Bethlehem Press

Sunday, September 23, 2018

FOUNTAIN HILL - Council passes budget

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 by Tracy RIce Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Following a month of open, public budget discussions, council heard some unhappy voices Nov. 6. The proposed 2018 budget includes a tax increase.

“I am on a fixed income and can’t afford an increase in taxes. If I have to be on a budget, so should Fountain Hill,” said a concerned resident from Tumbler Street. Council asked for suggestions on where they could cut expenses or where they could get the extra money needed to support the borough.

Finance and Personnel Committee chair Doug Trotter Jr. said the police and public works departments are also operating on fixed incomes, but he does understand the magnitude of increasing taxes for residents.

Trotter said in order to reduce an increase, you have to look at the services the borough provides to its residents. Those services are for the community. If the pool or library were closed you would have a lot of angry people, he said.

Council member Helen Halleman said, “I have never seen it this bad in the 16 years that I has been serving on the council.” She asked for a motion to close the pool and the library. Council voted 4-2 to keep those community services open. Another concerned resident from Warren Street said, “I will have to look at every avenue to save money, the taxes are more expensive than my mortgage.” Recreation Committee Chair Carolee Gifford said she is not happy that 40 percent of Fountain Hill’s property is tax exempt; the property in question being owned by St. Luke’s University Hospital, a nonprofit organization exempt from taxes.

According to Joe Patanella, a St. Luke’s representative, “The hospital contributes $30 million in charity throughout Pennsylvania and creates jobs for the Lehigh Valley.”

But the proposed 16.5 percent increase is high and will have many residents worried. Executive Administrator Anthony Branco said the borough is running on a three-month fund balance of $3 million. The fund balance is when liabilities are subtracted from assets, but it is a residual balance and not necessarily a cash amount. That sounds like a lot of money, but that has to cover reserved and unreserved expenditures. The borough tries to have enough in the budget or fund balance to cover what is needed and also in case of emergency expenses.

This year the borough has to replace a culvert on a gas line, which will cost between $1,200-$1,300. This was not factored into the 2017 budget, but there is no choice but to fix it in order to finish the rest of the gas line repairs already in the works.

Graham Street resident Valer Sicvasik said he is outraged that Graham Street is in such disrepair. He has a petition signed by residents from the surrounding streets to have the road fixed. Sicvasik said, “Graham Street gets more traffic because of St. Luke’s Hospital.” Council does not have Graham Street on its list of streets to be repaired. “It boils down to economics, and to find more federal money for the roads,” said Vice President Norman Blatt. Council agreed to put Graham Street on the list, but it could be several years before it is fixed.

Council is able to get Community Development Block Grant from the federal government, but they have a list of requirements and it is not an easy process. Branco said he would look to see if Graham Street meets the requirements for future funding and fixing.

Administrators recently met with city of Bethlehem officials and received a preliminary report regarding non-functioning fire hydrants in the borough. They will also be receiving maintenance reports as they become available.

After careful inspection, the American Legion has requested that the monument it originally wanted to put at the Tinsley-Jeter Triangle will be moved near the flagpole behind the VIA thrift store. Council had no arguments and passed the motion.

The holiday season approaches, but for once residents will not be able to purchase Christmas trees from the fire department, which was unable to organize and staff the event.

On a positive note, the recreation committee continues with cleanup efforts throughout the borough. “The cleanup at Fountain Hill ES was very spirited,” said Gifford. They are always happy to have new volunteers. It is a way for residents to participate and there is a sense of camaraderie. Check the Fountain Hill website (fountainhill.org) for any upcoming cleanup dates.

Don’t miss the holiday tree lighting Dec. 3, at 4 p.m. at the Tinsley-Jeter Triangle. There is a new Christmas tree this year. It will be much smaller. The old one had to be removed because it had grown too large for the area it was in.