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Friday, September 22, 2017

NorCo Council Adopts Bethlehem LERTA

Allyson Lehr
Last night, by a 5-3 vote, Northampton County Council approved a LERTA program in North Bethlehem. Ken Kraft, Seth Vaughn, Mat Benol and Bob Werner voted Yes. Hayden Phillips, Matt Dietz and President John Cusick cast No votes. Peg Ferraro, who did support the LERTA, was apparently kidnapped by the forces of darkness and missed the meeting. This left everything in the hands of Glenn Geissinger, the sole Council member who said nothing.

He voted Yes.

For those of who who just aren't up tp date on all the tax gimmicks out there, LERTA is an acronym for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance.

Property owners inside a LERTA zone may apply for a tax break for improvements that increase assessment, upon which all real estate taxes are based. They will continue paying full taxes on the land assessment, but the increase in assessment resulting from improvements like a new roof or front porch can be phased in gradually over a period of ten years.

To me, these are the least offensive of the tax breaks. Generally, NorCo Council will approve a LERTA if it has been approved by the City and school district, as is the case here. But the sheer size of the area, combined with LERTA failures in Easton and philosophical concerns about picking winners and losers, made county officials hesitate.

What is this area? It's the northern neighborhood near Moravian College. Its boundaries are Maple Street on the east, Main Street and Mauch Chunk Road on the west, Broad Street on the south and East Laurel on the north. "It's not the most depressed in Bethlehem, but it's not the most affluent, either," said Bethlehem Housing and Community Planner Allyson Lehr back in August. She said the area could go "either way." She believes a LERTA will help this area from becoming a "problem neighborhood."

Why a LERTA? here's what Lehr told Council in August.
  • There are 8,156 properties in this area, and 59% of them are rentals. A LERTA gives a landlord an incentive to make improvements.
  • A majority of properties inside this district are rated C or D by county assessors.
  • Three schools - William Penn Elementary, Liberty High School and Thomas Jefferson - are either inside or immediately outside this district. They have all shown an alarming increase in the percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunches. At Liberty High School, that percentage has increased from 34% in 2005 to 55% in 2015. At William Penn Elementary, 77% of the children are getting free or reduced lunches. It's 72% at Thomas Jefferson. "There's an indicator that there's some kind of economic distress in that area," observed Lehr.
  • 208 homes in the proposed LERTA district are vacant in what should be a desirable area just a stone's throw from the downtown.

After Lehr's excellent presentation, I decided to see how successful Easton has been with its smaller LERTA, which also includes residential properties. It has been a failure:
1. The Easton LERTA district comprises 859 properties of all kinds, from residential to commercial and industrial. While this is quite large, it is only about 1/10th the size of the 8,156 properties for which a LERTA is being sought in Bethlehem.

2. In the five years that Easton's LERTA has been in effect, only 72 properties have enrolled in the program, with 56 in progress and 16 under construction. This is a fairly low number.

3. Only 46 residential properties have taken advantage of the LERTA. Even fewer, just 26, are commercial.

4. Twenty-one of these properties are completely exempt from all real estate taxes because they are in the Keystone Opportunity Zone, another tax incentive program in which virtually all taxes, except federal income taxes, are exempt. This includes the Simon Mill (19 parcels), old City Hall (1 parcel) and Governor Wolf Building (1 parcel).
But Bethlehem, unlike Easton, recently adopted a Financial Accountability Incentive Reporting (FAIR) program, thanks to Bethlehem Council president Willie Reynolds. This will enable Bethlehem to keep an eye on its LERTA.

Willie, who is used to being in a room full of Democrats, had an eye-opening experience when he visited NorCo Council two weeks ago and again last night. But he was quite conciliatory when he addressed County Council and thanked them  "Now is not an easy time to be in government," he said.

I had considered bribing John Cusick to tell Reynolds his time was up as soon as he got to the podium.

Though I think the LERTA will accomplish nothing in Bethlehem, I expected to see it pass last night.

But that was before an amendment to the LERTA ordinance was introduced last night.It was about 7,000 pages long and was itself completely full of errors.

It took Council nearly an hour of meeting time to sort through the mess and correct it.

When it was time to discuss the ordinance on its merits, Hayden Phillips and Matt Dietz repeated their argument that the government was"picking winners and losers."

