Friday, November 02, 2018

NorCo Council Approves $39M Bond For Human Services, Forensic Center

NorCo Forensic Center
Northampton County Council voted unanimously last night to support a $39 million bond to purchase its Bethlehem Tp human services building and build a state-of-the-art forensic center that includes something Coroner Zach Lysek has never had. A morgue.

Before the vote, Executive Lamont McClure urged Council 'to be the county council that tackled long-term hard problems without the necessity in the foreseeable future of returning to taxpayers for any more real estate tax money." Though the idea of a forensic center housing a morgue was foremost in the minds of council members, McClure said acquisition of the human services building matters even more. He said in the "very near future," Council will hear about some "dynamic 21st century programs that will be run out of the human services building that will protect children in a better way. That's the big piece of this."

Currently, Northampton County receives $800,000 from the state every year to help pay the $1 million annual rent at the human services building. If the County purchases the building, that money goes away. But if it borrows the money, it will continue to receive this money from the state. As Council member Matt Dietz observed, the county's debt service will actually go down.

The ordinance as drafted currently caps the bond interest rate at 5.5% Dietz wanted it lowered to 5%. He proposed an amendment, which was seconded by Council member John Cusick.

Bond counsel Anthony Ditka said reducing the cap on interest was no problem, but added the bonds will be sold in 75 days. He said it is highly unlikely that rates will approach that level in that time period. On hearing this, Cusick withdrew his second and the amendment failed.

Cusick has been a staunch advocate of a forensic center, something he calls a "core function of county government."

Dietz voted for the ordinance anyway because he liked the leveraging of state money.

What about that forensic center? McClure told Council that three sites are still under consideration. One is at the northeastern section of Louise Moore Park, next to Route 33. Another is at Gracedale, near the 911 Center and the now vacant helipad. A third unspecified location would be the result of a partnership with a medical facility looking to build a medical school.

McClure said each site has advantages and disadvantages, and he is still doing his due diligence. He was very clear that the budget will stay at or below $10.6 million.

Coroner Zach Lysek and Architect Glenn Lichtenwalner presented drawings of the forensic center. It includes a public area and a separate area with 24 work stations, seven offices, work room and file room. It can store up to 24 bodies.

Currently, the county has no place to store bodies.

The body lab is where autopsies will be performed as well as other tests performed on human remains.

it also includes digital forensics. Lysek explained that's where cell phone analysis is performed, as happened recently in the lookalike drug case.

The design includes solar panels on the roof.

In other business, Council introduced ordinances to terminate the Higher Education and Hospital Agencies; end a lease with St. Luke's for the helipad at Gracedale; and to purchase Bethlehem's trunked radio network for a consolidated 911.

They also removed Robert Scott from the Revenue Appeals Board. He's been absent from that board for over six months.

"Is Mr. Scott here?" asked Council member Lori Vargo Heffner.

"I think that's the problem," deadpanned Council VP Ron Heckman.

"We can't find him," said McClure.

Maybe he should check the morgue.


Anonymous said...

The down side of purchasing the Human Services building is that a total of about $200K will be lost in tax revenue, 75% of which is school taxes.

Anonymous said...

How is the 200,000 lost? Now Northampton County saves that amount in having a lower cost of the building they use. So maybe now the county will not have to raise taxes. Basically they are $200,000 richer plus the cost of the profit the current owner now enjoys. It's just another taxing institution has control of the property taxes that building generated.

Anonymous said...

Plus the current owner is very happy due to income tax laws. If the current owner would have sold the building when it was built they would have been taxed at their marginal tax rate, let's say 35% because the profit is treated as short term capital gains. But now since the current owner has held it for over 1 years the profit is taxed at a long term capital gai, which is 15%. Maybe the county was able to take advantage knowing the owner received beneficial tax consequences due to this rule. That's an income tax savings of 20%.

Anonymous said...

The BASD will be out about $150K, and Bethlehem Twp. will be out about $20K when the building becomes tax exempt. The rest is county real estate tax, which you can argue is a saving, but it is revenue that won't be coming in.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That is correct. The county currently is paying real estate taxes, but that goes away once it owns the building. What the school district and township lose is gained by the taxpayers of Northampton County.

Anonymous said...

What’s with the county buying Bethlehem’s radio system and taking over? Would figure that could be a story on it’s own.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:42, blame the state they are forcing the sale.

Bernie O'Hare said...

11:42, it might be, but was not the county’s biggest story from that meeting.