LEHIGH COUNTY - Fiscal officer reviews 2017 budget
Lehigh County Fiscal Officer Tim Reeves spoke to the Lehigh County Commissioners March 14 and explained the county’s budget at the end of 2017. He described the budget in terms of a “checking account” – the Operating Fund, and the “savings account” – the Stabilization Fund.
He said there is a $13.3 million variance (or change from one budget year to the next) that needs to be understood in terms of previous contracts or encumbrances which, when brought forward from 2017 to 2018, significantly reduce the variance – for example, the variance minus expected encumbrances will reduce the variance to $3.3 million.
Lehigh Commissioners approved the two resolutions that stalled at their previous meeting when Commissioner Amy Zanelli asked that the new civil rights provisions promulgated by Lehigh Executive Phillips Armstrong be included in contracts for two vendors.
The commissioners also approved a job classification and pay plan to reflect the new organization of the merged 911 centers.
The commissioners gave their preliminary approval to an amendment to the Articles of Incorporation for the Lehigh County Authority, extending the authority’s existence for the next 50 years.
LCA’s CEO, Leisel Gross, had earlier made her pitch for the need for a 50-year extension, citing the need to finance long-term, multimillion dollar capital projects which would require 20 or 30-year financing.
“Many of our facilities are 50 years old,” said Gross. “Our suburban facilities are getting older.”
Commissioner Nathan Brown, who is sponsoring the resolution, reviewed the proposed extension, saying that passing the measure would help the LCA meet its debt service and better manage its cash flow, which will help it finance capital projects such as water mains and manholes.
She said there are many ongoing needs for continued capital investment. Among the projects Gross named were plans to replace water mains at the rate of four miles or more per year at a cost of $7 million per year. She said some of the water mains are 50 to 100 years or more old.
Another long-term project is the replacement of underdrains built in 1958, which will cost $13 million.
South Allentown resident Joe Hilliard objected to the proposed 50-year extension of LCA’s charter. He described the past acquisition of local water and sewer systems by LCA as “a bill of goods” sold to the county and other municipalities.
“Only in government do you get two entities, said Hilliard, “that make a deal that ends up screwing them both.” He urged the commissioners to “not reward this kind of behavior.” Hilliard said he would provide more details to support his argument not to renew the LCA charter for 50 years at a future meeting.
LCA provides water and sewer service to over 55,000 customers in Lehigh County and Northampton County. It was founded in 1966 by the County of Lehigh and is governed by a nice-member board of directors according to its website.
LCA serves 14 municipalities, including Allentown, Upper Macungie Township, Lower Macungie Township, South Whitehall, Whitehall, Salisbury and Hanover townships.
The commissioners approved the appointment of three members to the LCA board of directors: Scott C. Bieber, Richard H. Bohner and Robert Elbich .
Commissioners appointed Dennis Hower and reappointed Tori Morgan, Kathy Rader Donna Wright, Steven Glickman and Kent Herman. to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
In a first reading, the board approved a grant to the Moravian Development Corp. for purchase, renovation and leasing of two single family homes to be operated under the Community Hospital Integration Project Program or CHIPP. According to the proposed resolution, Lehigh County has received money from the state’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to support discharges of several people from Wernersville State Hospital. This requires the purchase and renovation of two single family homes to be run by a contracted mental health provider.
Commissioners also gave preliminary approval to pass through a grant from PA Emergency Solutions Grant Program to the Community Action Committee of Lehigh Valley (LVCAC) for “renovation or rehabilitation of buildings to be used as emergency shelters.” The current grant received by the county for use by LVCAC is “a maximum” of $14,520, which brings the total grant to $169,003.