Bethlehem: Council allocates block grants
Bethlehem City Council held a public hearing for the distribution of the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) at its Oct. 16 meeting in city hall.
The city will use $1,053,234 to help fund various projects, including $106,000 for street overlays, $73,526 for the Lynn Avenue Bridge and $15,000 for the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living.
The proposed CDBG budget also included $25,000 for employer assisted housing. This is the first year for the program and would help assist some city employees get housing in Bethlehem.
Councilman David DiGiacinto said he was "not very big" on the assisted housing program.
"It's not like our brethren out in the private sector, this is a use of public funds," DiGiacinto said. "This isn't St. Luke's or Just Born or somebody else using their money to help assist their employees who are first time buyers. This is public money, so I've had a road block in my mind about that funding."
DiGiacinto said that the employer assisted housing program was originally supposed to receive $30,000, but $5,000 was taken away and given to the Bethlehem Public Library.
Councilman William Reynolds was in favor of the program, however.
"We're always grumbling that not enough city employees live in the city," Reynolds said. "This is a good way to make sure our tax dollars stay in the city and not somewhere else."
Bethlehem resident Dana Grubb called the employer assisted housing program a "huge waste of a limited resource.
"I think it's very difficult to justify taking public funding, dedicating it to public employees who may not even live in the city of Bethlehem and not giving that money to the residents of the city," Grubb said. "I think that $25,000 would be much better spent on the residents of this city if it were dedicated to the Southside branch of the library."
Grubb was one of several people to speak out in support of giving the Southside branch more funding.
Bethlehem Public Library Executive Director Janet Fricker said that the library has raised about $400,000 of the estimated $500,000 it needs for renovations. Some of the remaining needed funding would help to pay for things such as furniture, which has not been updated at the Southside library since 1929.
"We need things like computer desks, which obviously was not something that was planned for in 1929," Fricker said.
Bethlehem School Board member Aurea Ortiz said the library gives "opportunity equality on the South Side.
"They need $100,000 and we can't provide all of that, but if we should support one sustainable program, this is the one," she said.
Under the current proposed CDBG budget, the library would receive $10,000 toward its renovations. The maximum a nonprofit organization can receive in CDBG grants is $38,000.
The next city council meeting has been rescheduled for Nov. 7 .