Bethlehem Press

Sunday, January 20, 2019
The forensic center design includes an area where family members can share a few final moments with a lost loved one. The forensic center design includes an area where family members can share a few final moments with a lost loved one.
press photos by bernie o’hareFormer county executives John Brown (left) and John Stoffa (right) were committed to a centralized human services building, which serves 80,000 people. press photos by bernie o’hareFormer county executives John Brown (left) and John Stoffa (right) were committed to a centralized human services building, which serves 80,000 people.

County to buy twp. human services building, then build forensic center

Thursday, November 15, 2018 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Northampton County Council voted unanimously Nov 1 to support a $39 million bond to purchase its Bethlehem Township human services building and build a state-of-the-art forensic center that includes something Coroner Zach Lysek has never had. A morgue.

The human services building, located on Emrick Boulevard, will cost $14,468,731.

Currently, Northampton County receives $800,000 from the state every year to help pay the $1 million annual rent at the human services building. If the county purchases the building, that money goes away. But if it borrows the money, it will continue to receive this money from the state.

As council member Matt Dietz observed, the county’s debt service will actually go down.

Before the vote, Executive Lamont McClure urged council “to be the county council that tackled long-term hard problems without the necessity in the foreseeable future of returning to taxpayers for any more real estate tax money.” Though the idea of a forensic center housing a morgue was foremost in the minds of council members, McClure said acquisition of the human services building matters even more. He said in the “very near future,” council will hear about some “dynamic 21st century programs that will be run out of the human services building that will protect children in a better way. That’s the big piece of this.”

The ordinance as drafted currently caps the bond interest rate at 5.5 percent Dietz wanted it lowered to 5 percent. He proposed an amendment, which was seconded by council member John Cusick.

Bond counsel Anthony Ditka said reducing the cap on interest was no problem, but added the bonds will be sold in 75 days. He said it is highly unlikely that rates will approach that level in that time period. On hearing this, Cusick withdrew his second and the amendment failed.

Cusick has been a staunch advocate of a forensic center, something he calls a “core function of county government.”

Dietz still supported the ordinance because he said he likes the leveraging of state money.

What about that forensic center? McClure told council that three sites are still under consideration. One is at the northeastern section of Louise Moore Park, next to Route 33. Another is at Gracedale, near the 911 Center and the now vacant helipad. A third unspecified location would be the result of a partnership with a medical facility looking to build a medical school.

Though no one identified this possible partner, St. Luke’s wants to start a medical school.

McClure said each site has advantages and disadvantages. He is still doing his due diligence. He was very clear that the budget will stay at or below $10.6 million.

Coroner Zach Lysek and architect Glenn Lichtenwalner presented drawings of the forensic center. It includes a public area and a separate area with 24 work stations, seven offices, work room and file room. It can store up to 24 bodies.

Currently, the county has no place to store bodies.

The body lab is where autopsies will be performed, as well as other tests performed on human remains.

The forensic center also includes digital forensics. Lysek explained that’s where cell phone analysis is performed, as happened recently in the lookalike drug case.

The design includes solar panels on the roof.

In other business, council introduced ordinances to terminate the Higher Education and Hospital Agencies because their roles have been assumed by the General Purpose Authority. Council also voted unanimously to end its lease with St. Luke’s for the helipad at Gracedale. That helicopter is now located at Geissinger Medical Center. They also agreed to purchase Bethlehem’s trunked radio network. That is for the consolidated 911 mandated by the .

They also removed Robert Scott from the Revenue Appeals Board. He’s been absent from that board for over six months, and has failed to respond to attempts to reach him.