John Cusick's opposition was a bit more nuanced. First, he complained about the the 10-5-0-50split among the three taxing entities. Second, he thinks the area issimply toolarge. Third, he'd like to see the City use all the other tools available.

"This whole body is amazing to me," said Ken Kraft, who would love to be in a room full of Democrats. "We're not picking winners and losers. We're taking an area out of blight."

 Kraft also said that Bethlehem is more proactive than Easton and won't be the LERTA failure that Easton is.
Bob Werner, who represents Easton, was outraged and challenged Kraft to a duel. Today at dawn, they rowed across the Delaware so that Morganell is unable to prosecute them. I will report the details when they come.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

LVEDC Claims LV GDP Was $39 Nillion in 2016

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is claiming in a statement that the Lehigh Valley’s gross domestic product (GDP) for private sector industry has grown to a record-high $39.1 billion for 2016, a more than 4 percent increase over the previous year.

“It’s truly remarkable to consider that the economic output of our two counties has increased to the point that it’s larger than two states,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). “We saw growth across each of our economic subsectors, and manufacturing continues to grow in the Lehigh Valley, making up an even larger percentage of the regional economy than last year.”

The findings released Sept. 20 by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show that the Lehigh Valley economy now ranks 65th out of the 382 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, compared to ranking 73rd last year.

The Lehigh Valley GDP is now larger than of Wyoming ($38.5 billion) and Vermont ($31.5 billion), as well as 108 other countries in the world. If the Lehigh Valley were a country, it would be the 87th largest in the world in terms of economic output.

A breakdown of the total GDP by subsector, as well as the rate of year-over-year growth, can be found below:
· Finance, insurance, and real estate: $8 billion (+5.9 percent)

· Manufacturing: $6.9 billion (+2.6 percent)

· Education and health care: $5.3 billion (+4.6 percent)

· Professional and business services: $5.3 billion (+4.2 percent)

· Retail trade: $2.3 billion (+3.2 percent)

· Information: $1.9 billion (+1.6 percent)

· Transportation and warehousing: $1.9 billion (+9.5 percent)

· Arts, accommodation, and food services: $1.6 billion (+5.4 percent)
Manufacturing year-over-year growth was led by a 4.5 percent increase in non-durable goods manufacturing. This includes food and beverage and chemical products, which reflects two of the target sectors of the Lehigh Valley (food & beverage processing and life science research & manufacturing) as identified by LVEDC.

Transportation and warehousing is the fastest-growing sector of the regional economy, according to the BEA, with 9.5 percent growth year-over-year.

Goods-producing industries in the Lehigh Valley economy increased by 3.4 percent, according to the BEA, while service-producing industries increased by 4.4 percent.

These GDP figures derive from the BEA and were analyzed and presented by George Lewis, LVEDC Director of Research and Analysis. GDP rankings of other countries come from the World Bank. The BEA adjusts its figures to account for new information and projections, so numbers that have been reported for previous years may have been changed or adjusted over time.

2016 is the most recent year for which measurable GDP data is available. The $39.1 billion GDP figure does not account for government spending.

(Blogger's Note: This post is based on information supplied by LVEDC and cites its sources).

Updated: Property Tax Town Hall Includes Some Mini Profiles in Courage

Deb Hunter
Last night, well over 200 people cascaded into Bethlehem Township's meeting room to hear three state senators (Lisa Boscola, Dave Argall and Mario Scavello) talk about school property taxes. I went in there to cover the story for a few local papers, and my actual story is located here. t publishes in one of those papers, I'll provide a link.  Basically, the idea is to eliminate property taxes (they can still be levied to pay off existing debt) and replace them with an increase and expansion of sales tax (7%) and an increase in income tax (3.07% to 4.95%).if a school district wants more money, it has to ask the voters. They will almost certainly say No.

Most of the people in that room were avid fans of property tax elimination. As someone who has my own doubts about the merit of this idea, I'd agree that many of their arguments were persuasive. But as always happens when there's a one-sided group, there's a tendency to shout down those with a contrary view.

With that in mind, I want to mention that three women had the courage to stand up and express their reservations. Bethlehem's Linda Robertson was loudly booed when she suggested that if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. But she stood her ground, and one of the panelists chided the crowd. Believe it or not, the crowd improved.

