Councilman Callahan: The Department of Community and Economic Development is “over-bloated”

Latest in a series of posts on the City Budget

View the Mayor’s 2021 Proposed Budget

City Council December 15 video

For the purposes of voting at the December 15 City Council meeting, the budget was broken up into these 12 parts, corresponding to parts of the actual budget that you can see if you follow the link above.

Council took 12 votes.

All parts passed by a 7-0 vote except parts 8A, 8K, and 8L.

Parts 8A, 8K, and 8L passed 6-1, Councilman Callahan being the nay vote each time.

8A: General Fund Budget

This is the section of the budget containing the police and fire departments.

Councilman Reynolds had previously asked Chief Kott to report at this meeting with a community engagement plan for the department. The Chief read her response and discussion ensued with Councilfolk Reynolds, Negron, and Crampsie Smith. Councilwoman Crampsie Smith raised the troubling possibility of low morale in the Fire department. Gadfly will devote a separate post solely to this discussion.

Councilman Callahan indicated, without elaboration, that he would vote “no” on this section of the budget because of the cuts to the fire department and Lehigh University’s withdrawal of an annual $100,000 that had been going to fund city housing inspectors.

8K: Tax Rate

Councilman Callahan voted “no” here without elaboration.

8L: Stormwater

Gadfly had not been paying a lot of attention to this issue and thus has not reported on it to you previously. Here’s what he understands. The City has been mandated by the state to set a “Stormwater Collection and Management User Fee.” The City set the fee at $60 per homeowner. Council members — especially Crampsie Smith, Negron, and Van Wirt — have sought a way to alleviate that burden on low income residents and have questioned whether fees for the Housing Authority and School District would additionally be passed on to low income residents. There was thoughtful discussion. One option, for instance, might be a tiered system in which higher income people would pay more than $60 and low income residents would pay less or nothing at all. The City is considering options and further thoughtful discussion on the fee will take place early next year. See meeting video mins. 1:50:00-2:05:00.

The discussion of the stormwater piece of the budget ended in a way that highlighted tension over Councilman Callahan’s desire to cut the budget. Sounding much the fiscal conservative in contrast to liberal spenders, Councilman Callahan pointed out that we can’t just keep adding taxes and fees, that somewhere along the line we need to cut. He used the feasibility study for the pedestrian bridge again as an example of something that he was in favor of but that was improper funding at this particular time.  He predicted that next year at this time Council would again be faced with raising taxes. The Councilman reminded everybody that he tried to cut inspectors from the DCED budget — DCED being the only department that has grown significantly in the past six years and a department that is “over-bloated.” Councilman Callahan’s discussion engaged Councilman Reynolds and President Waldron and was marked with a reference to Councilwoman Van Wirt.

This part of the meeting outlines importantly different perspectives on the budget and is worth listening to (7 mins.):

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