Budget passes with bipartisan support
Lehigh County Commissioners moved the proposed 2020 budget closer to the finish line Thursday when two Republican commissioners voted with the Democratic minority to pass County Executive Phillips Armstrong’s budget.
The 5–3 vote brought praise from Armstrong, who called Commissioners Nathan Brown and Marc Grammes, the Republicans, “statesmen,” not “partisan politicians.”
Republican Commissioner Percy Dougherty was not present for the vote because he was taken from the meeting room by emergency technicians to a hospital. Fellow commissioners thought Dougherty was in need of medical attention and called 911. Dougherty said in a later interview that he was suffering from an unspecified infection, but was in good spirits.
The rest of the meeting was spent hammering out amendments to the budget, which will be up for its final vote at the next regular meeting Oct. 23.
One amendment passed 5-3 reduced the originally proposed millage rate from 3.84 mills to 3.78 mills and reduces tax revenue by $1,795,094 and reduces the Stabilization Fund by the same amount. This reduction represented the compromise that brought two of the GOP commissioners to vote with their Democratic colleagues in support of the 2020 budget.
Republican commissioners Marty Nothstein and Brad Osborne’s amendment to reduce the millage rate even further failed 5-3.
Other budget amendments included adding a full-time forensic analyst to the RIIC staff; another added funds for a full-time deputy to the sheriff’s security staff ,and yet another added a full-time deputy to the sheriff’s warrant staff.
Dougherty’s absence torpedoed in a 4-4 vote an $11,000 grant to the Allentown Art Museum and an $8,800 grant to the Allentown Symphony.
Lehigh County Republican Party Chairman Giovani Landi argued, “no tax increase; cut expenditures.”
Resident John Donchez argued for no tax increase.
Commissioner Marc Grammes (Republican), who voted for the tax increase, used nautical metaphors to justify voting with Democrats and the Democratic administration. “In the Coast Guard we had to trust the pilot” to take the ship into the harbor. He urged his colleagues to “trust the experts,” that is, Lehigh County Fiscal Officer Tim Reeves, to make the right recommendations on the budget.
In other business, the commissioners approved the general obligation bond sale. The 30-year term bond is valued at $70.96 million according to Daryl Peck of Colonial Public Finance who handed the bond sale.
Peck also said Lehigh County retains its AA-1 bond rating from Moody’s.