Thursday, October 13, 2016

Budget Hearing: No Reassessment for At Least 18 months

John Brown
I was eating raw fish and being debriefed by Agent #7 yesterday, but was forced to leave just as things were getting good. Yesterday was the first of what will be about a gazillion budget hearings that Northampton County Council will conducts before they enact Executive John Brown's proposed 2017 Budget, pretty much as he has already laid it out. There's now way that part-time elected officials are going to mess much with a $379 million spending plan that lays no one off and raises no taxes, but they have to make it look good. Besides, it's a great opportunity for Council members to meet the people who actually make the wheels of government turn.  They always have insights about their departments. Here are a few brief highlights:

* Brown's spending plan requires him to use $8.1 million left over from last year. This is deficit spending, which I've seen from every Executive. But to Brown's credit, it's about $1 million less than the deficit spending done the previous year. He is heading in the right direction.

* Last year, Brown began setting aside a mill  in taxes every year ($7.9 million) so the County can really plan its long term needs realistically. He continues this practise this year. This fund will be used to purchase the centralized human services building at the end of its five-year lease. It will pay for the P3 (bridge repair) project and for capital improvements at Gracedale, all without floating a bond. It will make money available to renovate or relocate the jail.

* Reassessment, which will cost between $3.5 and $8 million, is at east 18 months away, according to Brown.  

* In a reflection of both a depressed real estate market as well as the success of e-recording, the budget eliminates two of three positions that are vacant in the Recorder of Deeds office. Fiscal Affairs Director Jim Hunter told Council they are no longer needed

* The County has still seen no money for farmland preservation from the Chrin TIF in Northern Palmer Township, where a new interchange was created for Route 33 at Tatamy to allow easy access by trucks. Chrin has committed to paying the County $2 million, which will make up for destroying nearly 1,000 acres of farmland. Though warehouses are sprouting where cornstalks once grew, the boast that this development would create 5,000 jobs or more now seems somewhat hollow.

* To Council President John Cusick's chagrin, the County is setting aside $422,000 to purchase "environmentally sensitive" land even though no projects have been identified. Gee, that's funny. I know of two, and both are in Williams township, where Cusick lives. The land preservation board there is up to its tricks again, and want the county pay to "preserve" cliffs surrounding their estates.

* The Conservation District is so overwhelmed with permits for industrial development that District Manager Sharon Pletchan is asking for another field inspector. She said she has 1,000 permits needing attention. She also told Council that Conservation does run a dirt road and low volume road program, but needs to make more township managers aware of what the County can do.

* The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission is slated to receive $525,000 this year, the same amount as last year. But what Northampton County provides will be dictated by what Lehigh County gives this planning agency. The county contributions mist match, and Lehigh County adopts its budget before Northampton.

* LANTA, the Lehigh Valley's transit service, is slated to get $510,100, about 3.3% more than last year. Unless this increase is awarded, LANTA will get far less money from the state and feds. Lehigh County must provide the same sum.

Though many of the County's centurions were at yesterday's budget hearing, Seth Vaughn was absent, even though he works from home.

I took no pictures during the meeting. Assessment Manager Cheryl Johnson warned me that if I snapped just one, she'd break my fingers. Now I have no problem standing up to pols, but I know my limits.


Anonymous said...

Who is this Seth Vaughn, and what does he do, that he can work from home?

Anonymous said...

It is going to take a shit load more than 8 million to buy the Human Services box in Bethlehem Twp. Also don't jump Brown about deficit spending your pal Stoffa took the largest surplus the county ever had and spent it down to almost nothing to get no tax increases.

Fire the incompetants said...

Typical political year, no tax hike in NC? The spin doctors at their best. And the board won't lift a finger to make further cuts; they'll just ride the wave!

Bernie O'Hare said...

1:36,I did point out that every Exec engages in deficit sending, and that Brown is decreasing the amount. You have an unhealthy obsession with Stoffa. Also, I did not say the HD building would be bought for $8.5million. But when you set aside a mill every year, there will be ample funds to make the purchase without borrowing. Sorry to disappoint you.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Seth Vaughn is some form of PA. He really should resign and let the Rs appoint someone else bc he obviously has no interest in representing the people.

Anonymous said...

They complain about weights and measures and a $5 fee for bridges yet a half a million dollars for planning? That's not right.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a lot of money for a reassessment, but it's certainly needed. I assume they base the reassessment on their existing records, rather than visiting every property, correct?

Anonymous said...

Kicking the can down the road is typical political tactic. Nobody wants to pay for it but it is needed to increase revenue and make things fair. No political will to do what's right and serve the people.

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