Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Gadfly Starts Mayoral Forum in Bethlehem

Ed Gallagher, whose nom de plum is Bethlehem Gadfly, has said he'd like to retire from the blogosphere to pursue his dream of becoming a NBA player. But Bethlehem's three-person Mayoral race has forced him to postpone those plans. Instead, he's doing a Mayoral forum. His first installment, published yesterday, is a close look at how each of the three candidates look at the city budget, which (1) imposed a tax hike in the middle of a pandemic; (2) eliminated four positions in the fire department; and (3) gave payhikes between 10.4% and 23.3% to seven very special people, one of whom just happens to be married to the Business Manager.  

Willie Reynolds, a City Council member who supported this nonsense and the presumed heir apparent to Bethlehem's throne, offered a very poor defense. While framing budget time as a "highlight of the year" for him, he states it is "very difficult to add anything responsibly by the time the proposed budget is released." That's precisely what a City Council is supposed to do. City Council controls the purse strings. If he feels he's unable to do anything responsibly, he should step aside and allow someone who can do what he insists is so hard.

He goes on to claim that he helps the City with grant-writing. That's precisely what a City Council should avoid. That's a job for city administrators. 

He offered no explanation for defunding four vital public safety positions. He offered no justification for a salary increase that went to the wife of a former Council member who now is the City's business manager. There was no solace for the many working families who've been shackled by three tax hikes in four years. 

Reynolds argues "[i]t is always easier to criticize than it is to offer actual, responsible solutions." His Democratic opponent, former City Administrator Dana Grubb, offered actual, responsible solutions. 

Grubb said he would "restore the former practice of listing each classified city position by grade and step in the budget, for clarity and transparency." This would prevent the obvious nepotism in the payhike to the wife of the Business Manager. This practice would also prevent the defunding of public safety positions. "There were other positions inside city government far less critical to the health and safety of city residents which could have been modified or eliminated: this would have been part of my overall plan to reorganize and streamline city government operations."

Reynolds failed to even address the hidden tax of a stormwater fee. Grubb made clear there should be "no stormwater fee without a separate series of public hearings outside of the budget timeframe so that taxpayers and any stakeholders could learn about stormwater fees and weigh in on whether or not the City should implement them."

Republican John Kachmar, who has prepared 28 city and county budgets, offered "actual, responsible solutions" as well. 

Kachmar tells us a good budget is "readable and transparent." As for the stormwater fee, he's been involved in that process. "We conducted multiple public hearings. We distributed pamphlets to every land & home owner, sharing the science of how the fee was constructed. Public neighborhood meetings were held to explain the need for the fee. In stark contrast, Bethlehem instituted a $3 million dollar fee program during a pandemic with next to no citizen input and a platform of non-visibility involving online meetings. This is bad form, any way you look at it. Stormwater management has traditionally been funded out of the city’s general fund. Why change the revenue source now? It appears that the City is looking to hide the new fee."

They'll find out when they get their water bill. 

Kachmar calls the defunding of the fire department  nothing short of reckless. He notes the city has numerous dwellings over 100 years old and calls fire a "real threat." " Cutting employees is a quick and easy way to lower costs, but it leaves the remaining employees worried about the stability of their employment. I want firefighters to have good morale when they come to our citizens’ rescue. Once again there are ways to bring budgets in line. I have 35 years’ experience doing so."

Willie may very well be the establishment favorite. He is personable and cares about the City. But Bethlehem needs to stop using schoolteachers to prepare budgets and allow people who understand the very real burden that taxes impose on working families. That would be Dana or John. 

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Schoolteachers also pay taxes, work, and have families. Are you really taking swipes at teachers, now? This is just embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

why start now???? the city has been so screwed up for the past 20 years that its rediculous to think anyone can change it...Willie is a world class idiot..the goverment of Bethlehem would rather spend 2 million on a useless golf course than help the citizens and taxpayers of this great city with fire fighters after all the golf course is far more impotatnt than a firefighter coming to the rescue...

Anonymous said...

"Reynolds failed to even address the hidden tax of a stormwater fee. Gubb made clear there should be "no stormwater fee without a separate series of public hearings outside of the budget timeframe so that taxpayers and any stakeholders could learn about stormwater fees and weigh in on whether or not the City should implement them."