Deb Hunter is a brilliant woman who ran for Northampton County Council four years ago. After Linda was booed, she voiced her concerns anyway. So did Salisbury Township's Elizabeth Lechner.

As profiles in courage go, these are small examples. But it was refreshing to see these three people take a principled stand in unfriendly waters.

It was also encouraging to see so many people who have been actively working on property tax reform for may years.One gentleman from York, Joel Sears, actually presented an analysis of 15 properties in Northampton and Lehigh County  to demonstrate the disparities in property tax.

I rarely see this kind of interest in government. What I saw last night gave me hope for us.

The only disappointment was some selfish asshole who even begrudged having to fund school lunches.

I hope he gets a lump of coal for Christmas.

(Blogger's Note. Originally published 3:59 am and updated to include a link to my story.) 

NorCo Council Considers Establishing Home Rule Study Commission

Yesterday, Northampton County Council's Governance Committee was set to discuss all kinds of questions. Was its ordinance limiting Council members to three terms legal? Was its proposal to limit the County Executive to two terms legal? Why is the Executive limited to two terms and Council limited to three terms? Should it impose job qualifications on the Controller? Should he be barred from officiating at football and baseball games on weekends?  Once that happens, should he be term limited, too?  Each of these questions was looking for an answer by way of Home Rule Charter amendment, which requires a public referendum. Each of these matters was placing Council members in serious danger of running aground, and without the benefit of their legal lifeguard, Solicitor Phil Lauer. He usually only attends the full Council meetings.

All of this had me concerned, but I was shocked to see that Council members themselves were concerned, too. They did something very rare yesterday. They put on the brakes and asked themselves, "What the hell are we doing?"  And they decided that it's really time for a home rule charter study commission.

Most counties follow the county code and are a three commissioner form of government in which one commissioner must be a member of the minority party. This prevents a tyranny of the majority. But Northampton County is different.. It is what is known as a home rule county. It is governed by a Charter which first went into effect in 1978, nearly 40 years ago. This Charter, which I sometimes mention in my blogs, is the equivalent of the County's Constitution. Under this Charter, the County is governed by an elected Executive and nine elected Council members instead of three Commissioners. Row offices like the Recorder of Deeds, Sheriff, Register of Wills and Coroner are appointed, not elected.

I was unaware of this, but the Home Rue Charter was actually opposed by the Northampton County Democratic Party. They like having a lot of row offices with the accompanying patronage. But some prominent Democrats like Congressman Fred Rooney bucked he party and decided that professionalism trumps cronyism.

Lehigh County also adopted a home rule charter around the same time as Northampton County.

Today, there are home rule charters in Allegheny, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties.

After 40 years, is it time to end the experiment and return to a Commissioner form of government? Or should we keep the Charter and just improve on what is working and eliminate what is not? This is what a home rule charter study can accomplish. A home rule charter study commission is elected by the voters and they make a proposal that voters can either accept or reject.

Do we need nine Council members? Would it make more sense to have an appointed Executive who is paid an appropriate salary? Should the Controller's office be converted to a nonpartisan position like a judge instead of forcing someone to run for political office and then insist he be nonpartisan? Should the Sheriff be appointed to a five or ten year term to avoid the political process? Should the provisions concerning recall, which have been declared unconstitutional, should be removed? Who appoints the Voter Registrar, the Executive or the Elections Commission? Wouldn't it make more sense to have the court serve as the Elections Commission so they can decide whether a referendum question is legal? Should there be term limits?  Should salaries of elected officials be tied to the consumer price index so that there is no need to revisit salaries and the grandstanding that results? Is it time to strengthen the Career Service provisions? Should cabinet officials or other employees be barred from working with a county vendor for a period of time after they leave the county's employ? Should we define more clearly what political activity is appropriate? Are the citizen participation provisions adequate?

These are all good government questions. After 40 years, it makes sense that the a charter be reviewed and strengthened or abolished?

Ken Kraft and Peg Ferraro were both unable to attend yesterday's meeting, but i believe they would both support a review. Seth Vaughn, who was participating by phone, called the idea "radical." But other Council members disagreed,and think it's time to give the Charter a tune up.

