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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, March 03, 2017

Brown Delivers "State of the County" at Hotel Bethlehem

Historic Hotel Bethlehem was the venue for Norco Executive John Brown's State of the County address on a blustery March 2 morning  The event included a free breakfast, which usually means stale croissants and weak coffee. Not at Hotel Bethlehem. Over 150 guests were treated to mountains of scrambled eggs, bacon and homefries, along with a wide variety of juices, coffee and tea. Brown spoke for nearly a full hour, which is the longest speech he's given as County Executive.

As The Morning Call's Tom Shortell observed, Brown never once mentioned his upcoming race for Executive. To do so at a gathering hosted by the nonprofit Lehigh Valley Economic and Development Corporation (LVEDC) would be illegal. But the event still had a political overtone. Those attending this speech had to pass by a John Brown yard sign as well as circulator seeking signatures for Brown's nomination petition. This never happened before at a "State of the County" address.  

In addition to numerous business leaders, Brown's breakfast guest list included Lehigh County Exec Tom Muller, Lehigh County Comm'r Brad Osborne, Judge Craig Dally, Easton Mayor Sal Panto, Controller Steve Barron, NorCo Council member Hayden Phillips, Easton City Councilperson Pete Melan, Palmer Tp Supervisor Dave Colver, Hanover Tp. Supervisor John Diacogiannis, Discover LV's Mike Stershic and Becky Bradley of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. Brown's cabinet was there, too, although Administrator Cathy Allen was a half hour late. .LVEDC CEO Don Cunningham did the intros.

Two people who were never introduced were Lamont McClure, who is running against Brown; and Ron Angle, who may be running for Council.

Brown started by stating that the County has an obligation to deliver services, keep taxes as low as possible and grow the community.  He spent his first year stabilizing finances. In his second year, he claims to have introduced accountability to the workforce, which seemed to be a reference to his unilateral reduction of healthcare benefits for the county worker. He called his third year in office a year of innovation, referring a a P3 bridge project to repair 33 bridges and a program at the county jail designed to reduce recidivism. He called this year a year of sustainability.

"What we do is not sexy," he said. "It's like blocking and tackling. It's fundamentals."

Stagnant revenues, rising expenses. - Brown painted a picture of a county with stagnant revenue and rising costs in a 2,200-person work force, 75% of who are unionized through 11 different unions. Revenue increases about $1.7 million per year, while personnel costs rise abut $2.5 million annually. Pension costs have risen from $600,000 in 2008 to $10.8 million this year. Despite his reductions in health care benefits, they still increase $1.5 million annually. "Every year, we're sliding on the wrong side of that equation,"he noted.

Workers' Comp Claims.- Brown credited his administration for changes in the payment of workman's compensation claims. Traditionally,the County paid 100% of the salary of an employee who is injured on the job, but is only required to pay 66 2/3 per cent. He eliminated this practice in 2015, which was actually appreciated by the workforce.He called this 100% pay out an example of "leaking cash" that he stopped.It has resulted in a $2.5 million savings each year.

Gracedale. - Voters decided against privatizing county-owned nursing home in 2010, where 800 county employees work.he noted that, every Sunday, it took four people to add up all the time cards with 300 different pay codes. There was also "casual overtime," in which some employees worked and charged overtime to the county without express authority from a supervisor. By eliminating this practice and streamlining the paycard process, Brown has saved $100,000 per year. Brown also maximized the census, keeping 680 beds filled. he also benefited from something called the"intergovernmental transfer," a federal program that added $2.4 million to Gracedale's coffers in 2016.As a result, Gracedale actually turned a profit that Brown placed at $150,000 in 2016. He had previously projected a profit of $800,000, but later revised it to $200,000. But whether it is $150,000 or $800,000, it is still the first time since 2007 that Gracedale finished in the black.

He also boasted that the Department of Health found no deficiencies at Gracedale in 2015 or 2016, but neglected to mention that, late last year, deficiencies were found at Gracedale.

"We have achieved a four-star rating," he went on to say, referring to the rating given by Medicare. This rating is a factor in determining how a nursing home is reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid for resident care

This part of Brown's speech is inaccurate, a point he conceded when he was finished with his speech The rating at Gracedale has actually dropped from four to three stars. Brown was unsure how that reduction will impact the reimbursement paid to Gracedale.

Even more troubling Gracedale's rating for "quality measures," a gauge of how well it responds to resident needs, is only one star, or "much below average." Of 39 nursing homes within a 25-mile radius of Gracedale, only two other nursing homes are rated that poorly when it comes to "quality measures."

Brown has budgeted a $2.6 million loss at Gracedale this year. He also stated that capital improvements must be made every year.

Open Space. - Brown stated that he has preserved 100% of the farms that applied and were qualified. He said there is no backlog of farms waiting for funding, and that 14 farms are in the pipeline for preservation.. The County also contributes $1 million per year for municipal parks.

911 Merger. - Brown noted that Bethlehem's 911 facility will be merged with the county facility in Nazareth over the next four years."I don't think the City's happy about it," he noted, calling it "one of those government mandates."

CIPP Grants. - Brown noted that his Department of Community and Economic Development is managing a program he calls the Community Investment Partnership Program. This uses table games revenue from Sands Casino to provide grants and  loans to develop business.

Job Growth.- Brown claims that about 7,000 jobs have been created since 2012, and that salaries have increased $4,000 on average over the past four years He acknowledged that is mostly the result of marketing by LVEDC.

Central Booking. - Brown noted that Corrections Director Dan Keen has managed to reduce a three or four hour process of booking a criminal defendant to about 15 minutes, enabling polioce officers to return to their jurusdiction and resume patrols, which maks the community safer.