I received a bill yesterday for $15.00, should I pay it? Who should I contact to see if this is legal?

Anonymous said...

I do not want to bad mouth Willie because he is an intelligent person who means well and has greatly matured over the past eight years. That said Dana Grubb is a serious mayoral contender based on his understanding of the issues and the types of proposals he made in the Gadfly forum. The short and medium term future will be tough economically due to the pandemic and its after effects. Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley need practical leadership that focuses on funding infrastructure, existing business support and needed services during these times far more than they need grand plans and attractively sounding ideas that are not supported by the current economic and demographic data of most of its existing residents and businesses.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be the new MO of the Dems. The Wolf administration has operated in a complete vacuum. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was panned by two citizen advisory boards and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and Wolf and DEP just plow ahead, unfazed. The PA house and Senate passed a bill to reject joining RGGI without express consent of the legislature. Wolf vetoed the bill overriding the will of the people.
Daddy knows best.

Anonymous said...

New Mayor can bring in his or her own finance and parks director? Problem solved!

Bernie O'Hare said...

:"Schoolteachers also pay taxes, work, and have families. Are you really taking swipes at teachers, now? This is just embarrassing."

I have high regard for educators as such, but the past eight years of Donchez and Evans have demonstrated their weakness when it comes to budget preparation. I also detest the nepotism they displayed in hiring Evans' wife, who was another teacher.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:41, I suspect that many people are going to be outraged by that hidden tax, which will cost you $60 on top of your current water bill and taxes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:25, Stick to the subject or face deletion. Your tribalism is not needed.

Anonymous said...

"I suspect that many people are going to be outraged by that hidden tax, which will cost you $60 on top of your current water bill and taxes."

This was my point. State and local govt has moved to a place of making decision behind closed doors. Poster at 7:41 gets a bill from nowhere as there was no public discussion on the matter.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This is my complaint about my party. We are out if touch. I remember when we used to be the voice of the working family and blue collars. What the hell happened to us?

Anonymous said...

Dana Does not even pay taxes in the city, he rents a place and does not own property so I do not know what makes him a vested citizen in the city of Bethlehem. He was Fired from his job for punching a fellow worker and has been going to city council meetings planning commission meetings and zoning board meetings ever since making a nuisance of himself, of course he sounds good, he has talking points but I fear the emperor has no clothes

As far as Willy goes, he is a school teacher who has been a yes man for the city for way too long

I think they want a Republican mayor in the city again

Anonymous said...

Neither party can claim to be “for the people,” Bernie, because both have been hijacked by extremists. Bethlehem knows hidden taxes well — the Hirko tax to pay for Callahan’s arrogance — was satisfied years ago, but I believe it is “hidden” and still being charged.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Dana Does not even pay taxes in the city, he rents a place and does not own property so I do not know what makes him a vested citizen in the city of Bethlehem. "

I see. Only the landed gentry may seek public office, eh? I hear this whenever someone makes the establishment uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

Whats new? Reynolds has voted for tax increases a dozen times. He doesn't care about the people struggling to make it. He is the most self righteous person you will ever meet. He passes dumb environmental ordinances, that absolutely do nothing, just to appease the far left wing of Bethlehem then sticks it to the tax payer every year. Anyone But Reynolds.

Anonymous said...

11:32 the Hirko tax was paid off years ago. Donchez kept it in to keep bringing in the tax revenue and Wee Willie voted for it! Reynolds made a deal with Donchez 4 years ago that Reynolds wouldn't run against Donchez as long as Donchez endorsed Reynolds this time around for Mayor. Expect Donchez's endorsement of Reynolds coming very soon!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Willie is a decent and honorable person who cares deeply about the city. I find his explanation of the city budget to be entirely wanting.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1121, so his rent does not include $ to pay the real estate taxes? His landlord just pays them out of his own pocket. Great Landlord there.

And Bernie is right anyway on his "landed gentry" comment.

Jeez, enough.

Anonymous said...

School teachers are fine people who make horrible stewards of public money. Don't be offended. I'm a steward (CFO) of lots of money and would make a horrible teacher.