Hayden Phillips, a Republican, and Bob Werner, a Democrat, have agreed to sponsor the legislation needed to allow you to have a say in your own government.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NorCo Council Fails To Invite Controller to Meeting About ... the Controller

Yesterday, Northampton County Council's Governance Committee, spearheaded by lameduck Mat (not Matt) Benol, released an agenda for a meeting today. One item is a proposed change to the Home Rule Charter that will limit the Executive to two terms in office. This discussion was scheduled at the last Council meeting. While they're at it, Benol has decided to address Council's term limits, too, even though Council term-limited itself several years ago. As if these two items are not enough, Benol has also decided to schedule a discussion on both "special qualifications" and "special prohibitions" for the County Controller. But he hasn't bothered to inform the person who has occupied that office for nearly a decade.

I contacted Controller Steve Barron yesterday, who was unaware of a meeting scheduled to talk about him behind his back. "I fail to understand why Council would schedule a meeting concerning my office and fail to invite the person who has occupied it for nearly ten years," he noted.

I know why. They want to clip his wings. He asks too many questions.

Since the mainstream press has more or less fallen flat on its face in covering county government, the sole watchdogs left are bottom-feeding bloggers like me and the County Controller. But as was recently pointed out in Governing, this is an increasingly troublesome problem for independent auditors.
When performance auditors rile mayors and department heads with negative audits, retaliation can come in the form of budget cuts, slow action on personnel requests or even suggestions that auditor functions be eliminated. David Jones, Seattle city auditor and chair of ALGA’s advocacy committee, says, “We frequently find that local government auditors are under attack.”
This is precisely what is going on here. In April, Barron infuriated County administrators and Benol with a detailed memo outlining county waste and abuse. He was concerned that Human Resources Director Amy Trap had increased staff development training from $5,749.35 to a staggering $56,758.15 in the course of just one year. He was bothered that her staff had taken trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans and had stayed at exotic places like the Mirage Hotel, with absolutely no effort made to get a government rate. He noted that her department was charging meals beyond what is permitted. He also warned that this was only the tip of the iceberg, and that a county credit card audit was being performed, which would certainly show that she spent $800 for a popcorn machine and bought meals at the courthouse, to which her staff had no right.

Barron suggested stronger internal controls were needed, and they are.

Though County Council is supposed to be a check and balance on administrative overreach. They instead went after Barron.

Benol accused Barron of playing "political football," adding, "I plan on taking some action on the Controller because the Controller is a financial position, it's not a political position. To me, it's a bean counter position."

Benol was upset that Barron had failed to provide his report to both sides,and that would be a valid complaint if it were true. Barron did make sure that the administration received a copy of his memo.

Under Northampton County's Home Rule Charter, the Controller is the person responsible for the internal control of the fiscal transactions of the county. This includes trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans. It includes department heads who exceed their spending budgets. It includes spending more money than permitted for meals. It includes the purchase of $800 popcorn machines and the abuse of the county purse to purchase gift cards that violate county credit card policy. As an independently elected official, the Controller has the power, at any time and on his own initiative, to review the fiscal transactions of any county agency without first seeking permission from John Brown or Mat Benol. That's what the Controller did, and that is his job. He has in the past found that the Executive himself was abusing his expense reports, and money had to be paid back to the County.

Benol clearly is planning on retaliation against Barron for doing his job.

Or Benol and his Ten Commandments may be trying to scare Barron off. His audit of the county credit cards (called P-cards) is coming out very soon.

DA: No Evidence of Criminal Conduct in Death of Lafayette Lacrosse Player

DA John Morganelli, flanked by
Lt. Matthew Gerould (L) and Detective Darren Snyder (R).
Lafayette College's McRae Williams, a freshman lacrosse goalie, died on Monday, September 11, just as his college career was beginning. Several unfounded rumors about how that death occurred began appearing in some news outlets, so NorCo District Attorney John Morganelli called a news conference yesterday to disclose some details of this ongoing investigation. Morganelli was flanked by Easton police Lt. Matthew Gerould and Detective Darren Snyder.

Here's what they know so far:

1) Williams had been drinking on Friday and Saturday of the previous weekend. - He attended a party that Friday at Rueff Hall, starting around 6 pm, with fellow lacrosse players. They say he was under the influence, but appeared to be OK and was "talkative." later that night, lacrosse players went to another party on High Street, but it is unclear whether Williams attended. On Saturday, at about noon,he began to drink, but texted a friend that "all we have is watermelon vodka and I hate watermelon." He later attended a beer party at the Boneyard on Cattell Street. Surveillance video showed him walking to and from the local WaWa with friends, where his gait appeared to be unsteady. That was the extent of his drinking. He skipped a Saturday night party.

