Peg Ferraro is in her waning days as a member of Northampton County Council. As she transitions into a well-deserved retirement, she has mostly kept her own counsel at meetings. She's perfectly content to let others speak. When she does open her mouth, however, she makes excellent points. She made three of them at Council's Thursday night meeting. In what she called her swan song, she mentioned three things Northampton County needs to do.
1) Reassessment. - Northampton County last reassessed in 1995. A property's assessment is the basis for all property taxes derived for municipalities and school districts.
Northampton County has had several excuses for failing to do what it really should be doing every ten years. There was the Great Recession, which did depress real estate values. But now there are inequities everywhere. The only way to ensure fairness in taxation is to re-assess.
Without question, reassessment is expensive. It's also politically unpopular. Although state law specifically requires that the process must be revenue neutral, many property owners will be upset.
Lehigh County went through this a few years ago, and despite claims of unfairness in some quarters, revenue appeals straightened things out.
2) A Pay Study. - Like reassessment, this should also be done periodically. The last salary study was done by Executive John Stoffa and only covered career service (nonunion). The results were so controversial that Stoffa decided to just forget about it.
In the past, the County has had numerous excuses for failing to conduct a salary study. First, it's "very, very expensive." Second, it could give employees false hope of changes that may never occur, which would be bad for morale. Third, county policy requiring a salary study every two years is too frequent.
So what happens every year is a few positions are given substantial raises on the basis that salaries are compressed. County administrators pick and choose the positions of increases. This just causes more disparity and depresses morale.
It is clear to me that one reason why Gracedale has such trouble holding on to people is because, quite simply, salaries are too low. I find it hypocritical that a Democratic County Council and administration piously adopt resolutions calling for a living wage when they fail to pay one.
Lest you think I'm blaming the Democrats in charge of this County, this problem actually started under the Republican Brackbill administration. That was when the county stopped step increases and started to freeze salaries. Since then, both parties have followed suit, balancing budgets on the backs of underpaid county workers.
3) A Home Rule Charter Study. - Since its adoption in 1977, the County's Constitution is in serious need of an overhaul. I believe the Executive form of government is superior to the collection of political hacks that would arise if we were to revert to making row offices elected. But I do agree numerous changes in the Charter are needed. Nearly every Article is flawed.
Council and Executives are terrified of a home rule study because they worry they could be replaced by a reversion to the Commissioner form of government.