Friday, December 04, 2020

NorCo Council Adopts 2021 Budget With No Tax Hike

Northampton County Council last night unanimously approved a no-tax-hike budget for 2021. The $440 million spending plan for next year, which Executive Lamont McClure first introduced on October 2, is 11% lower than this year's budget. It comes at the end of over 20 hours of budget hearings. It keeps the tax rate at 11.8 mills, where it's been for the past seven years. A home assessed at $75,000 will receive a tax bill next year for $885. The budget is also balanced.

"Well Council, you can pat yourself on the back. You just passed a budget," observed Council President Ron Heckman.

The only bone of contention was DA Terry Houck's $100,000 request for participation in Lehigh County's Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center (RIIC). On Tuesday, Northampton County Council, at the request of Council member Lori Vargo-Heffner, voted to reduce that contribution by $50,000. But last night, Vargo-Heffner was the only Council member still willing to reduce Houck's request. The remaining Council members voted to restore the funding. 

Houck made clear that the $100,000 requested is the "amount of funding that I feel is important to  keep us safe. ... That's really what this is all about." 

Council members John Cusick and Kevin Lott suggested that Houck use the drug forfeiture fund to pay for the RIIC, but that is arguably illegal. Under state law, a District Attorney "shall not anticipate future forfeitures or proceeds therefrom in in adoption and approval of the budget for the district attorney." Council member Peg Farraro made this point during the discussion. 

Vargo-Heffner, who is up for re-election next year, denied she was cutting Houck's budget. "I'm not telling you how to fight crime," she snarked. "I'm not trying to be bat girl."

Perhaps not, but perhaps batty girl. Since the inception of the Home Rule Charter, County Council has never rejected a budget request made by a District Attorney.  Council has always deferred to the county's chief law enforcement officer.  

Houck disputed Vargo-Heffner's denial that she wanted to cut his budget, "I asked for $100,000, and that is not in my budget." 

This is the third budget in a row that Executive McClure has proposed that calls for no tax hike while fully funding open space. No county contribution was needed at Gracedale.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

So a $440 million budget and she wants to cut $50 grand from the DA's budget. What is going on? I am sure there is plenty of fluff in other areas. Let the Da do his job. This didn't make any sense.

peterjcochran said...

👏👏👏👏👏👍

Anonymous said...

"The appropriate county authority shall immediately release from the operating fund, without restriction, a like amount for the use of the district attorney for the enforcement of or prevention of a violation of the provisions of The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act."

Sounds like a regional crime information platform qualifies under Title 42 and the funds are already there so no anticipation of future forfeiture revenue is necessary.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This marks the second time Vargo-Heffner has interfered with the budget of independently elected officials. She did it to the courts, got downright snotty with Jermaine Green and displayed that same attitude again last night while interfering with the DA's budget. Council has very little room to interfere with the courts or the DA as per the state constitution. I think the only time they can act is if what is sought might exceed the revenue projections of the county.

Vargo-Heffner has done little to endear herself with anyone. She has no real base. She can now be identified as someone who opposes public safety. Her claim that she does not know what goes on at the RIIC is complete horseshit. She has no chance at being re-elected, and wants to be President next year so she can raise her very limited visibility. She will just make Council look worse than it already does.

Anonymous said...

I am happy that there is no tax increase, but I was disappointed with the raise given to the budget administrator. I don't dispute that the job is worth a 100 grand, but it's a bad look given the millions of people out of work right now.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:53, A DA may not budget his from the forfeiture fund on the basis of revenue he expects to receive. There are good reasons for this restriction. First, it will tempt too many DAs to use forfeiture funds to fund operations, giving them an incentive to pursue forfeitures too vigorously. Second, the forfeiture fund varies greatly from year to year. It is nothing like the steady stream that comes from real estate taxes. Third, it is clearly illegal. "The entity having budgetary control shall not anticipate future forfeitures or proceeds therefrom in adoption and approval of the budget for the district attorney." The funds that are already there and not anticipated are used to fund two positions. What you propose would require an anticipation.

peterjcochran said...

The DA should not be involved in crime sceans or his representation by an assistant. They should take the compliment as presented by local law enforcers only. The DA or his assistant should not appear at a crime scean . What that does is compromise integrity of who gets on the hot seat. It should be impartial. But what is happening here is it appears that the DA is striving for the technology tools for the cop on the street ,which in my opinion is fine. I personally have the best conference in this Da because he came up the hard way. His journey was a litmus test, he’s been around the block ,nobody gave him anything.

Anonymous said...

I thought she had more than enough votes to take this money away form the DA. What happened? Why did her supporters on this initiative bail on her?

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:32, because it was both bad government and bad politics. Someone must have educated them on how stupid they looked.

peterjcochran said...

I think this Disririct Attorney has insite about things that most Attorneys would not. Personally ,we don’t know each other. But at my age I can spot a solid person ,and I think he is fine.

Anonymous said...

Old Tara Zirinski has declared he re-election to council bid. She is all set with new graphics and everything. She was smart in that her run for state house got her a lot of money. All the left over money she can now use on her county campaign and flood the market with her ads.

Tara is the new queen of Northampton County Politics!

Bernie O'Hare said...

She is running for one of five seats and only has to come in fifth to win. I am not a fan, but she has a following. I believe she wins, McGee wins and Lori Vargo-Heffner is out. I doubt Heckman is running, but if he does, he should win as well.

Anonymous said...

There shouldn't be a tax hike. Why is that our neighboring County, Lehigh, whose population is almost similar to ours, can operate soundly fiscally at only 3.8 mills, compared to our 11.8 mills, not to mention their employees are paid much more than Norco's. I have first hand facts. My counterpart who does the same job as me in Lehigh gets pads $9000 more than me and she is only there 6 years compared to my 22 years in Norco. And there are many many more examples I can illustrate.