2) There is no evidence of hazing. - Investigators have spoken to 14 people so far and have uncovered no evidence that Williams was forced to undergo any ritual or that his drinking had been involuntary.

3) Williams became sick on Saturday, and may have fallen. - On late Saturday afternoon, after returning from the WaWa, Williams had the company of a female friend. Around 5 pm,he got up and went to the bathroom to throw up About an hour later, he did so again. At this time,she heard a loud noise in the bathroom and he was on the floor, but she did not see him fall. There was no sign of an injury.

4) Friends grew concerned as Williams continued sleeping.  - On Saturday night, Williams skipped a lacrosse player party. When friends checked on him, he pulled the covers over himself. On Sunday, he continued sleeping. Around 4 pm,his friends began to think he might need medical attention. He became combative as they tried to dress him, but was noticeably weak. They got him outside and called thwir coach, and he advised that they call 911 immediately and arrived himself at 4:22 pm.

5) Williams had a fractured skull. - At the hospital, and X-Ray and cat scan revealed that, despite the absence of physical evidence, he had a fractured skull. Williams passed away on 9/11, and Coroner Scott Grim has ruled that the death is the result of blunt force trauma to the head.  

"At this time, I have no evidence of criminal conduct," said Morganelli. "I do not see this as a Penn State case," he concluded referring to a Center County prosecution of several Penn State students accused of contributing to the drinking death of a fellow classmate.

Morganelli said there is a "strong likelihood" that Williams suffered a serious head injury when he fell onto the floor. .

(Blogger's Note: Please be respectful in your comments on this tragedy, which shows how fragile life can be.)  

Happy Rosh Hashanah!

Today, starting at sundown, Jews worldwide will celebrate Rosh Hashanah. It is considered the birthday of the universe, and who am I to argue? This holiday will continue for two days. It includes the repeated sounding of the shofar, or ram's horn, following a reading of the Torah in the morning. It also involves a lot of food.

Now the shofar is actually pretty badass.

But the dungchen, played by Tibetan Buddhists, is even more badass.

To my Jewish friends, "Shana tova!"

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

John Brown's Secret Plan for a New Jail

On the campaign trail, I doubt that Northampton County Executive John Brown is saying much about a new jail. He was going to run on that issue until someone poited out that is a surefire way to ensure his defeat at the polls. So mum's the word. But don't kid yourself. He's looking. And if you are a NorCo resident, it might be in your neighborhood.

You'll learn the details once he's re-elected.

This is unacceptable to Bethlehem Attorney Lamont McClure, who is running for Executive.
I am opposed to the building of a new jail with an anticipated price tag to the taxpayers in excess of $120,000,000.00. We have also learned, although, we cannot verify this as the Brown Administration is pursuing its plan in secret, that one of the proposed sites is county property at Gracedale. This location is unacceptable to me. My opposition does not flow simply from the outsized costs or the terrible site selection alone. Specifically, we do not need a new prison. We have plenty of capacity to meet the need of local incarceration at this time. To my knowledge no one in the criminal justice system is clamoring for a new jail. I served on Council for nearly a decade. After the West Easton facility came on line, the Director of Corrections Mr. Myers retired. After his last Council meeting, I walked out of the courthouse with him. I asked him that now that we have the West Easton facility would we need a to build a new jail. His answer was "not in our life times."
Northampton County's jail was first built in 1871 for $200,000. It's been expanded a few times since then, with the most recent addition coming in 2006 at a $22.8 million cost. But in the old jail in particular, things are a mess. Corrections Director Dan Keen called it a "beast" during a presentation last September. County Administrators vowed to be back no later than the end of November to update everyone after identifying funding sources. They never did come back, but Executive John Brown has begun the process of selecting a new jail.

He's done so without involving the courts or District Attorney..

Where will it be? How much will it cost taxpayers? Do we really need a new jail? These are all questions that need to be answered.

