The Penultimate Budget Meeting (3)

(3rd in a series of posts on the Budget)

Here’s the proposed 2019 budget

Nicole Radzievich, “What Bethlehem taxpayers can expect from next year’s budget?” Morning Call, December 10, 2018.

Council President Waldron quipped about the full house at Town Hall on the 2 W. Market meetings compared to the 1 spectator at a $78m budget hearing.

So it goes. (Who recognizes that Kurt Vonnegut is still on Gadfly’s mind?)

There were five scheduled meetings of the Administration and City Council to discuss the 2019 budget.  One was snowed out. The last meeting was last night, and the sequence is well reported on in the above article by Nicole. Penultimate tinkering was done last night. The final, official budget will be voted on next Council meeting December 18. Some changes could occur before the vote. Here are some bullet points Gadfly plucked from Nicole’s article

  • $78m budget
  • 3.8% increase
  • + $34 for the average homeowner
  • a non-emergency call center will replace 911 service taken over by the county
  • city work force is down but pension payments rising
  • more road work will be done than in previous years
  • makeover at Memorial Pool
  • improvements to the Rose Garden
  • possible contribution to a feasibility study for a pedestrian bridge
  • uncertain amount but a one-time large tax income from Casino sale on the horizon
  • new fiscal plans for the Golf Course

Ho, hum, some people would say. But Gadfly found his very first experience with budget hearings very interesting. Here are a couple quick notes:

  • the interchanges were not only civil, but light and even humorous
  • no hassles like we hear about, for instance, in Allentown
  • it was good to hear and “recognize” department heads, people before mainly faceless
  • you can learn a lot when ideas are or have to be linked with money
  • neat seeing resident-based requests got into the budget

Gadfly’s antennae (he thinks he has more than one) were especially attuned to this last point. CM Reynolds introduced a request for Rose Garden money. CM Callahan pushed to increase it and to add funds for a pedestrian bridge feasibility study (funds for that seem to be imminently possible from the county and another granting agency as well). Rose Garden money was proposed out of the city budget, and additional money for the Rose Garden plus money for the bridge study were put on the list for consideration when that Casino tax income is definite. All of Council, as far as Gadfly could tell, were supportive of both the Rose Garden improvements and moving forward on study of the pedestrian bridge.

But what do the budget hearings look like? How does the process work?

Gadfly videographer Owen Gallagher took some video. We don’t have video editing software, so the following three clips are not focused on key moments or highlights but simply present the routine linear process (which had many twists and turns) monitored by President Waldron on the Rose Garden insertion into the budget. You can see CM Reynolds introduce the idea, then CM Callahan move to augment the idea. During the process you can see the mayor, especially Public Works head Mike Alkhal, and other Council members interact.

It would take NFL films to make this visually “exciting,” but exciting things are happening nonetheless.

Proponents of the Rose Garden should get a thrill. Looks like $$$$ flowing your way.

Pedestrian bridge is also on the radar.

Here’s your local government operating in perhaps the most important thing they do.

Budget Hearing 12=4=-18 Rose Garden 1
Budget Hearing 12=4=-18 Rose Garden 2
Budget Hearing 12=4=-18 Rose Garden 3

As Gadfly wrote in post #1, there is a feeling among Council that the City is doing a good budget job (A+ credit rating), and that was reflected in final comments last night. Shown here is CM Reynolds’s offering of appreciation to the City, which were followed by equally gracious remarks by President Waldron that unfortunately we didn’t film.

