar attacks? You remove personal attacks that are hardly effensive like this. Like Mr.Potter?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I allow generic attacks on tea party members or progressives precisely because they are NOT personal. For future reference, I also delete criticisms of my comment policy. send me an email if you think it can be improved.

Anonymous said...

Good for you Bernie! Don't let the teabaggers intimidate you into their way of life. Y

Anonymous said...

Bernie are you checking into the Aegis contract for gap insurance? It could just be a policy. But who is the agent and what is the commission? Follow the money!