Anonymous said...

The stormwater fee was a result of unfunded mandates from the state and local government. Most municipalities in PA will have a stormwater fee in the next 5 years. This was coming for 8 years in Bethlehem.

Grubb is good at telling you what's wrong but really offered no solutions. He said there were other positions to cut--which positions? The firefighter positions were vacant, no one lost a job. Would Dana really tell people their position was being eliminated?

Dana was quick to call Reynolds to task for voting to increase taxes, but what would have Dana cut to reduce taxes? How does Dana know what Willie said to the administration in private meetings? The only real cuts that make a lasting effect on a budget are personnel cuts. If the Admin did not have the balls to cut personnel, it sure would be inappropriate for a Council to impose their own cuts without the Admin's recommendation.

The Callahan admin cut the hell out of City Government and Dave Brong as BA continued to make the workforce lean under Donchez, but uncontrolled medical costs and pensions are the roots of all the tax increases.

The City employees' salaries are getting ridiculous, but why punish the employees now for the deeds of administrations years ago. The employees now earned their steps increases and COLAs. The City should do a salary study and determine what are the appropriate levels of salary.

Anonymous said...

Read the answers. Willie gave the standard political feel good speech with no specifics. This is the Bethlehem way. Smith was the last experienced good Mayor. Cunningham was a reporter one term councilman no administrative experience. Callahan was a salesman one term no administrative experience. Donchez a school teacher on council forever. So Willie is actually on par with Donchez with experience. Bethlehem is far too inbred politically and in life. They will continue to tell you how lucky you are to live there and how great it is so shut up and pay all the fees and taxes. Don't even start on the Bethlehem school Board where tax increase are the rule not the exception. Dana should tell people about how economic development in the city is an inside Ponzi scheme. The same names and companies get top contracts and jobs. Check out all the relatives with those deals. It is all connected for the easy public money pot.

Very few people with strong administrative and managerial experience ever run for these positions and even fewer win.

Bernie O'Hare said...

2:54, The unfunded mandate argument is disingenuous. The Clean Water Act and the state DEP are requiring a significant reduction in water pollutants by 2023, with penalties for noncompliance. A stormwater fee is unquestionably the least burdensome way to pay for compliance. But This is no excuse for the complete lack of transparency from Bethlehem in creating this fee, and the unfair way it was determined. Read John Kachmar's comments for better context. A flat fee imposed on everyone, regardless of impact, is a burden on the citizens least able to pay.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Dana was quick to call Reynolds to task for voting to increase taxes, but what would have Dana cut to reduce taxes?"

Did you read Dana's remarks? He was very specific about what he'd do to avoid a tax hike. There would be no salary increases unless completely justified.. He'd completely restructure the employee scale and make it transparent. He'd eliminate positions in other areas of the city before endangering public safety. Each department head could be told to cut 5% from their budget. If that occurs, there is n tax hike. It is not complicated.

Read what they said. I like Willie, but his answer fell far short of what I expected.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, don't fall for the storm water tax to be anything other than a tax.

It's core design is to charge property owners to handle storm water runoff from roads, which are owned by the City (or State). Here's the detail:

Section 929.06 of the ordinance exempts roads from the "fee."

Section 9.29.09 of the ordinance allows for credits against the "fee." You as a property owner can implement mitigation measures to reduce storm water runoff and get a credit against the "fee" for that work.

However, pages 6-7 of the City Storm Water Protection Program caps the amount of a credit at 50% of the "fee."

So if I as a property owner have 0 storm water runoff, I still have to pay 50% of the "fee" to cover the cost of the storm water runoff from roads, which again are exempt.

That's the very definition of a tax.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

DEP is getting hammered by EPA and Maryland over the whole WIP III for the Chesapeake Bay. EPA is threating to step in and take the reigns from DEP while they have their own problems. Maryland is exporting all of their nutrients to PA to meet their goals for the WIP III. PA has no money to give and is passing along the burden and reductions to the taxpayer via unfunded mandates. Wastewater Treatment plants were socked with nutrient reductions in the last round that was unfunded as well. DEP has a few unfunded mandates locked and loaded to placate their masters and keep the feds out.
I think you will have a hard time convincing most on a municipal level that the MS4, increased discharge limits etc. are not unfunded mandates. DEP is using the clean water act as a crutch to do an end around on the legislature and usurp their authority.
DEP has become aware of the uphill legal battle for any who challenge their authority.

