NORCO: Residents will see no tax hike
For 2014, Northampton County residents will see no increases in their county tax.
By a 7-2 vote, county council approved the $330 million spending plan, but not without considerable discussion of the more than two dozen budget amendments that needed approval.
This is the seventh budget and county Executive John Stoffa's final budget that has seen no tax increase. Council President John Cusick, who is also stepping down as a council member, said that the new council and executive will have a difficult time preparing a no-tax increase budget in the future.
For homeowners, the county tax rate stands at 10.8 mills, which means $540 a year for a property assessed at $50,000.
The budget amendments succeeded in raising an additional $2 million in revenue and cutting $92,000 in expenses. These changes helped to balance the budget which will draw on $16 million from the county's general fund.
Councilman Scott Parsons, who supported the budget, said that in 2013 the budget was balanced with $19 million from the general fund and the county has spent just half of that this year. Parsons said it was unlikely that in 2014 the county would need all of the $16 million from the county's reserve fund. In 2014, the county will have about two months' of operating expenses or $16 million for emergencies.
With a growing county population, the federal mandate of the Affordable Care Act and the coroner's office and the district magistrates' offices being understaffed and out-of-date, all requests for additional personnel were approved at a cost of $626,000. In total, nine full-time positions and 2.7 part-time positions were created with one full-time position and a 0.5 part-time position eliminated.
Next year's budget will include a 2.5 percent raise for non-union employees and a 2.25 percent increase for part-time non-union employees. With the additional out-of-pocket health care payments employees will be making, these raises will not see more money going home with the employees but are in keeping with what the unions have negotiated in their contracts with the county.
Part-time county employees have been hit hard by Easton's commuter tax, said Councilman Lamont McClure. "They have seen their pay reduced by 5 percent," added McClure.
According to the Stoffa administration's prepared budget statement, "Personnel costs constitute 44.9 percent of proposed total operating budget expenditures. These costs increased by approximately $8 million (5.7 percent). Salaries, which comprise 27.9 percent of proposed total operating budget expenditures, increased approximately $3.7 million (4.2 percent). Fringe benefit costs, which represent 17 percent of proposed total operating budget expenditures, increased approximately $4.3 million (8.3 percent)."
To balance these personnel budget items, council made about $960,000 in cuts to open space funding. Council also rejected a request for $125,000 from the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority. The Airport Authority is in financial difficulty and is trying to raise revenue by the possible sale of Braden Air Park, which council strongly opposes.
Anticipated revenue of $2 million from the sale of the Wolf Building in Easton and Gracedale's bed licenses also contributed to a no-tax increase budget.
Cusick extended his thanks to all who helped prepare the 2014 budget and for the ability to live in a democracy which enables people who don't all agree to reach decisions.