Wednesday, October 09, 2019

LC Exec Armstrong: A Budget Is More Than Numbers

Blogger's Note: On Monday, I published an op-ed from Lehigh County Comm'r Brad Osborne, opposing a 5.5% tax hike proposed in next year's budget. Fairness dictated a request to Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong, asking him to explain why it's needed. His response is below. I thank both of these county leaders for their input.

Budget season is upon us again, and that means the inevitable fights over tax rates, amendments and complex finances. As both County Executive and a resident of Lehigh County, I want to set the record straight and spell out the facts.

While every budget inevitability comes down to two key numbers, revenue and expenditures, lets recognize what those numbers truly represent. A budget is about our values, our commitments and priorities. It’s also reflective of hard truths, numbers don’t lie, and a good budget is about more than the next year.

First, I’d like to explain plainly some key misconceptions surrounding this year’s budget. Yes, I’ve requested, a tax increase this year, which breaks down to about $3 more per month for a homeowner. Let’s be clear, this proposal is not made lightly or without regard to the well-being of our county taxpayers.

This administration made many tough decisions. We saved over $1.5 million in prescription drug costs, and made $638,000 in payroll cuts. My administration takes seriously the significance of asking for this increase, but to be clear, it’s entirely necessary.

Second, you’ll likely hear two claims from some commissioners. One is we don’t have ability to accurately predict tax revenues, the second concerns the validity of our five-year plan. It was recently suggested by one of our commissioners, that last year the county came in with $9 million more than expected. This is deliberately attempting misleading to the public.

In local government, we deal with encumbrances, plainly speaking, this is money planned for an expense that has yet to produce a bill. In 2019, we had $8 million in encumbrances payable in 2020, meaning we truly only came in $1 million better than expected.

It’s important to remember, our budget is $514 million of which only $115 million was from local property taxes, predicting our exact revenue within $1 million is essentially a 1% margin error. That’s a high degree of accuracy and common in any organization with a large budget.

Furthermore, several commissioners have cast doubt on our five-year financial plan. It’s a plan they requested and it’s a plan you paid for, to the tune of $40,000.

That plan shows us depleting our stabilization fund by 2023 at our current millage rate. The fact is this, you paid for a plan that pointed to facts that some commissioners are choosing to disagree with because its politically convenient. In the end, you’ll pay a lot more.

Lehigh County is filled with examples of municipalities that chose to take things year by year instead of planning for the future. Commissioner Osborne, should know this best.

As a South Whitehall Township Commissioner from 2005-2012, taxes stayed flat, while expenses went up and reserves went down. Three years later, South Whitehall saw its taxes rise, 36% in one year, and 11% percent the next.

Allentown made the same error, hitting its residents with a 27% increase last year, and Lehigh County not long ago passed along a 70% increase to its residents.

As a social studies teacher, I can confidently say those who don’t learn from their own history will certainly repeat it.

Finally, it’s about what’s in the budget that should matter to our residents. It’s our $46.7 million renovation of Cedarbrook, the social safety net for our seniors. It’s two sheriffs’ deputies that will process PFA’s ensuring that domestic abusers no longer have firearms to harm their partners and $3 million for farmland preservation. Our budget funds Children and Youth, the courts and corrections. It’s a matter of protecting the vulnerable, keeping you safe and investing in your future.

Commissioners can’t say they support these initiatives but oppose how we get there, blocking this year’s budget puts our values and wallets in jeopardy.

$3 more per month is a small price to pay for these things, and its certainly preferable to the sticker shock of a large increase down the road. I proposed this increase because I believe that we must meet the needs of our community.

If you believe in this mission too, then support this budget at the Commissioner meetings. You can stand up for our seniors, our children, our sheriffs, our public servants and our finances.


Anonymous said...

Armstrong is an idiot. He's using his five-year plan to justify a tax hike instead of using it to identify areas to save on spending or run county programs more efficiently in the coming years.

Raising taxes based on a five-year plan demonstrates laziness and an appalling lack of creativity in solving problems.

Armstrong has now proposed a tax hike in both the years that he's prepared the county budget. Taxpayers shouldn't pay for his inexperience.

Anonymous said...

Armstong says it is only going to cost taxpayers 3 dollars more each month--their is great waste in government and lehigh county is no exception ARMSTRONG IS LAZY HE IS NOT LOOKING FOR ALL THE MONEY BEING WASTED IN LEHIGH COUNTY.The bottom line is he a bleed heart liberal who will tax every chance he gets, He never made a budget yet he watched Whitehall school board and administration raise taxes every year period --he learned well. THe guy is not doing his job for the people of lehigh county.

