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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, December 01, 2016

NorCo 2017 Budget: Winners and Losers

Bob Werner and Hayden Phillips
At a lengthy budget hearing last night, Northampton County Council began the process of leaving their own mark on the $359 million spending plan proposed by Executive John Brown for next year. His 2017 budget is balanced by spending $8.2 million of reserves, but no one seemed terribly concerned about the deficit spending. As quickly as Council cut money from one or another program, they found another place to spend it.

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.

Peg Ferraro
Winner: Livable landscapes

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.

Ken Kraft
Winner: Bethlehem

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
Loser: Braden Airport

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.

Loser: LVEDC

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.


Anonymous said...

What the Hell Bernie? Do these guys not bother to show up or leave one of the most important meetings of the year? This is the main job of the county council.

These guys act like they just go through the motions and some like they don't even give a shit. I guess when the tea party folk just vote straight Republican year after year these office holders cab do what they want.

Anonymous said...

Most of us stay and go to all of the meetings. Some of us have jobs and other obligations. Why don't you run this year for one of the at large seats if you can do a better job. Step up, stop complaining

Anonymous said...

If you can't show up to do your job, you are stealing from taxpayers and should resign. Period.

Anonymous said...

If the trump team can deliver on his rhetoric, I see a whole new batch of candidates running locally and perhaps real change and leadership will change stagnant ways.

Anonymous said...

Can't show, but they can spend money! They are a complete joke. When these clowns are up for re-election, fire them. There has to be someone of better character to run for these seats!

Anonymous said...

LVIA is flush with cash. Why give them more? Bethlehem spends on what it wants and cries for what it needs? Why give them more? Didn't the jail get a make over a few years ago? Why give more than was asked?

Anonymous said...

All of these payouts are courtesy of the employees who have suffered low wages and cuts in their medical benefits. These Republicans balance the budget on the backs of the employees and then take the dollars they cut from employees salaries and dole them out to their "pet projects." Lets settle this once and for all. Are the salaries commensurate with the job duties of the individual and are they competitive with the job market in the Lehigh Valley? Do a salary study and release the results so we all can see.

Anonymous said...

How can open space and farmland be both winner and a loser? The county is funding a plan but not the carrying out of the plan?

Livable Landscapes is a terrible title. Isn't all of Northampton County and well Earth in general, livable? That's like naming your open space plan Expansive Areas On Maps Filled with Nature Things.

The only way LVEDC is going to change is if you take away their money. Council can send the most tersely worded resolution in county history and LVEDC is going to care less. There is no respect for the public or the taxpayer in that office because they don't have to answer to them. Nobody covers their meetings and nobody knows who is even on that board making decisions.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is both a winner and loserr because livable landscapes is being funded but he traditional program is not.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"If you can't show up to do your job, you are stealing from taxpayers and should resign. Period."

I completely agree. Seth Vaughn has been an absolute joke,and i am getting sick of attending meetings in which Council members phone it in. I can see that once or twicea year, but not all the time.

Anonymous said...

councilman at 6:49,is this the attitude of a public servant? This is the kind of arrogance these people have towards the public.