County Commissioners Meeting 10/12/2011
Bill 2011-69 Adopting the 2012 Lehigh County Budget and Amending the Job Classification and Pay Plans for Consistency with 2012 Budget.
Commissioner Echart proposed 2 Amendments to the Budget, both of which would return additional monies to the tax payers and reduce the Millage rate. However the Administration wants to increase the amount of money the County has in reserve from 19 Million to 25 Million. On both of these amendments the vote was as follows.
Yes: Tom Creighton, Percy Dougherty,Glenn Echart,Andy Roman. All Republicans
No: Gloria Hamm,William Hensell,David Jones,Danial McCarthy. All Democrats
The deciding vote reminded me of last years Budget Vote, when taxes were increased 16%.
Dean Browning voted No again.
Tonight the Lehigh County Commissioners had their first reading of Bill 2011-55.
This is a pass through Subgrant from the State to St. Luke's Hospital for 7 Million dollars. This money is for the building of a parking garage to increase their parking.This is presented as a matching Grant. However the parking garage will cost 7 million and their match will be completing the 5th floor of their building. I would like to thank everyone in the rest of the State for their contribution to Lehigh County and the City of Allentown.
I believe that if St.Like's Hospital need more parking, they should build it themselves.
At the meeting of the Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday May 25th bill 2011-46 and 2011-47 were introduced.
Bill 2011-46 Approving a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the County of Lehigh and American Federation F State,County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local 3206 (courts).
Involves 190 Full time and 84 part time employees. 59% are at the top step and will receive 2% each year for the years 2011,12,13,14. the remaining 41% will receive 1/2 step for each year. Longevity will be paid 50% for 2011 and in full after that. The Union agreed to 17% of Health care costs.
Bill 2011-47 Approving the Collective Bargaining agreement between the County of Lehigh and United Food and Commercial workers Union (UFCW) Local 1776.
Involves 416 Full time and 131 Part time workers. Includes 2.5% raise or 3% step but not both. Senior employees did get 30 sick days per year and have agree to the reduction to 20 per year. They can accumulate up to 180 toward retirement. Heath care is 20% from employee and Longevity is 50% for 2011 and 100% for 2012 and 2013.
I think, I included everything, for now. It seems that the Administration and Commissioners are trying to avoid Arbitration at all costs. It seems that the State Arbitrators have not been very fair with Tax payers money. This is a problem for all Government entities throughout the State. Perhaps we should be pushing our Representatives to address this Issue. Collective Bargaining is a good tool as long as it is not circumvented by an unfair Arbitrator.
Where is it written that employees are to receive a pay increase every year? The Union increases are not dependent on anything but keeping your job. Skill, performance,attendance mean nothing. Just keep your job and you are Guaranteed to get pay increases. This is where we have come with the Unions.
Up until now, I have keep quite about Commissioner Dean Browning. But, reading the article by Jenna Portnoy in the morning call today has prompted me to address this issue.
Commissioner Dean Browning has been called a lot of things over the past several months. But, smart is not one of them. He was the deciding vote for the 16% tax increase back in October. Perhaps in hind site, he may have been wise, to find a compromise when voting for the budget. But, he didn't even try. He took a stand against his fellow Republicans and the Public in general. Now he is spending a good deal of money to try and convince people the he is a Conservative. This is seven months late and 16% short. I personally like Dean, most of the time, and we agree on a few issues and disagree on several others. After attending, almost all, the Commissioners meetings for almost 2 years, I would not call Dean a Conservative.
In my opinion he is what some would describe as a "fence walker". He plays on both teams and is hoping for a political future beyond County Commissioner. One thing everyone should know by now, He is a establishment Republican and a far cry from a Conservative.
All Commissioners present except for William Hensell.
Old Business; Second reading
Bill 2011-09 Change office and program names and Administrative code reference from Mental retardation to Intellectual Disabilities. PASSED all voted to the affirmative.
See email to Commissioners.
Bill 2011-10 Professional agreement for Audit of pension fund Cost 19,000
PASSED all voted to the affirmative.
