NEWS ANALYSIS - Bethlehem Township peers, public irked at commissioner’s comments
Pat Breslin is in his final year as a Bethlehem Township commissioner. He rarely speaks during meetings. But he gave WAEB-AM790 radio host Bobby Gunther Walsh an earful during a recent interview about township finances.
He portrayed himself as a fiscal watchdog concerned that the “train is off the track.” He warned that a tax increase is inevitable next year, meaning that the township will have raised taxes in two of the past three years. He lamented, “I’m only one person,” and called on the public to join him at the next commissioners’ meeting to help him “streamline” local government.
That meeting took place Feb 20. About five members of the public were there. The one resident who spoke about Breslin’s radio remarks took him, and not the township, to task. So did Breslin’s fellow board members
Taxes - Breslin’s chief complaint is increasing taxes. He noted that in his first year as a commissioner, the board depleted its rainy day fund, resulting in what eventually turned out to be a 17 percent tax hike the next year. Though no taxes were raised in this year’s budget, he “can almost guarantee a tax hike next year,” he said. He ripped the township for its borrowing, but neglected to say that he is one of the commissioners who voted for a $10 million line of credit on April 7, 2014.
Community Center - He also complained about $1.5 million in repairs needed at the 11-year old community center, saying the “government shouldn’t be in the gym business.” He never said that during a township meeting. On July 18, 2016, he was one of three commissioners who voted to hire an architectural and engineering firm for this gym business. On Sept. 19, 2016, he was part of a unanimous decision to seek a construction manager at the community center. He complained about a $725,000 note owed on the community center construction, but was unable to offer a single suggestion about how to do better.
Housenick Park - He lashed out at Housenick Park, which he mistakenly called “Housenick Mansion.” He called it a “money pit” and a “waste of taxpayer money,” adding that only 5 percent of township residents even know it exists. He slammed a trail at the park “that nobody uses.” He said he voted against the trail grant, but on March 2, 2015, was part of a unanimous vote in support of a $471,000 contract to complete the trails and build a driveway and parking lot. The funding for this came from a DCNR grant, matched by funds from the Housenick Park Trust.
Township engineer - He complained about the township engineer, saying the township has failed to issue an RFP (request for proposals) within the last eight years. But he was unable to tell Bobby Gunther Walsh what an RFP actually is. He said he thought the engineer was “gouging” the township.
Breslin neglected to say that, in his three years as a commissioner, he has been one of those unanimously voting to approve the township engineer about whom he complained.
Bill agenda - Complaining about the township’s “$18 million budget” (it’s actually $19.6 million), Breslin next turned his attention to the bill agenda, an assortment of bills that the township commissioners approve each month. “[I]f it was my job, I’d go through it every month and I could probably save 5-10 percent just negotiating, getting people to sharpen their pencils more.” Well, that is his job. Some commissioners occasionally do have questions about items on the bill agenda. Mike Hudak, Malissa Davis, Tom Nolan and Kim Jenkins have each questioned specific charges, and so do the township residents. But Breslin has never once uttered a word about the bill agenda in any meeting.
Streamlining - Breslin also said he wanted to “streamline” township government. When pressed by Bobby Gunther Walsh, he indicated he’d eliminate departments and staff.
Citizen reaction - Barry Roth said Housenick Park is no “money pit,” but has been self-contained. Money for its maintenance has come from a trust managed by luminaries like Judge Stephen Baratta, as well as grants from DCNR. “Please, do a little more research next time,” he suggested to Breslin. “Personally, I felt that we just looked like a bunch of fools.”
Commissioner reaction - Tom Nolan made clear he was disappointed by Breslin’s remarks,and thought they were deceptive. He was particularly irked at Breslin’s suggestion about eliminating township jobs, saying that sent a “totally wrong message to township staff.”
Malissa Davis said “we did not borrow more money for the last budget.” Mike Hudak, who is now president of the board and is doing an effective job at running meetings, told colleagues, “[w]e’re all certainly entitled to our opinions,” but, “We need to check the facts and not facts that are alternative facts.”