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.