It is fitting that he revealed his proposed budget at the County's Centralized Human Services Building. That building is currently being leased at a cost of $1.05 million per year. It is also a "triple net" lease, meaning the County must pay taxes, maintenance costs and insurance. The real estate tax bill alone is $190,000 per year.
The County has an option to purchase that building next year at a cost of $14,468,731. McClure discussed this matter with County Council at their September 6 meeting, and the consensus was that he exercise this option.
Though the County has sufficient funds on hand to complete the purchase, McClure intends to borrow the money. The reason for this is that the state currently reimburses the county for 80% of the cost of the lease, and will continue to do so if the County borrows money to complete the purchase. There will be no reimbursement if the County has no debt. "This essentially leverages the funding from the Commonwealth," he explained.
|McClure delivered budget address to staff and reporters|
Why? He intends to build an $11 million forensic center. "Don't think of this as a morgue," he warned County Council in August. Instead, he wants a "true forensic center" where autopsies and toxicology tests are performed to help solve murder crimes. He is hoping police will be able to use it to download cellphones and as a place where St.Luke's and DeSales can train future physicians and physician assistants.
The remaining money from the bond issue will be slotted to pay for the controversial $38.5 million P3 project under which 33 county bridges are being outright replaced or repaired. McClure is committed to seeing that project continue, despite reservations. According to the Executive, it was never assigned a "designated source of funds. The previous administration also failed to provide funding in 2018 for easements, utility relocations and the repayment of conservation funds to the Commonwealth." McClure was forced to use real estate taxes.
|McClure credited Budget Administrator Doran Hamann|
for his tireless efforts in preparing the budget.
McClure has maintained his commitment to open space, stating he will devote $3 million to a program that was “systematically stripped away” in previous budgets.McClure stated that fully funding open space is the "one thing that Northampton County can do to prevent the expansion of truck traffic and warehouse proliferation throughout Northampton County."
The budget includes a 2% COLA and step increases for employees between one and four years of seniority. He will also eliminate gap insurance and co-pay for employees. He expects this to increase the bottom line of every worker.
Northampton County and Bethlehem are in the process of consolidating 911 service. He decided to budget for a "worst case scenario," and believes the actual numbers will be lower.
It is a true balanced budget. He has no intention of dipping into cash reserves.
The lion's share of McClure's budget (51.2%) will fund Human Services, which serves 80,000 people.
In addition to releasing the budget book online, McClure has also put the “blue book” online. Traditionally, the blue book has only been available to Council. You can also see his budget presentation on Facebook.
(This story originally published at 2:15 pm, and has been updated.)