Bill 2011-11 Professional agreement for Actuarial Services Post Retirement benefit plan for 2010
Cost $15,000. PASSED all voted to the affirmative.
New Business; First reading
Bill 2011-16 Professional agreement with Computer Aid Inc. for a Regional Crime Center.
This was presented by District Attorney Jim Martin and Julia Kocis in a slide presentation in committee. This Professional agreement is for 2.8 million. The total estimated initial cost is projected to be 3.9 Million
Several other Counties may participate in this “Regional Crime Center” on a possible fee basis. So far the County has 1.8 Million toward this project, some of which has come from several Grants. There is an anticipation of an additional grant for 800,000. from another source. I believe that the premise is very good. My concern is that as with most Government projects the costs will escalate and the projected cost of 3.9 Million will be dwarfed by the real and ongoing costs.
As per the District Attorney, presently New York City has a Regional Crime Center for the five boroughs since 2005. The cost of their Crime Center was 10 Million. Presently Philadelphia is in the process of putting in their Crime Center. I don't know their costs. These are large Cities and perhaps we are biting off more then we can chew.
We Shall see.
Bill 2011-18 Professional agreement with Lehigh Carbon Community College for prison inmates to obtain a GED as well as English as a second language training at the prison. I asked Ed Sweeney in committee if there was any increase in cost over last year. He could not give us an answer at this time.
I do have a problem with the fact that this has not went out to bid for several years. Commissioner Roman did question why other Colleges were not given the opportunity to bid on these services.
The cost are as follows.
These are all not to exceed: Adult Basic Education 13,744.00,Education assessment 9,000.00,GED testing and scoring 5.250.00,Supplies,Text and office supplies 2,000.00.
I am beginning to see changes in the Board of the Lehigh County Commissioners. More interest on spending then I had seen in the past. When someone from the Administration comes forward at a Committee meeting, they are prepared, with cost comparisons from last year. Many know. I will ask for this information and the Commissioners are now evaluating each request for renewal of professional contracts with costs in mind. This is a good thing. I will keep this progress going forward in all aspects of spending.
The following are 1st readings
Bill 2011-01 Professional Services for Mental Health Review Officer is required by law. The cost is 12,000.00 for the year and has not changed form last year.
Bill 2011-02 Professional Services with Bellezza Hair and body Cafe LLC. His is for the Nursing Homes. This contract went out to bid with a cost savings of 9000.00 per year on a two year contract.
Bill 2011-03 thru 06 No money involved kind of a slam dunk.
Bill 2011-07 Approving the process of selling Real Property in So. Whitehall.
This property is near Dorney Park and they have wanted to purchase it for several years. Back in 2005 the Commissioners had leased the property for purchase to Ashley Development and they never did anything with it.
They now want to sell this 6.5 acres again. But, not just sell it, they want the buyer to address what will be built,how much tax revenue the government will get, how many jobs will be created and the list goes on. They will also want top dollar for the property. My feeling, is that they will have this property for a long time. That is of course, unless a taxpayer subsidized purchaser is found.
Speaking of Taxpayer subsidized purchasers.
Bill 2011-08 Cedar Village:
What is Cedar Village ; consists of four floors of “affordable” one-bedroom apartments (50) and some common area space built above the County-owned single -floor Cedar View office building on the “Cedarbrook campus” in So. Whitehall. I'm not kidding!
Fifteen years ago (with the refined wisdom of our elected officials) the County provided a loan of $1,426,000.00 @ 7% interest to “Cedar Village Associates”, a limited partnership in which Valley Housing Development Corporation (“VHDC”) has held a 1% share and the rights to buy out the limited partnership at the conclusion of the compliance period, which has just ended. Throughout this (15 year period) the County has been providing a $5,000.00 per month grant to help stabilize the finances of the operation. ($900,000.00). As of the end of 2010 the County Grant expired and the interset rate on the loan automatically increased to 9%, creating potential financial havoc for the “Cedar Village Apartments”, which are fully occupied. This agreement was established in accordance with Ordinance 1993-157.