Where will it be? - At a recent Council meeting, Brown told Peg Ferraro that the cost of a "high rise" solution in Easton is too exorbitant, and that he's already visited a dozen different locations. He needs a tract of between 40-60 acres. The most logical choice is Gracedale in Upper Nazareth, where the County already owns plenty of land. There would be no need buy, and the infrastructure should be a snap. But the public opposition would be intense, especially to owners of the Eagles' Landing development. Zoning might be an insurmountable hurdle.

Brown has also considered some of the Bethlehem Steel lands in South Bethlehem. Rumors abound that he's also considering Wayne Grube Park, Louis Moore Park (which is suddenly getting water) and Upper Mount Bethel Township. I believe Abe Atiyeh would be interested in selling his facility in West Easton.

No matter where he decides to build, there will be opposition.

How much will it cost? - According to a jail study commissioned by John Stoffa in 2008, the cost of a new jail at a new location would be $130-136 million. Build a seven story monstrosity that Eastonians would be sure to love would cost $128-$132 million.

What does this mean to taxpayers? Glenn Reibman's $111 million bond issue in 2001 resulted in two consecutive years of tax increases of 64%, along with layoffs. Reibman had hoped it would be revenue neutral because $29 million went to economic development. A new prison would just cost you money, most likely a 70-80% tax hike.

As Ron Angle asked back in 2008, "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"

Do we really need a new jail? - Back in 2008, at the time of the last prison study, it was projected that we'd need 1,300 beds by 2015. There were only 732 inmates when Keen made his presentation to Council last year. And that number is dropping as courts look to alternatives to incarceration. We now have problem solving courts, not warehouses.

So far as I know, Brown has failed to meet with the courts to discuss the trends. He even failed to meet with the judges over e-filing in the Civil Division, and just attempted to ram it through.

Brown's Executive Order. -  Brown has signed an Executive Order authorizing Corrections Director Dan Keen to enter into the planning process for a new detention center with DLR Group for the sum of $72,000 over the next three months. His deal with DLR is a "sole source," or no-bid, contract. This way he can avoid the competitive bidding that would otherwise be required under the county's Administrative Code.

Brown said competitive bidding in this instance "is just a waste of time and energy."

Bethlehem Tp Considers Fire Tax, Tax Break For Volunteers

Bethlehem Tp Volunteer Fire Co. Engine 1712
Bethlehem Township's volunteer firefighters may soon receive a tax credit for their service under a new law recently signed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Under this law, municipalities now have the option of establishing and setting the amount for a tax credit for earned income or property taxes for first responders. But to participate in the program, the individual must be an active volunteer, reside in the Township and meet certain certification requirements. Also, the tax credit is limited to 20 percent of tax liability.

This exemption was proposed by Tom Nolan in August, but Mike Hudak and Howard Kutzler said they'd like to review the matter.

At the Township's September 18 meeting, Manager Melissa Shafer said the tax would impact 33 volunteers at Bethlehem Township Volunteer Fire Company, and a similar number at Nancy Run. She estimated that the Township would lose revenue of about $17,500 if he exemption came from earned income tax. She and Finance Director Andrew Freda had previously said that it would be easier to administer this exemption if it only came from earned income tax.

Howard Kutzler called the exemption a "wonderful tool to support our volunteers."

Commissioners directed that a specific proposal be created at the fire relations committee meeting in October, with the plan of enacting an ordinance in time to take effect next year.

While on the topic of firefighters, Tom Nolan proposed that the Township enact a fire tax similar to a tax already in place in eight other Northampton County municipalities.

President Mike Hudak, who said he proposed a fire tax himself several years ago, has grown leery of the notion. He warned about setting aside money to buy equipment that is unneeded. he said fore trucks are sold to other municipalities who have no problem obtaining the necessary certifications. He added that Bethlehem City drives "shiny fire trucks" from the '60s, "and they love 'em."

Finance Director Andrew Freda told Hudak that he spoke with the state about this idea and it was recommended as a "common practice" and as a good way to plan ahead. Hudak said that he'd want the fire tax to include the Township's entire annual obligation to volunteer firefighters. Freda said that was a good idea and would enable him to streamline that contribute to 80-90% of what volunteer firefighters get now.

Chief Ron Ford told Hudak and other Commissioners that firefighters don't dictate what equipment the Township must purchase, and explained some of the difficulties faced in obtaining insurance.

Nolan cautioned that a fire tax would not mean, by itself, a tax hike. He said a 0.50 mill fore tax could mean a reduction in the general millage rate.

