Bethlehem: Council, mayor agree on targets
Bethlehem City Council unanimously voted Dec. 5 to support Mayor John Callahan's proposal to have large nonprofits contribute funds to help close the city's budget gap.
Nearly 20 percent of Bethlehem's land is occupied by nonprofits, which cannot be taxed. Callahan's proposal does not call for a specific amount to be paid, but the mayor said he would like to see a $1 million total contribution. Lehigh University, Moravian College and Lehigh Valley Health Network are the main targets of the mayor's proposal.
"We're not breaking any new ground here," Councilman J. William Reynolds said.
Reynolds said that this is something that has been going on across the state and across the country for many years.
"Nobody is getting picked on here," Reynolds said. "Larger institutions with very large endowments across the country have done it, smaller liberal arts colleges have done it and I think it's more of a step in the right direction as far as not just supporting a municipal budget, because we have a large budget and this is just a small percentage of that. It's about coming up with the idea that they should be giving something toward these something toward these services."
Councilwoman Karen Dolan added that it would not be fair to make a request of the smaller nonprofits.
"Channel 39, generally speaking, does not have citizens in the street drunk throwing trash around," Dolan said. "No offense to college students, I was a college student once, as were many of us, and Channel 39 doesn't require the use of multiple vehicles going through the streets at a very, very high volume of traffic and the involvement of our emergency vehicles as well."
Councilman David DiGiacinto said he would have liked to see Arts Quest added to the list of nonprofits asked to pay, but Councilman Michael Recchiuti said it would not be fair to ask Arts Quest for any more money because they already pay the city for services during MusikFest.
Bethlehem resident and Lehigh University professor Stephen Antalics said that Lehigh does put back into the community.
"There's money there, you just don't see it," Antalics said. "What dollar value can you place on Lehigh helping Southside schools? They do it for free."
Antalics also added that singling out specific nonprofits is discriminatory and if the board does it to three, they should do it to all.
"Don't lean on the non-profits," Antalics said, "because they do provide us a service."