The investors in Cedar Village Associates have exhausted their tax advantages and are ready to exit the business and the Lehigh County Housing Authority wants to ensure that these 50 “affordable” apartments (with the help of taxpayer money) continue to meet the existing needs. Accordingly, a total new structure is required to allow for the exit of the original investors and for the Lehigh County Housing Authority to operate Cedar Village in a financially viable manner.
The ordinance under consideration resuls in the full pay off of the remaining loan balance of $1,061,000.00 to the County, the transferance of the lease to the Lehigh County Housing Authority for 99 years and the County agreeing to provide $ 5,000.00 per month in Grant support for an additional 5 years. ($ 300,000.00)
Why should the County provide financial assistance for 5 more years ? Their answer is ; In providing “affordable” housing , the Lehigh County Housing Authority obviously runs on a very tight budget. (unlike the County) By having the security of the County grant ( your money) for five more years, the Authority has been able to secure full mortgage financing in this tight market at a good interest rate. Additionally, the County is able to extract itself form this “business” in five years verses potentially carrying a new loan for up to 25 years.
How will the monthly County contribution be funded? Their answer is:The $5,000.00 per month will be drawn from the Cedarview Apartment fund as it has been for the past 15 years. In other words (taxpayer) money. That is endless they find it growing on a tree.
What will we do with the mortgage payoff money? Their answer is: the mortgage has been handled as a “receivable” within the Green Futures Fund and will simply be converted to cash in the fund. It is not “found “ money available to be spent on other projects. This sounds good, hope it works.
Lets do the math; Original Loan $1,426,000.00
$5,000.00 per month for 15 years 900,000.00
$5,000.00 per month for 5 more years 300,000.00
Cost $1,200,000.00 over 20 years
I hope the inverters made money
Since this was the last meeting of 2010, I thought it would be fitting to give you my thoughts, as to my progress over the past year. I have attended every meeting of the Board of Commissioners, except for one, this past year. Next to Dean Browning, who has not missed a meeting, I have the best attendance record. Of course, that and a dollar will get you on a bus. It took me quite a while to learn, what is really happening at these meetings. I have found. that just going to the General Commissioners meetings, is not where the real meeting is. The real meeting takes place at the committee meetings. This is where bills are started and discussion and questions are asked. In general, when a bill is read, during the regular meeting its fate was already decided. Some bills are sent to the main meeting unresolved. This is when discussion takes place at the general meeting. I have been trying to get the Commissioners to expound on all bills, as to the why,how,when,what for and how much, on each bill at the general meeting. This is to give the public more information on each bill. Very soon the general meetings will be on line for public view. Without this additional information no one would know what is being talked about and why. Over the past year my relationship with the Commissioners has grown. I do believe, I may have gained some respect for my comments. I have often heard that “nothing is accomplished at the microphone” I don't agree with that. If your comments are presented with respect and knowledge as to the subject and if possible a little humor. You can make a difference and give people something to consider. Presenting an intelligent argument, without accusation or belittlement, can win, even at the podium. Now, on to my report.
Bill 2010-115 is for the repair of the water system at the Main Prison.
Bill 2010-119 and 120 Modifications to the memorandum of understanding for PSSU local 668 SEIU and for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.
Basically this is to hold all increases to “0” for the rest of the contract term.
Yes votes: Creighton,Dougherty,Eckhart,Browning,Hamm,Hansell,Jones,Roman
For more information see: Wages Frozen for 174 Lehigh County Employees - Bethlehem, PA Patch
Bill 2010-121 Amending the Grants Policy to replace the Ex Officio requirements.
This is where each Commissioner is assigned to a Grant recipient, to be on their board, for communications to the Board of Commissioners. This practice could lend itself to a conflict of interest.
The Vote was as follows:
Both Commissioners Dougherty and Hamm like and support, the Grant recipients, that they are assigned to. They attend the meeting and participate in their functions. My suggestion was, perhaps the Commissioners should “play musical chairs” each year with these Grant recipients. This would at least change, who they are representing each year when they come, asking for money. Most of this is for “Quality of life”Grants. Whoever came up with this Quality of Life stuff, should be taken behind the wood shed and be given a good whipping. What a Colossal waste of taxpayer money.