Roadwork in Bethlehem Township

According to Bethlehem Township Manager Melissa Shafer's monthly report, several road and bridge projects are under way.

Willow Park Road Bridge Replacement – Willow Park Road has been shut down, with a detour approved between August 14 and October 13, 2017.

Middletown Road Bridge Replacement – the township awaits construction details. Work could start this or next year.

Easton Avenue Repaving (Butztown Road to Farmersville Road south) - ADA curb ramp work is to begin immediately. Paving will be night work only with a completion date of August 2018. Traffic disruption should be at a minimum.

Easton Avenue Repaving (Hope Road east into Palmer Township) - ADA curb ramp work is to begin immediately. Paving will be night work only with a completion date of August 2018. Traffic disruption should be at a minimum.

Brodhead Road Construction In progress, with a one-way detour has been flipped to the other lane. Township Commissioners approved a $49,000 change order at their September 18 meeting, with $4,000 for a UGI line that needed to be moved and $45,000 for additional millwork between Township Line Road and Commerce Boulevard. The vote for the change order was 3-1, with Mike Hudak dissenting.  Hudak is opposed to any township funds spent on Brodhead Road because he feels the cost should be borne by the companies whose trucks have torn up the road.

Correction, 2:50 pm: I incorrectly reported that Howard Kutzler had voted No to Brodhead Road, and apologize to him and my readers for this factual error.

St.Luke's Anderson Campus To Double in Size

At their September 18 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve an expansion at St. Luke's Anderson 500-acre campus that will allow the hospital to double its capacity. "Tower Two," a four-story hospital building nearly identical to the main site, is what St. Luke's VP Ray Miolam calls "the next chapter" in the development of the Anderson campus. He anticipates the project will be complete in 2 1/2 years, with construction starting next Spring.

To minimize stormwaters, St.Luke's has agreed to "bank" its parking. The proposed paving has been approved, but will only be used when it is needed. In addition, St. Luke's has agreed to place a gateway monument sign at the intersection of Routes 33 and 78, stating "Welcome to Bethlehem Township, Home of St. Luke's."

Though President Hudak voted for the project, he warned Miolam and St. Luke's engineer Scott Pasterski that water flowing downhill from the hospital campus along Hope Road is causing problems. "And now we're adding another building with a sea of blacktop," complained Hudak.

Pasterski told Hudak that the basin at the bottom of Hope Road is "well under capacity," but Hudak told the engineer that millions and millions of gallons of water flow into an "unimproved swale."

Howard Kutzler noted that what was approved there is within the letter of the law. But resident Wat=yne Kresge, who personally experienced stormwater problems at this home on Chetwin Terrace,noted that the plans for his property were within the letter of the law, too, but he still experienced flooding after heavy rains.

"Very often things look good on paper, but in reality they don't work," cautioned Kresge.

Both Pasterski and Miolam agreed to look at the problem during the next rainstorm.

"We're not looking to flood out anyone's home," said Miolam.

In other business, Commissioners rejected a $1.3 million contract for the exterior renovation of the Archibald Johnston mansion at Housenick Park. Bracy Contracting was the sole bidder, and its price is nearly twice the $675,000-750,000 estimate. This may be because many items were added during the bidding process, like alterations to the elevator shaft and removal of lead-based paint.

Work on this mansion has been paid from grants and a $2 million trust fund established by Janet Housenick, Archibald Johnston's granddaughter. Trustees Bill Leeson, Steve Baratta and Tim Brady advised Commissioners in writing that they want to see the exterior stabilization project started by September. "We reserve the right to review and change the annual contribution amounts if the exterior stabilization project is not commenced in earnest and on a continuous basis before September."

This bid was tabled in August because Commissioner Pat Breslin was absent. He was absent again on September 18, so Commissioners voted without him.

It will cost the Township $4,000 to rebid the project.

Wayne Kresge complained that renovations at the mansion will eventually start costing the Township money. "We have a habit of spending money in this Township," he said, noting the cost of the Brodhead Road reconstruction and repairs at the community center. He said even the carports built for police cruisers have failed in their purpose of keeping snow off.

