On Oct.13, Northampton County Council conducted the first of four budget hearings scheduled for Executive John Brown’s proposed 2017 Budget. So far, there’s little indication that part-time elected officials plan any big changes to a $379 million spending plan that lays no one off and raises no taxes. But it’s a great opportunity for council members to meet the people who actually make the wheels of government turn. They always have insights about their departments. Here are a few brief highlights:
At their Sept.19 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted unanimously to seek a construction manager for $2.5 million in repairs needed at the community center. “Nobody that’s applying for this job should have had anything to do with what’s there now,” suggested resident Barry Roth. “I can guarantee that,” responded Commissioner Michael Hudak.
State Senator Lisa Boscola is the prime sponsor of a senate bill (SB484) to eliminate gerrymandering in Pennsylvania by establishing an independent citizens’ commission to draw the boundary lines for Congressional and state legislative seats every 10 years. Republican Dave Parker, a state representative from Monroe County, has offered a virtually identical bill in the state house (HB 1835).
At the time of a recent gerrymandering forum at Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethlehem, there were few cosposnors. But the list has grown, and includes most Lehigh Valley legislators.
Nearly a million people from around the country attended Musikfest this year to follow headline acts like Run-DMC and Lady Antebellum. But believe it or not, the crowd was much smaller Oct. 6 when Northampton County Council departed from their Easton location to visit Bethlehem’s Steelstacks, where Octoberfest was scheduled to continue the next day. Aside from the press and a few county officials, the only visitor was from Pen Argyl.
Northampton County owns no public roads, but it does own and maintain 115 bridges. According to a two-year old study by Keystone Crossroads, 25 percent of these county-owned bridges are structurally deficient, meaning they need repairs or replacement. Three have been closed. Bridge repairs are costly. The county budgets about $780,000 a year for bridge maintenance. In 2013, then-Executive John Stoffa persuaded Northampton County Council to float a $7.1 million bond that would only fix nine bridges.
In August, Bethlehem Township Commissioners tabled the engineering of a $3.9 million re-paving project for Brodhead Road. That’s an 8,500-foot road between Township Line Road, which borders Hanover Township, and Route 191. This road is a major thoroughfare for truck traffic at adjoining industrial parks, and few dispute it is in need of serious repair. But after being shot down on a $2.7 million grant request with the Commonwealth Financing Agency in July, township officials became concerned about cost.
The Bethlehem Press recently ran a series about gerrymandering and the bipartisan redistricting reform bills sponsored by State Senator Lisa Boscola and State Rep. David Parker.
One longtime advocate of this kind of reform is NorCo Council member Peg Ferraro, a Republican. She was in the audience at a recent forum concerning the gerrymander at Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethlehem. She and Democrat Ken Kraft agreed to cosponsor a resolution calling on the state legislature to enact changes in the redistricting process that will prevent legislators from picking their voters.
In 2000, then County Executive Glenn Reibman advised council that a new jail was needed to replace one built in 1871. He proposed a multi-phase plan, and got one $29 million addition.
In 2008, then Executive John Stoffa informed council that a new jail was needed, and proposed moving county offices to Gracedale while building a new jail at a cost ranging between $130 and $160 million. Stoffa got a work release center in West Easton for a maximum of 100 residents.
Now, it’s Executive John Brown’s turn. At a Sept. 14 meeting, Corrections Director Dan Keen pitched a new jail.
Whether they love her or hate her, few would dispute that Democrat Lisa Boscola is very popular in her state senatorial district, which includes Bethlehem. Some of her Bethlehem constituents may actually love her. But leaders in the state house and senate? Not so much.
“I swear, if there was a bridge you could build to New Jersey, they’d put me there,” she only half-jokes.
By an 8-0 vote, Northampton County Council decided at its Sept. 1 meeting to take the show on the road. Believe it or not, their first stop, on Oct. 6, will be at ArtsQuest SteelStacks. If all goes well, council will consider meetings in all four corners of the county. Several membersjokingly suggested Detzi’s Tavern, a popular sports bar in Wind Gap.
In county business, council voted 8-0 to adopt a resolution opposing state legislation that will prohibit county recorders from charging fees when condominium association amendments are indexed against individual owners.