Bill 2010-131 Withdrawing from the Joint County Department of Health.
We have been talking about the “Bi_County Health Department” for quite some time. My hope was that it would be put out of its misery and mine. No such luck. For now, its tabled until after the Jan 10th meeting of the people putting this PROBLEM forward.
My perspective is we “CAN NOT AFFORD THIS PERIOD”.
Bucks County has a County Health Department that started out modestly enough. But, now costs $15,000,000.00 per year. Of which $7,000,000.00 is County tax payer money.
This is not a County Function. Is not part of the County's responsibility.
THIS IS JUST EXPANDING GOVERNMENT. At someone whim. Another “Quality of Life” thing.
I know, we want,we need, we got to have. Its important to the (children) like someone else we know.
I guess you get my point!
In closing this post I would like to wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
God Bless !
By now everyone is aware that the Lehigh County Taxes are going up 16%. I really hate being right on this issue, as I predicted the outcome on Oct 18th.
The dynamics changed but the results were the same.
One of my big concerns was the 1.7 million from the Gambling fund. If this money is left in this fund it would be spent on "NEW PROGRAMS". We may see 1 million put into the "LOCK BOX" called the tax stabilization fund. This would be a plus toward limiting the growth of County Government. This is one subject I have been pressing hard on, in my role as "Watch dog".
I think this will happen.
Although I supported the returning of the budget to the County Executive, for further review, I never believed it would happen. I had thought the County Executive would be, cool, calm and collected. Instead, we saw an angry, disrespectful child have a temper tantrum.
His performance, left a lot to be desired, as a "ELECTED OFFICIAL"
Commissioner Dean Browning is a intelligent financial person. He really believes what he has done is in the best interest of the people of the County. I may not agree with him but, he is an elected Commissioner and voted as he thought he should.
If the budget had been sent back, as most of us had liked, I don't know what the outcome might have been. From the attitude of the County Executive this could have been a real firestorm.
On a lighter note, Commissioner Hansell and I agreed on two issues. This has me worried, as we never agree on anything.
Commissioner Hamm was a little upset with me, about the 500 emails she had received. THANK YOU, FOR YOUR SUPPORT. At times, during the past year of attending these meetings, I had felt as though I was alone. I'm not !
spending not revenue is the problem
This will be the subject line, for my next post. That will be the result of the Commissioners Meeting on October 27th at 7 pm at 17 West 7th Street in Allentown.
You ask how I know?
In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, those "sissy boys" at Lehigh County are lacking the backbone (I'm being nice their all male except Gloria Hamm) to vote for the amended budget.
They would like to campaign saying "I NEVER VOTED FOR A TAX INCREASE". What BULL !!! Do they think were stupid?? I guess they do. Perhaps they think we will sit on our "A-S" and not attend the meeting, to let them know how we feel. Are they right ??
This is how I expect the vote to go. Hope I'm wrong.
All the democrat's will vote NO.
They have plans to spend the 1.7 mill on other thing IE: County Health Department, Regional Crime Center etc. and who knows what else.
Dean Browning firstname.lastname@example.org will vote NO because he is up for re-election next year and wants to say he didn't vote for a TAX increase but, we know better.
Andy Roman email@example.com will vote NO for the same reason as Dean.
Thomas Creighton firstname.lastname@example.org 856-745-7073 will vote NO. This one bothers me, I had thought that he had more courage then this. I guess I'm wrong.
Percy Dougherty email@example.com 610-820-3060 Will vote NO just like he did last time. If you remember the young man that caused a disturbance at the forum we had, with the County Commissioners last year. This is why he was so upset with Percy.
The last meeting was for show, they really had no intension's of voting for this amended budget.
We only have one Commissioner that has any "courage" and that will be Glenn Eckhart he will Vote to approve the amended budget.
I need your support on the 27th, if for nothing else, to show them that we are awake and will hold them accountable.
Some people think, I work hard for people I believe in but, I really work hard if you disappoint me.
We made a good showing at the last meeting, lets see if we can do it again.
Tom Muller and the administration, think we pay too little in TAXES now, and should pay more.
spending not revenue is the problem