Brown: Operate county cost-effectively
Northampton Executive John Brown, speaking at a PBS 39 studio in South Bethlehem, told a group of five Northampton County residents, reporters and part of his Northampton County staff that the 2,200 county employees "do a phenomenal job.
"We exist for one reason; to be of service," Brown said July 28 at one of several planned town hall meetings.
"My primary job is to be of service. It's not what I say and do, but what the employees do day to day. Get the employees to come along with you. They're the ones who do the work," Brown said.
Taxes and service
Brown, formerly the mayor of Bath before winning his office as Northampton County executive, said he plans to operate the county as cost-effectively as possible, to keep taxes as low as possible and provide the services in the most effective way.
He said he sees himself and his staff as pro-business and are there to help "remove roadblocks."
Brown introduced Luis Campos, his newly-hired office manager, and Diane Donaher, his director of Community and Economic Development.
Brown is also looking for ways to cut spending by evaluating current government operations and contracts, "looking for space between cracks ... Key is our employee base, which is giving us guidance for places to save," Brown said. He said he is also evaluating county contracts.
One expense he would like to see lowered dramatically is at Gracedale Nursing Home, where employees are costing the county an extra $2.5 million per year because of excessive employee absences he described as "bad habits."
"There is up to a yearlong lag between billing Medicare and Medicaid and getting a payment," Brown said. He has asked his staff to find ways to shorten time between billing and payment. Brown said Gracedale needs to maximize residents and collect revenue.
When asked if he expects Gracedale to make a profit, Brown said, "Breaking even would be ideal."
Bethlehem attorney Thomas Carroll asked Brown if there is a break-even point for bed count at Gracedale.
Brown said it wasn't easy to determine a break-even point, but that keeping 652 to 655 beds or residents was optimal.
Carroll also asked Brown if he had had any conversations about the feasibility of adding problem-solving courts to the judiciary system.
By problem-solving courts Carroll meant special courts to handle specific categories of problems such as drug issues, behavioral and mental health and veterans' issues.
Brown said he was aware of the subject, and while it has been discussed, it has a lot of moving parts.
Referring to the new interchange under construction at Route 33 and Main Street in Palmer Township, Brown said, "We have a lot of opportunities."
In a later interview, Donaher said the interchange, when completed in late fall, will open up development of property in the area.
Donaher said a planned business park to be built by the Charles Chrin Companies will employ 5,500 people.
Brown also singled out Northampton County's Department of Corrections as a government function that he will examine for cost savings. He said it costs $96 per day per prisoner. The prison population averages 600 to 670 inmates.
In response to a question about the county's retirement fund by East Allen Township resident Paul Wozniak, Brown said, "Our pension plan is quite healthy." He said the fund has been getting an 18 percent return on its investments. He said the pension fund was 81 percent funded at the end of 2014.