Anonymous said...

After so-called fiscal conservative Browning enabled a big tax hike, it was clear that Lehigh County had no fiscally responsible players left. That ship left port several years ago. You'll get your tax hike. It'll be the first of more, and more frequent. Elections have consequences and you asked for this.

Anonymous said...

First of all-- all levels of government waste this is universally known the sad fact is no politician will take control on any level--if they did our taxes could be cut up to 50% or more it will never happen because our system breeds people like Armstrong.

Anonymous said...

"As a social studies teacher" I was buying into his deferring tax increases logic until he brought this up. A retired school teacher (I'm sorry...Educator) running the county?? That is scary. Just what we need, a pompous, self important, union liberal. Why do Educators have to announce their occupation like some kind a of good samaritan?

Anonymous said...

He said the same thing last year, when he tried to raise taxes then.

The Commissioners shot the tax hike down.

That tax hike obviously wasn't needed either and they ended up better than expected.

Anonymous said...

Borrowing Brad practices what is called deferred budgeting. In South Whitehall, we kept deferring projects and hiding the real costs of doing business. Road improvements were deferred, municipal campus improvements were deferred. Emergency services investment were deferred. The net results of deferred budgeting was an additional to municipal tax increase, a new fire tax had to be passed to pay for new fire equipment that was not properly budgeted for previously, a tax increase to pay for crumbling roads, and now we are faced with $11.5M in municipal campus renovations that should have planned for. All these inevitable expenditures hitting us at once because of deferred budgeting. I recall Osborne running on a 4 year budget plan. I guess the reality did not meet politics and he is back to deferred budgeting and borrowing.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Osborne, the DA has $1.1M in "new money" for the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center (RIIC). Surely you can reduce the County obligation in-kind to keep taxes steady. Let's see what the DA has to say.

Anonymous said...

LOOK what school boards and administrators did to our schools -- now they are taking control of our cities and counties look out.

Anonymous said...

To the Anon genius at 8:36:

Nice revisionist history on South Whitehall, and please tell me what projects are being deferred in Lehigh County. Most of the encumbrances Armstrong mentions in his post are because the county can't complete the projects that have already been budgeted for.

I also love the argument that if only we increase taxes now, it will stave off the tax increase in the future. As if the county will squirrel that money away to stop the future tax hike. No, they'll spend it now and raise your taxes again (and again, and again) in the future.

Allentown's problem (which Armstrong again mentions in his post) was not the result of deferring tax hikes. It was the result of runaway spending that had been fueled by other tax hikes, such as doubling the earned income tax, raising the local services tax to the maximum, a new storm water tax, and many others. It was not suffering from a lack of revenue. But the excess allowed Pawlowski to run for higher offices and line the pockets of his cronies.

If Armstrong is looking to turn Lehigh County into another Allentown, I'll pass.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This story has nothing to do with HT,and am off-topic rant has been deleted.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Also deleted two Trump moments.

Anonymous said...

This country is taxing people to death it take people half a year salary to pay ALL their taxes.This system of ours is not working the politicians keep taxing everything in sight.And it is true we waste so much in government -- the gut above is right if we had responsible people in office we cut taxes big time.WE must stop electing people like Armstrong --their must be people who could this around. I realize it will never change but a person can still dream. THE people of lehigh county and Allentown must stop electing these liberal ex-educators or what do they expect.

Anonymous said...

When takers outnumber contributors, the takers vote themselves more of the contributors' money. The scales have tipped in LC. It's time to pay the takers.

Anonymous said...

The whole bunch on the second level of help going up are the ones that mentored bed ed the indicted one. There level of public care depends upon head count, as well as anticipated revenues that are cash cows and the ones whos heads are accounted for never recieve the services nor can there voice be heard?

Many are good people but when they cover for the bunch of desperodos at the top they too become just as criminal as the ones they covered for in these shell trix try to deceive the public.

Anonymous said...

If it was up to me ,I’d prohibit retired school teachers from any government position. The retirees that were male avoided the drafts on 2-s deferments and now they want to be the “ lions”.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That’s a bit harsh. But if failure to serve is a disqualification, that would have kept Trump out of the White House.

Anonymous said...

6:50 and Clinton

Anonymous said...

7:10 and O'bama