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NorCo council gives next controller a $10,000 raise

Monday, March 26, 2018 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

When the next Northampton County Controller is sworn into office in January 2020, he or she will be paid $10,000 more than the $65,000 annual salary that Bucky Szulborski receives now. On March 15, a divided county council approved the raise by a 6-2-1 vote. Voting for the increase were John Cusick, Matt Dietz, Peg Ferraro, Ken Kraft, Bob Werner and Tara Zrinski. Voting no were Lori Vargo Heffner and Ron Heckman. Bill McGee abstained.

Cusick’s original proposal also included raises for the next executive ($85,000 to $95,000) and council ($9,500 to $10,500). But at a committee meeting, Ken Kraft said it would make more sense to propose a Charter amendment so voters could decide. He also said future raises should be tied to the Consumer Price Index so that the salaries go up automatically and never have to be revisited.

“It’s a political football,” he said. “No matter what you do, it’s a no-win situation.”

Cusick amended his original pay raise proposal so that it applies only to the controller. The current $65,000 salary is too low to attract a good candidate, he argued. “When we went out for the position, we had three people respond,” he observed.

Heckman said he was voting no “as a matter of conscience.” Vargo Heffner voted no and explained that she has only been in office a few months and doesn’t want people to get the impression that the first thing she’s doing is giving elected officials a raise. McGee had said he thought the voters should decide all the raise questions.

Less controversial was a Home Rule Charter amendment, also proposed by John Cusick. This will change the current Charter to read that the “Controller shall devote full time to the office ... .” Cusick explained that this would allow the controller to pursue part-time activities like refereeing football or teaching, so long as here is no interference with the full-time position. This measure passed unanimously and the voters will decide. .

In other business, Council voted unanimously to approve a tax incentive known as a LERTA to help improve blighted property in Upper Mount Bethel Township. Under a LERTA, a property owner will continue paying taxes, but any improvements made to the property are gradually phased in over a period of 10 years.

Former State Rep. Rich Grucela spoke in support of the LERTA. “It will really help us in the slate belt to provide some jobs,” he said.

Council also considered two matters related to the PennEast pipeline. They voted unanimously to support a request that the Delaware Rover Basin Commission exercise its jurisdiction over the pipeline to prevent a degradation of water quality in the Delaware Basin. But Peg Farraro voted against a resolution seeking a new hearing on federal approval of the pipeline. Ken Kraft and Bill McGee, both of whom are trade union agents, abstained.

They also voted unanimously to give deputy sheriffs $800 for the annual Easter Egg hunt at Louise Moore Park on March 24 at noon. Before voting Yes, Tara Zrinski wanted to make sure that he plastic eggs were either biodegradable or recycled. Fortunately, they are.

Council also voted unanimously to approve Lamont McClure’s appointments and re-appointments to several boards.

Children, Youth and Families Advisory Board: Angela Scott Ferencin (Bethlehem), Susan Grassi (Easton) and Frank Pologruto (Bethlehem).

Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board: Janette Zuk (Easton)

Housing Authority: Christopher Gulotta (Easton)

Industrial Development Authority: Thomas O’Donnell (Nazareth)

LANTA: Cordelia Miller (Bethlehem) and Kevin Lynn (Bethlehem)

LVPC: Malissa Davis (Bethlehem Tp), John Diacogiannis (Hanover Tp) and Kevin Lott (Hellertown)

Mental Health Advisory Board: Frank Pologruto (Bethlehem)

Revenue Appeals Board: Thomas Carocci (Bethlehem)