Why . . . Why? (2)

(2nd in a series of post on the Budget)

Steve Melnick has had a career in economic development for over 35 years in several states, with the last 20 years here in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly: The city has uncovered a three million dollar shortfall in the budget. and taxes are proposed to be increased 3.8%. Why, then, did the Redevelopment Authority give away $800,000 to a private developer for unspecified environmental issues? Why wasn’t the state ISRP (Industrial Site Remediation Program) used to provide assistance to the developer so the RDA could have reprogrammed that money for other more public uses. I realize that in the context of a $78,000,000 budget, $800,000 is small potatoes, but it still irritates me that that money wasn’t somehow reprogrammed to help the city close it’s shortfall while our taxes will increase. Incidentally this $800,000 grant was given to the same people who sold a parcel of vacant land to the same Authority for 2.1 million dollars. Does it make sense to buy a piece of land for 2.1 million and give the same people an $800,000 grant? Parking and development in Bethlehem is being hijacked by a few individuals who have little or no regard for the overall public good.


City gets an A+ ! (1)

(1st in a series of posts on the Budget)

Proposed 2019 Budget

What’s the City budget? Any idea?

Ballpark of $75,000,000/yr.

That’s $1000 per Bethlehem resident.

Wow! Gadfly never knew.

Gadfly knows you will say he needs a life, but he is looking forward to 5 budget meetings over the next couple weeks.

The Mayor has proposed the 2019 budget (see the link above), and now Council goes over it closely over the course of these 5 meetings.

It may be about the most important work that Council does.

Gadfly has attended meetings over the last few weeks where Council members have applauded the current A+ credit rating the City enjoys, which, I gather, in fairly recent history was not always so good.

Gadfly will report on the proceedings.

Nicole’s  articles will fill you in on the Mayor’s proposal.

Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem could see a tax hike next year.” Morning Call, November 10, 2018. (contains video of the mayor announcing)

Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez on Friday called for a 3.8 percent tax increase to balance a $78 million budget. The proposal would cost the average property owner an extra $34 a year, but the city will get enough money to fill a $3 million budget hole. The city’s pension payment is expected to increase by $2.2 million next year. The debt payment will rise by $250,000, and there are contractual raises in employee salaries. Donchez said the proposal will allow the city to maintain its strong balance sheet, which prompted Standard & Poor’s to award it an A+ credit rating, and keep the city safe, clean and a quality place to live.

Council President Adam Waldron said he had not received the budget as of Friday morning, but a small tax increase is expected. “The budget is very challenging because so many costs are fixed. There is little discretionary once you factor in public safety, pensions and health care,” Waldron said. “At each of the five budget hearings, council will do its best to identify anything unnecessary, but overall the administration has made some very positive decisions in the last couple years to get where we are … in regards to our bond rating and personnel head count.”

The tax increase will cover about $1 million of the projected budget hole next year. Bethlehem would make up another $1 million by reducing department budgets to what was spent in 2017. The city also will save about $750,000 when the operation of its 911 center is turned over to Northampton County by June of next year.

The proposed budget in Bethlehem would mean a tax hike of 0.67 mills in the Northampton County part of the city, bringing the total millage to 18.22 mills, and 0.21 mills in the Lehigh County part, bringing the total to 5.71 mills. The owner of a home assessed at $50,000 in Northampton County part would pay a $911 tax bill to the city.

Nicole Radzievich, “Here’s what Bethlehem’s proposed $5 million bond would go toward.” Morning Call, November 10, 2018.

Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez has proposed to borrow nearly $5 million to go toward covering some big-ticket projects in the next couple years.

For instance: Memorial Pool, Fire Dept trucks, Roads, Police body cameras.

For example:

Memorial pool

The city is hoping to make some waves with a new flagship pool on Illicks Mill Road. The old one, which was built 61 years ago, has been out-dated and in need of repairs. The city is about to launch a $4.5 million project to reconstruct it with more slides and more modern water play features, hoping to remake it as a destination pool. The pool was closed this year and is expected to be closed most of or all of next year while the construction takes place. (The neighborhood pools remain open.) The city has secured about $1.5 million in state grants for it and earmarked $600,000 brought in from recreation fees.

In the Gadfly house, budget times are narrow times.

Budget is a 4-letter word. “Holy Budget!” can often be heard rattling the windows.

Though there is an A+ rating for the City — and maybe because of it — there will be winners and losers.