Monday, June 21, 2021

Three Things Peg Ferraro Would Like to See

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. 


16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Morale is already low at the Sheriff’s Department! The more the merrier!

Anonymous said...

I have a study, why don't we study the fact that some of the biggest property owners in Northampton County don't pay a dime in property taxes. Northampton County should publish the total in taxes the "CORPORATIONS" LVHN STLUKES LEHIGH UNIVERSITY LAFAYETTE are not paying on the vast amount of property they own in the county. After those numbers are published I will gladly have my home reassessed in one of the most inflated housing markets in history.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! Right now is an excellent time to reassess. What could change in a year or 2?

Anonymous said...

Why would the County Council and the County Executive do the right thing about any of these issues? A "reassessment would make 2/3 of the homeowners unhappy. Anger results in no vote for you at the polls. In the past, It was estimated 1/3 of the home owners would see higher reassessments, 1/3 of them would stay the same, and 1/3 would have slightly lower reassessments. TODAY, because of the huge increase in new construction and larger family dwellings, those numbers are no longer the norm. Three fourths of the people would see higher assessments of their property values which would mean increased taxes.

As for the much needed independent wage study, this administration inherited so much excess revenue from the Brown Administration that they won't have to raise taxes for ten years (that is only if they don't implement a much needed wage scale study and treat their employees fairly). That is the only reason there won't be a salary study done.

As for the Charter Study, anyone with half a brain knows that an official "Charter" review is needed. This piecemeal approach to altering the Charter is not make for good government.
A Charter Study commission is an idea whose time has come.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I have a study, why don't we study the fact that some of the biggest property owners in Northampton County don't pay a dime in property taxes. "

Instead of reassessing, the county already wastes time trying to impose taxes on nonprofits, which are exempt. While I agree that hospitals in particular abuse their exempt status, they are playing by the rules we write. And the county has gone after churches.

"After those numbers are published I will gladly have my home reassessed in one of the most inflated housing markets in history."

A few years ago, it was one of the most deflated. It needs to be done. Quit fishing for excuses.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see an attendance requirement for county council members. It's dishonest and in poor character to run for something, take compensation, and not show up. It's like a teacher instructing children it's OK to cheat and be late. There should be an attendance requirement.

Anonymous said...

Along with a reassessment, Northampton County should implement a split-rate land tax like Allentown and Harrisburg have.

-J

Anonymous said...

I won't be making repairs needed to my home if they actually move forward on doing a reassessment. Home values are over-inflated. My neighbor just sold his home for 70% more than what the realtor told him it would sell for in 2019. All these buyers today are idiots.

Anonymous said...

Correction. Problem with salaries and bad morale actually started under the clown Reibman. Until this buffoon took office employees were treated fairly , with respect and actually had some pride in working for the county Gov't. This is why several new unions were voted for by the employees. He screwed the pooch in his second term and gave $$$ to his comrades and told the working staff to stick it. Piss poor leader that wasted millions on his buddies. How much of that 110 million dollar bond money went into county infrastructure? Nearly none. Still dealing with many of the same issues yet today. Worst executive ever .

Anonymous said...

The employees can't move through the pay scale therefore they are under appreciated and have to work a lot of overtime, if available, to make a decent salary. There is your pay study. The home rule charter allows for the ONE idiot in charge to hire all his idiot friends to ruin the county and only help themselves. There's the home rule charter study. As far as property assessments, I am not a fan of taxation.

peterjcochran said...

My biggest objection to any of this taxpayers business in the school district, They waist and tax and spend. I’d wish to see them unable to attach personal property all together. Waist and tax and spend. They have zero respect for the tax payers. They should have to live and work within perimeters. The school district is putting stress to retired people that haven’t had kids in district for 30 years. We need a new way we do this.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Please verify with your sources that non-profits are exempt for paying property tax. My understanding is that in Pennsylvania being a non-profit doe not automatically give you a pass on property taxes. Each year the local municipalities are supposed to review all that do not pay property taxes. Also each real property owning non-profit must apply for a waiver from the local municipality and more importantly school district for exemption. Also exemption are not forever unless a municipality does not do its due diligence.

This is a dated (2018) link to information I have been reviewing for a non-profit 501(c)3 I am involved with that Monroe county is forcing to pay property taxes. https://www.mcneesstateandlocaltax.com/2018/10/update-pennsylvanias-real-estate-tax-purely-public-charity-exemption-pilots/

Many of the organizations above do not meet the 5 key criteria to be exempt from paying property taxes. And my understanding is that an organization must also always me all of these or they have to pay up.

Advance a charitable purpose;
Donate or render gratuitously a substantial portion of its services;
Benefit a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate subjects of charity;
Relieve the government of some of its burden; and
Operate entirely free from private profit motive.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Correction. Problem with salaries and bad morale actually started under the clown Reibman. Until this buffoon took office employees were treated fairly , with respect and actually had some pride in working for the county Gov't. "

I understand what you are saying, but it really started with Brackbill. It is he who stopped the step increases that had been pretty much automatic. This totally defeats the purpose of the career service. This practice continued under Reibman. When he began layoffs, that is when most of the county went union. Johns Stoffa is my hero, but he was reluctant to award step increases, and the same is true of McClure.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Please verify with your sources that non-profits are exempt for paying property tax. My understanding is that in Pennsylvania being a non-profit doe not automatically give you a pass on property taxes. "

You are correct. A nonprofit is not automatically exempt. Even an exempt property can be taxed if it is used for a commercial purpose. But I don't like the idea of shaking down little churches that might rent out a field for farming when what is really needed is a re-assessment.

Anonymous said...

They need to reinstate the step a year if a good evaluation until you are at the top of pay scale, we have people that have not had a step in 6 years when they should have had one each year until they reached the top of their pay rate, then the compression of wages will be gone and we will not have this discussion again

Anonymous said...

agree with 6:24. Also council must stop approving the random step increases McClure giv4es to his personal favorites. Very random and subjective.