|NorCo Council President Peg Ferraro|
With approximately 100 workers crowded into Council chambers behind him, James did something unusual. He complimented an Administration he has previously castigated at several meeting. Acknowledging that he and Brown had a "very rocky" start, he lauded the reclassification of clerical employees who have been "historically underpaid" as a "positive move forward."
"It took us several months to do this," stated Assistant Director of Administration Cathy Allen, who stood beside James. Brown himself was absent.
The vote to endorse the payhike was unanimous. But Lamont McClure asked, "What about the other 1800 [workers]? Who is their voice? Give other people a raise."
Where's the Money?
Council was also skeptical of Allen's claim that the $307,000 cost of this raise was in the budget proposed for this year. Hayden Phillips asked Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter to explain, saying he'd remember it had it been discussed as part of the budget process.
"It is in the budget under salaries," explained Hunter. He acknowledged that if the County filled all vacant slots, the money would not be there.
Calling the raise "long overdue," Scott Parsons stated the money was coming out of fund balance and isn't budgeted. "Where we get the money is irrelevant to me," he admitted.
Agreeing with Parsons, McClure stated that the reason for this raise is that people are "getting killed" by Easton's unpopular commuter tax and are paying more for health care. "I cannot sit here and pretend," he declared.
James Wants Equal Treatment For Public Nursing Homes
In addition to thanking the Brown Administration, James called on Council to approve several resolutions concerning Gracedale. The first of these called on Council and the executive to work together to make Gracedale as efficiently as possible. That resolution passed 8-1, with Hayden Phillips dissenting because, as his colleagues agreed, it's nothing more than an expression of good will. He also called on Council to support a bill being prepared by State Rep. Tom Killion to eliminate a state law that requires counties to pay ten percent of the cost for medicaid residents. No such requirement exists for privately owned homes.
If this legislation passes, James told council that $29.4 million in state funds will be available to the state's 23 county-owned nursing homes. He pointed out that this would ease the tax burden on homeowners whose property taxes help contribute to sustain nursing homes.
Northampton County Council has already adopted a resolution calling on the state to repeal this law, but it adopted the resolution again. Peg Ferraro stated that State Rep Marcia Hahn will support this legislation. James read a letter if support from State Rep. Bob Freeman. Scott Parsons said that State Rep. Joe Emrick will support the measure, and intends to ask State Senator Mario Scavello for his help, too.
"This is catching fire," declared James."We are all in. Let's get it done."
Mat Benol also insisted last night that he knows of no one on Council who is interested in selling Gracedale. "I worry about the press, about how this could be written up in the media." This is something he also said during a registration rally a few days before.
Finally, James lauded Bob Werner for his work in establishing a nonprofit corporation for Gracedale that can accept money to help sustain the nursing home. He pledged to contribute the first $500, and Peg Ferraro said she'd match him.