Bethlehem Press

Friday, September 21, 2018
press photo by bernie o’hareNorthampton County’s centralized human services building in 2014, right after it opened. press photo by bernie o’hareNorthampton County’s centralized human services building in 2014, right after it opened.

Council ponders purchasing building

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Northampton County’s Centralized Human Services Building is located at 2801 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township. It was dedicated a little over four years ago, in April 2014. It was a dream come true for former Executive John Stoffa. He devoted his career to human services. Throughout two terms, he argued for a centralized location for the 80,000 clients who often need services from several departments. The county leases this building from Polaris Emrick Development at a rate of $1.05 million per year. Is it time to buy? That’s the question Executive Lamont McClure posed to county council Sept. 6.

It’s what’s called a triple net lease. What this means, according to McClure, is that the rent is slightly below market rate. But the tenant pays maintenance,insurance and taxes. Taxes alone are $190,000 per year, on top of the rental.

In March, the county can exercise an option in its lease agreement to purchase the building for $14,468,731. If you count the rent already paid, the actual purchase price will be $19.5 million.

McClure argued the county should exercise this option next year.

If the county fails to act, it will have to wait another five years until 2024, when it can buy the building for $16.3 million. With rent paid, the actual purchase price then will be $26.55 million.

If the county fails to act in 2019 or 2024, it will have a third option to purchase in 2029 for !8.5 million. The actual price, if you count rent already paid, would be $34.17 million.

If the county does nothing, it can purchase the property after 29 years and 10 months for $1. By then, it will already have paid $32.9 million.

Most of the money for this purchase has already been set aside. The county is still $200,000 short, but council member Ken Kraft noted after the meeting that it can get that money from the money it would otherwise have to pay next year for taxes.

The only complaint came from Peg Ferraro. She said she supports the purchase, but thinks the county should do a better job of gardening by the employee entrance, and offered to help herself.

In his report, McClure also reported on “TeleDoc,” a smartphone application with which courthouse workers can visit their doctor in cyberspace. It became available in early July, has 542 subscribers and has already saved the county $8,000 in medical insurance claims. McClure said the application saves the county $517 for each visit.

In other business, county council voted unanimously to seek a $300,000 grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority for streetscape improvements at the courthouse campus. These include wheelchair-accessible curbs, decorative lighting and a crosswalk from Washington Street to the Milides Building. McClure plans to demolish that building and increase the parking.