SOUTH BETHLEHEM: Rep. Samuelson briefs task force
State Representative Steve Samuelson (D-135) brought the Mayor’s South Side Task Force up to speed on what is happening in Harrisburg during the task force meeting Nov. 28.
Samuelson reported on the omnibus gaming bill that was recently passed by the state legislature. “It included the local share for Bethlehem, where the Sands gives the equivalent of about $9 million to help the city budget,” said the state rep. “That was the necessary piece that we needed,” explained Samuelson for his “yes” vote. The bill’s passage led to the Sands Casino releasing the funds from an escrow account. “It’s about 13 percent of the city budget,” he added.
Another part of the new law allows for mini- casinos. “Each of the 10 existing category one casinos can bid to have a mini casino in another location,” said Samuelson. There is a limit on the number of slot machines and table games, as well as the stipulation these mini casinos could not be established within 25 miles of a category one casino.
Unlike a previous bill that permitted video gambling at any location in the commonwealth possessing a liquor license, the new law “had video gaming terminals at truck stops only,” according to Samuelson. This reduced the number of qualifying locations from 12,000 to 100-150. Samuelson said he had voted against the earlier bill.
The House is debating a bill to tax natural gas drilling said Samuelson, adding, “We are the only state that has drilling but does not have that extraction tax.” He reported that some in the legislature want to restrict the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s power in three critical areas. “Deemed approved,“ was an amendment to this bill that Samuelson voted “no” on. It would have allowed an application for a permit for fracking to be automatically approved after a 45 day wait.
“I am still working on my bill to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. We’re well over 95 co-sponsors, the most we have ever had for a bill to end gerrymandering,” Samuelson announced. The bipartisan bill is in committee. If passed, a nonpartisan commission of 11 Pennsylvania citizens would draw political district boundaries. Currently four party leaders, two Republicans and two Democrats, control the process. “We’re trying a system to get the party leaders out of the room,” he concluded.
“The deadline is Dec. 31 to get the 2016 rebate,” said Samuelson regarding the state property tax rent rebate.
Adrienne Washington from the Community & Regional Affairs office at Lehigh University expressed gratitude for the city’s partnering with them on improvements for the South New Street corridor improvements.
NCC Associate Dean of Community Education Gail Mrowinski, indicated that renovation work on the first floor of Northampton Community College’s Southside campus building is proceeding on schedule. “We should be moving in by June of the new year,” she said.
Estefania Perdomo from Community Action Development Corp. of Bethlehem (CADCB) said an old convent building in Allentown is being converted to dormitory-style housing for rent. Jan. 1, 2018 was the target date for completion of the renovations for the 28 rooms that would rent for around $400-$500 per month. CABCB is handling housing inquiries.
Kavei Murangi, a Lehigh Unuversity community fellow working with CADCB. Murangi reported an interest in reestablishing the block watch from their early November community meeting on Hayes Street.
Jennifer Pizarro, representing the Kids Peace foster care agency located in Fountain Hill, announced they will be holding evening open houses in January through March. These information sessions will be focused on recruiting bilingual families from the Southside to assist with the older children the agency serves.
Sara Bukowiec, new to the city business development and retention department, introduced herself at her first task force meeting.
Susan Vitez from The Steelworkers’ Archives said they were looking to interview former Bethlehem Steel employees at Sterling Heights Retirement Community for an ongoing oral history project soon.
Hayes Street residents Josephine Zavecz and Jackie Bayak complained that many residents and renters do not bring in their empty trash and recycling cans from the street after pickup. They said they would like to see the city ordinance enforced.
Janine Santoro spoke about several ongoing programs held at the Bethlehem Area Public Library Southside Branch. Among these free services are STEM workshops, various story time events, toddler play dates, teen community service opportunities, and homework help for kindergarteners through high school.