|Bob Werner and Hayden Phillips|
One Council member, Seth Vaughn, failed to appear at one of the most important meetings of the year. Another, Matt Dietz, participated by phone until he was cut off. He never tried to call back. One other Council member, Ken Kraft, quietly slipped away after two hours.
Here are the winners and losers.
Winner: Northampton County Jail
The biggest winner last night was Northampton County's aging jail. Council scrambled to find $500,000 to set aside for a renovation or relocation. Since Executive John Brown also proposed setting aside another $500,000, there could be $1 million in seed money for a new jail, either on or off campus. Brown might use some of this money for feasibility studies.
Before spending a dime, the courts need to be consulted.
Livable Landscapes is the most recent iteration of Northampton County's Open Space Plan It continues farmland preservation, but also supports farming that produces food that can be consumed locally. It promotes trail systems and recreational open space. It continues to support the preservation of environmentally sensitive land, but that now includes historic and cultural resources.
Winner: DaVinci Science Center
A proposed expansion of the DaVinci Science Center in Easton will get $50,000 in hotel taxes. Council President John Cusick said that Easton "is dating the DaVinci Center and they may get married by the end of the year," but he questioned whether they are really serious. "I think we should give them a bridal shower," said Hayden Phillips.
Bethlehem is creeping back into most-favored-city status. The Bach Choir got $18,000 even though it submitted no application. Historic Bethlehem Partnership will receive $68,000 for Bruce Haines' docents.The VIA marathon will get $20,000 instead of the $15,000 proposed by county staffers. Two other nonprofits outside of Bethlehem did well,too.The Miracle League got $10,000 instead of the $7,000 recommended. The county Historical Society got $50,000 instead of the $30,000 recommended by county staff.
Loser: Northampton County's Open Space Plan
Farmland Preservation Administrator Maria Bentzoni is apoplectic that John Brown refuses to fund farmland preservation beyond whatever applications exist. He has previously made clear that if applications require more funds, he will find the money. Council also gutted the funding for environmentally sensitive land, especially after Brown told them there are no projects in the pipeline.
Glenn Geissinger wanted to give the Airport Authority a $250,000 grant for improvements at Braden Airpark. Ken Kraft scoffed, "You want to take $5 from people for their cars, but want to give $250,000 so rich people can fly their airplanes." Council members like Peg Ferraro and John Cusick told Geissinger he was premature, but he insisted on a vote, and lost. He'll try again tonight.
Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (LVEDC) CEO Don Cunningham recently decidedtotake a $30,000 paid board position with a Chinese plastic company he brought to the Lehigh valley. John Susick is so incensed that he wants to eliminate a $75,000 contribution to LVEDC. Though his motion failed, Council intends to introduce a resolution at tonight's meeting taking Cunningham to task.
Council must adopt or amend the budget by December 16, or it goes into effect by operation of law. December 15 meeting. under the current 11.8 millage, a home assessed at $100,000 will get a $1,180 tax bill. Though Hayden Phillips has previously hinted at a small tax cut, no mention of it was made last night.
Updated 11:20 am: In an earlier version of this story, I incorrectly stated that Peg Ferraro had slipped off. But she remained until the bitter end. She left the dais briefly to respond to an urgent matter, but I failed to note that she returned.
Updated 2:50 pm: In addition to my error concerning Peg, I also inaccurately reported that the Miracle League had submitted no application. This worthy nonprofit, which provides a baseball experience to developmentally challenged children, did submit a grant request. Council awarded more money.