Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, January 22, 2019
press photo by bernie o’hareMeadows Bridge, first built in 1858, was used by Lower Saucon Township farmers transporting grain to a nearby mill press photo by bernie o’hareMeadows Bridge, first built in 1858, was used by Lower Saucon Township farmers transporting grain to a nearby mill

NORCO Some county retirees to see larger pension checks

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Northampton County’s Retirement Board, which manages the pensions of roughly 2,000 county retirees, has voted to end a practice that was chipping away at pension checks. To be specific, the board has directed the county to stop deducting medical contributions from retiree benefits after determining that the practice is illegal. The board made this decision May 3.

The practice of deducting medical contributions from pensions started under former Executive Bill Brackbill in the early 90s. Every executive since that time has increased this deduction. At the current time, about $400,000 is deducted from the pensions of retirees every year.

Executive Lamont McClure informed council about the Retirement Board’s action when Council met later that day

Gerald E. “Jerry” Seyfried, the retiree’s representative on the board and himself a former executive, complained that some retiree pension checks were being reduced by as much as $300 a month.

The practice was determined to be a violation of the nonimpairment clause of the Home Rule Charter and Pennsylvania State Constitution, the latter of which provides that “[n]o ex post facto law, nor any law impairing the obligation of contracts, or making irrevocable any grant of special privileges or immunities, shall be passed.”

Most retirees will still contribute to their medical coverage, but whatever they were paying as an employee will be locked in at retirement.

McClure also updated council on the following matters:

* Sheriff’s appointment - McClure is advertising the position. McClure denied that the acting sheriff will automatically become the sheriff unless he acts soon.

* Chrin TIF - In October 2011, Charles Chrin sought a special tax break called a TIF from Northampton County for a 689-acre business park he was proposing at the northern end of Palmer Township. A TIF is a special arrangement which allows a developer to use real estate taxes to fund more infrastructure improvements. It requires the approval of the municipality, school board and county. The TIF had already been approved by Palmer Township and the Easton School District. But the county had to sign off as well.

Former council member Ron Angle negotiated a commitment from Chrin to set aside 1.5 per cent of the net sales price of each lot as sold for farmland preservation, capped at $2 million. According to then Executive Stoffa, this money would be used to get matching grants from the state, and thus enable the county to preserve 650 acres of farmland.

What Chrin is doing is conveying parcels to a straw party for nothing, and then have the straw party sell it off for consideration. Since there is no profit in the original sale, he could argue he owes nothing. But he would offer the county a sum, and former Executive John Brown would accept it.

Chrin was Brown’s largest campaign donor.

That was then. Lamont McClure is now executive, and he just rejected an offer of $25,000 from the sale of three parcels to a straw party because it perverts the arrangement between the county and Chrin.

* Meadows Bridge needs to be replaced. - Meadows Bridge, located in Lower Saucon Township, is a magnificent stone arch bridge that was built in 1858 so that local farmers could transport their grain to the Levi S. Moyer grist mill. As the land around it was developed and construction trucks crossed, the bridge began showing signs of wear. A recent PennDOT inspection resulted in a decision to close the bridge.

This is one of 33 bridges that had been slated for repairs as part of a special P3 project, under which these bridges were conveyed to the General Purpose Authority. Kriger Construction is doing the repair work. It now needs to be replaced. McClure told council that Kriger Construction, the company working on the bridges, will have to be informed.

* McClure asks for council review of the P3 project. - One of the unfortunate side effects of this P3 project initiated is friction between Executive Lamont McClure and what he has called a “rogue” General Purpose Authority. They canceled a meeting scheduled this past week. Executive Lamont McClure repeated his request that council begin its own review. “We’re going to get this done,” he said of the project, but he is unhappy at what he has discovered.

In addition to an $810,000 bill for two years of legal work and an unprecedented bill from the authority chair, McClure has learned that only eight of the 33 bridges slated for repairs are rated as structurally deficient. One of the bridges slated for replacement is rated at 96 percent.

* Procurement Code Overhaul - Technically, it’s Article XIII of the Administrative Code. It has led to more acrimony between the executive and council than any other issue over the years. It has also led to several lawsuits. When John Brown was executive, money was set aside for a “study,” but it was still unspent .

Steve Barron, who was controller under Brown, asked McClure to let him re-write it.

“First, I have to get elected,” answered McClure. He was, and he let Barron loose. Barron worked on revisions with Procurement Manager Kathryn Anderson, Deputy Manager Terry Beidelman and Anthony Sabino, the lead auditor in the controller’s office. After several months, it was presented to council’s Finance Committee, where it underwent lengthy discussion. The revisions were adopted unanimously, with minor amendments, after a public hearing.

McClure complimented the authors of these changes.