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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, December 02, 2016

NorCo Council Unanimously Adopts 2017 No Tax Hike Budget

LVIA's Charles Everett (L) and Mike Dowd (R)
justify $250k Braden Airpark grant
After months of budget hearings, followed by numerous amendments, Northampton County Council voted unanimously last night to approve Executive John Brown's $379 million spending plan next year. These amendments were exhaustively considered during a Wednesday budget hearing, but Council reversed course on one of them last night.

On Wednesday, Council balked at a $250,000 grant to kickstart improvements at Braden Airpark. They changed course when Executive John Brown assured them that no real estate tax dollars would be used. He said he would fund the grant with table games revenue from Sands Casino. With that assurance, the grant was adopted 8-1, with Ken Kraft being the sole dissenter. He said he'd like to see what Forks Township and Lafayette College will do before committing county resources. But Brown said that the Countyneeds "to step up and show good faith." He stated that without the revenue stream from commercial facilities to be built at the site, it will fail.

Real estate taxes make up only $99 million of the $313 million in anticipated money next year. The rest is mostly "pass through" money from the state and federal government to fund human services extending from child abuse investigations to senior centers.

This budget will fund $27 million in capital improvements. Brown has continued the practice,started last year, of setting aside one mill of taxes ($7.9 million) for capital projects like maintenance of the County's 119 bridges, the purchase of the Human Services building  and the construction of a new jail.

Though Brown has told Council that re-assessment is about 18 months away, the budget does provide for two temporary assessors to work on a prelude to what is coming.

A $2 million increase in salary costs is offset by a $2 million decrease in fringe benefit costs. Union increases are governed by their contracts. There is also a two percent payhike to the County's nonunion workforce. This was supported by all Council members except Mat Benol. He gave no explanation for his dissent.

The budget includes a structural deficit. The County is spending more than it is taking in, and has dipped into reserves to the tune of $8.2 million.

Council also proposed an ordinance setting the millage rate for next year at 11.8 mills, which means there will be no tax hike. A home assessed at $75,000 will have a $885 tax bill. The millage rate ordinance is scheduled for adoption on December 15, the last meeting of the year.


Anonymous said...

Is that 2% pay hike for ALL nonunion members? What entails the decrease in fringe benefits?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I think you are asking what caused the reduction in fringe benefits. That's two things. First, Brown imposed significant reductions in health care benefits. That was highly controversial. the second change was a reduction in workers' compensation.The county had been paying injured workers 100% if their salary, and he reduced it to 66%, which is what is provided for by statute. This was accepted by workers without complaint. They think it led to abuse, too. I can't say where most of the savings come from, whether it is the medical or workers comp.

Anonymous said...

Why does the county offer health benefits at all? Wouldn't it be best to put everybody in the Obamacare exchange? This is a blue county that voted for Obama twice. Exchanges need more customers. I would think most county employees support receiving health benefits via Obamacare.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know that Brown can claim Casino money for his own use? Might as well get rid of the request process right now.

Anonymous said...

Now we know the real story why Bethlehem was a winner in the grant budget. No complaints regarding the Casino payouts.

Anonymous said...

Why not use casino funds to reduce property tax instead of spending a waste of $$ on a run down airport??? When will county government get it right !

Anonymous said...

Why not reimburse county workers who saw a huge increase in healthcare because of so called Cadillac tax that has not happened under Obamacare and never will. This was a ploy to increase their out of pocket cost. Its obvious the county doesn't care about their most important resource their employees.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I didn't know that Brown can claim Casino money for his own use? Might as well get rid of the request process right now."

Table games revenue can be used for anything deemed to be in the county's best interest. The exec may not spend it without council's assent.