Problem Solving Courts. - Brown credited Judge Dally for problem solving courts for people with addiction or mental health issues who are better served outside of jail. In the jail itself, Director Keen has begun a program to help inates adjust on release with simple things like securing identification cards.

P3  Rapid bridge replacement program.- Brown is spending $38 million to replace 33 bridges over the next four years. This, he claims, is 20-30% cheaper than dealing with bridges individually.


Anonymous said...

Zzzzzzz. Not enough free coffee and donuts to keep that anemic crowd awake.

Anonymous said...

Dumbbell Allen was late because she thought the event was at NCC. Well worth her inflated salary.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Pete Melan running for county council as a Dem? Why, was he invited? Why did he go? Is the guy already playing political footsie with Brown and the Republicans.
Hope not.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Pete melan is running for Council as a Dem. Whay wouldn't he go?Lamont McClure was there. It's open to everyone. Geez.

Anonymous said...

Open to everyone in the know. Not advertised to the regular people. The insiders are wanted not the unwashed masses who may eat too many eggs.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This event was advertised on this very blog well over a month ago . I noted the time the place and the fact that it was a free event . it was also advertised in several other venues. So you are completely full of shit .

Anonymous said...

no one from Bethlehem?

Anonymous said...

Brown stain claims 7000 jobs have come to Northampton County and those have increased salaries by roughly $4,000.00. So why the issue with stagnant growth and income for the county budgets if the county is "GROWING" Mr. Brown ? LIAR ! Your own criminal buddies that were hired are the ones stealing from the taxpayers, not the employees who you keep screwing over. Bringing in the Allentown element and the great one from Bangor who doesn't pay her taxes, yet keeps getting pay raises is a good example of piss poor leadership. You haven't helped the county, but have hurt it .

Anonymous said...

The event was mentioned on www.lehighvalley.org (LV EDC site) but who the heck reads that regularly. There was no mention of it on the county website and it does not appear on the county meeting calendar on that site. I didn't see it anywhere else. This was intended for the Cunningham/Iannelli crowd and not the masses.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Give it a rest. It was publicized here, where trolls like you could see it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"no one from Bethlehem?"

No one. I asked Mayor Donchez about that and he told me he does not typically attend those functions. He said he has lunch with John Brown once every month or so and has a good working relationship with him.

What surprised me was the absence of Council members, other than Phillips. Kraft was away on business. Benol works at a manufacturing facility in NJ,and Cusick is a teacher. But Vaughn works from his home, Geissinger is his own boss and Ferraro and Werner are retired. As elected officials who could be there, they should have been there and their absence is a slap at Brown personally and at the office. Steve Barron, who opposes Brown on everything, had enough respect for the office to be there.

Anonymous said...

"He eliminated this practice in 2015, which was actually appreciated by the workforce.He called this 100% pay out an example of "leaking cash" that he stopped.It has resulted in a $2.5 million savings each year."

Wait, what? I appreciate not getting paid 100% when I get injured on the job? Who the hell appreciates getting hurt at work, getting dicked around by the county doctors, suing the county to get sick time back that we are forced to use and then ends up getting screwed with 66% anyway. What a joke.

As far as pensions go, if they would stop taking money from the pension accounts to pay other bills then it would be fully funded. We are taking out what we paid in. We deserve that.

To everyone that feels we are spoiled brats. Just remember that you should be happy when someone has it better and wonder how you can do the same for yourself. You want to be angry with someone? Be angry with the private sector CEO that screws the little guy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Wait, what? I appreciate not getting paid 100% when I get injured on the job?"

The county workforce actually did agree with this decision. There was not a peep from them. They resent it when one or two workers go out on workers' comp and collect a full salary and have no incentive to return to work. Just as they resent timeclocks that will be used for some, but not for others.

Anonymous said...

It's ironic you have a speech about all these cost savings at a Hotel Bethlehem event, with the full breakfast spread, attended by lots of people who work for the taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brown should contact Mr. Trump for a job since they both like to make up facts. What world does he live in. His policies have nothing to do with jobs coming to the County. His policies have crushed county employee moral and has done nothing to encourage current employees to stay. His deceptive lie about the county being issued a Cadillac tax if healthcare cost weren't increased was a total line of bull. No one can believe a word he says. He's a typical politician who is only out for himself. The county needs someone that actually cares about the county and its workforce. Anyone who believes the trash that spills from his mouth is as dumb as him.

Bernie O'Hare said...

11:35, I still have some scrambled eggs and bacon in my pockets. They are delicious.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So glad I don't work or live in this county anymore. A bunch of corrupt individuals running it.

Anonymous said...

An insiders gala. Now I know who not to vote for.

Anonymous said...

The writing is on the wall. The words are reminiscent of a past administration. You have the working parts to once again try and sell Gracedale. You don't think that movement ever died, do you? Brown will wait until he wins and then show how much money the "home" is hemorrhaging. He has Cusick on council who already was part of the original dump Gracedale cast. He will also have Ron Angle who was part of the leadership behind the dump Gracedale movement.

With a majority of alt-right Republicans' on county council and the right power players in place, he will ink a deal to sell the home. This time he and Angle will not allow hubris to get in the way of a legal sale. Stoffa played up to the petition people thinking they would never get enough names. He goofed up big time. His subsequent lawsuits to sell the Home, failed

That mistake won't occur again. Brown and his new team will make sure of that. Don't judge them by their words but by their actions. If you do not learn from history, you are doomed to relive it. This time there will be no second chance.

Anonymous said...

Well said