|Exec Lamont McClure (L) and Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron with 2020 Budget|
In a news release sent out moments after the vote, McClure congratulated County Council. "A no tax increase budget for a second year in a row is an accomplishment Council can be proud of," he said. "We’ve cut the budget nearly 6% without reducing vital services. We are investing $3 million to preserve farmland, environmentally sensitive land and investing in parks. In our fight against warehouse proliferation our administration has already invested $6 million. Finally, we are keeping our commitment to maintain Gracedale as a County-owned-and-operated facility and, once again, Gracedale will not require any money from the County’s general fund to operate.”
McClure is spending 5.6% less than he did last year. Part of the reason for that is because the county is no longer paying a triple net lease for its human services building, located in Bethlehem Tp. It now owns it. In addition, thanks to a refunding of county bonds, the annual debt service has dropped.
Council member John Cusick was the sole No vote, and for several reasons. He voiced displeasure at the County's inconsistent approach to hotel tax grants, warned that there now is a structural deficit at Gracedale and was strongly opposed to a 9.2% payhike for Gracedale Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King. Her wages will jump from $102,291 to $111,704 next year, while most Gracedale workers will see raises of three per cent or less. Cusick said he was unable to remember ever awarding a wage hike that high, and argued it is unfair to other Gracedale workers. He added that Gracedale's rating is unchanged and its census is in danger.
Council members Matt Dietz and Bob Werner joined Cusick in opposing the raise, although they later supported the budget.
McClure argued that, even with the raise, Stewart-King is underpaid compared to Administrators at other nursing homes like The Gardens of Easton ($147,000), Moravian Hall Square ($132,000) and a nursing home that pays $175,000.
|Budget Administrator Doran J Hamann|
The budget as approved spends $2.6 million of the county's reserve, or rainy day, fund. This is to help pay for new voting machines mandated by Governor Tom Wolf's Department of State. The county expects to get 60% of that money back.
The budget also includes a 2.5% raise for its career service, or nonunion workers. Union workers are paid in accordance with separate contracts, and most bargaining units will see a 2% raise next year.
This is the last budget prepared by Budget Administrator Doran J Hamann. This Lehigh University MBA retired in November after 40 years of service to Northampton County. He nevertheless attended last night's meeting and the numerous budget hearings preceding it.