Anonymous said...

Willie had to many basketballs bounce off his head. In all his years on Council, he has never voted against a tax increase, Ever! Get ready Bethlehem, 8 straight years of tax increases are coming if this guy gets in.

Anonymous said...

In other words. It is just another bill for the homeowner.

Anonymous said...

Did I read that correctly? Did Reynolds really say that the budget season is his "highlight of the year"? What? He has voted to raise taxes almost every year that he has been on Council. So it's a "highlight" of his year raising taxes on people? Wow!

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:33, Willie is a very good basketball player. My grandson has played him and speaks highly of him as a hooper. As I have said several times, I like Willie and believe he really cares. I completely disagree with his budget decisions and felt his explanation was very poor. But he has a lot of personal class and has matured from the person he was when he was first elected.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It was a poor statement.

Anonymous said...

What needs to happen is every bethlehem resident should stop paying this bullshit school tax..these teachers havent worked in well over a year why are we continue get tax increases and why is this bullshit not being investigated???????

Anonymous said...

Really. Coward>

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Very arrogant remark in my opinion, as a tax payer myself.

Anonymous said...

Stop attacking Willie

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have actually defended Willie from the personal shots. I like Willie. His explanation of his budget vote is poor.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, you said: "Did you read Dana's remarks? He was very specific about what he'd do to avoid a tax hike. There would be no salary increases unless completely justified."

The salary increases are not 5% of the budget and would not have made a difference. Plus, Dana's "plan" is a net plan, since he would not have cut the vacant firefighter positions. His reduction in raises would be offset by his plan to keep the 4 firefighter positions. Also, some of the raises are contractual raises. Dana's plan still would not solve the 5% tax increase and create a moral problem with the workforce. 80% of the budget is personnel costs. What positions would Dana cut? What in the 20% of operating costs would he cut?

Dana has not offered one actual solution to the problem. If the Administration is not willing to cut, it would be very improper for city council to arbitrarily cut expenses without cutting personnel. That could significantly impact the city services.

I agree that Reynolds' answer is mostly BS. But it is clear he understands the biggest problem in the budget is not really within City Council's control and that is the employee benefits plans, including pension and medical. Mayor Callahan made great strides in getting the pensions under control by reducing them for new hires, but the benefits of his efforts are not to be realized for another 10-20 years.

It really is a balancing act between cutting personnel, which would further reduce city services, and raising taxes.

Anonymous said...

AGREED!

Anonymous said...

Did Reynolds ever address a major issue which has been put out there. In the midst of a pandemic in which citizens lost jobs, had time off with no pay and even more. That the business managers wife received a big raise. I wonder if that was contractual.

Anonymous said...

The whole issue with Business Admin. Evans and his wife should be investigated. They both "retired" with a pension from the school district, then Donchez hires her as the "best qualified" candidate for the head of parks and recreation when she had absolutely no experience in management and there were others in the department with much more experience. Then this year she gets a huge raise as Donchez and the City gets rid of four Fire Fighters. Complete Fubar!

Anonymous said...

And how does that sh!t fly

Anonymous said...

How? Donchez is an absentee mayor!He has let his dept heads run wild and has no control over anyone. Good Councilman, Terrible Mayor!

Anonymous said...

"Dana Does not even pay taxes in the city, he rents a place and does not own property"-very untrue! All Renters-in every community-pay property taxes. When a landlord looks at his/her costs-uitilities/insurance/mortgage/taxes-they are covered in the rent. That's how the landlord pays the property taxes! Are you really that simple that you think all the rent collected just goes into the landlord's pockets? No,landlords have financial responsibilities ( including taxes ) that are a part of every property.
Burns my a** when I hear tenants don't pay property taxes! Most tenants now are paying higher rents than home owners are paying on their mortgages! SMH

Anonymous said...

You are correct for sure! DANA!