Monday, September 18, 2017

My Link to Molovinsky's Blog Was Removed Because of the Hate

Sometime ago, Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky decided that he would not only moderate his comments, but would also require readers to identify themselves. He did so out of fear. He's afraid of a troll who harasses him. He also rarely interacts with his readers, even when they post ridiculous comments about the IQs of Somalis being substandard.

It's his blog and he can do what he wants.

But I don't have to link to it.

When John Morganelli decided to run for state AG in 2016, I supported him. In every post I wrote about the race, I included this disclaimer: "I support John Morganelli for AG and have made a small contribution."

I thought my readers should know about my bias. I was trying to be honest and above board. At that time, I thought Molovinsky and I were friendly. He certainly called me enough.

So in March 2016, in a post about Morganelli's AG race, I was upset when Molovinsky, someone who I thought was my friend, slammed me for failing to do more. He never made clear exactly what that was

I was embarrassed and hurt that someone I had thought of as a friend would attack me in this way. If he had a question about what I was doing, he could have included it in his daily telephone calls. Instead, he ripped into me.

He lost a friend that day.

But not the link.

That came later.

He is now telling his readers that the reason the link was removed is because of his unfounded Morganelli criticism. "In Bernie's world loyalty is the main theme, in mine it is truthfulness." He accuses me of misrepresenting why the link was removed. He even calls it a "hostile" misrepresentation.

I made no misrepresentation.

The blowup over Morganelli occurred on March 21, 2016.

My link to Molovinsky's blog remained until May of this year. When I did remove it, Molovinsky himself almost immediately noted it on his Facebook page.

The removal of the link to his blog had nothing to do with Morganelli. It was removed for precisely the reason I said it was. I was disgusted by the racist and xenophobic remarks from his readers, and his outright refusal to do anything about it.

The link removal came 14 months after the Morganelli dispute.

So when it comes to misrepresenting things, Molovinsky is playing fast and loose with the truth.

And he's been pretty damn hostile about it.

Updated 10:20 am: Molovinsky attempts to justify his lie. - Having been caught in a lie, Molovinsky states he would prefer it had I let his lie stand. I'll bet. He now claims that the reason I removed the link to his blog is because it was repeatedly attacking me.

I wish he'd make up his mind.

His repeated personal attacks certainly played a role in my decision in concluding his is a hate blog.

After Donald Ttrump's election, Molovinsky's blog devolved into a cesspool of hatred that attacked women, blacks and Islam. Molovinsky led the charge in the attacks aimed at women, while his myrmidons are responsible for his other slurs. At first, I took them all to task. Then I decided to just delete my link to the hate blog.

My decision had nothing to do with Morganelli. Molovinsly's assertions that it did are lies that he now seems to admit.

Sen. Boscola To Host Roundtable on School Tax Reform

For the past several years, a group of mostly conservative thinkers has advocated patriotic-sounding Property Tax Independence Act, In a bid to make themselves sound like the Founding Fathers, they call their bills HB 76 and SB 76. Their logo also is surrounded by 13 stars. I guess that's in honor of the 13 original states or something. Basically, their plan is to phase out property taxes over two years and then play their fifes and drums and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

No question about it, property taxes are unpopular. They are particularly unfair to seniors on fixed incomes.

But SB76 and HB76 are just tax shifting proposals. According to The Wharton School economist Robert Inman, the property tax is probably the fairest of all the taxes imposed by local government. His basic argument is that all taxes are bad. But as we all know, they are a necessary evil. He explored which taxes do the least harm. Believe it or not, it's the property tax.

According to Inman, the fairest way for a City to tax is by moving from a mobile to an immobile tax base. Commuter taxes, wage taxes and gross receipts taxes just drive business and jobs away. Lowering the wage tax will result in more job, more income and encourage people to live where they work by investing in real estate.  He would increase real estate taxes, but homeowners who live in their homes would be afforded a partial exemption.

All of this was in a 2009 Task Force recommendation that was never implemented.

Pa State Rep. Will Not Stop Car for Protesters

Aaron Bernstine is a State Representative from the western part of the state, representing a gerrymandered district that consists of portions of three different counties. He's a "conservative" who just voted to close a state budget gap by borrowing $1 billion.  Of course, he is part of the Donald Trump personality cult. He also describes himself as a "Christian," a word perverted by people who proudly proclaim to be all about Jebus while hating anyone who is different. Bernstine stands for the important Christian principle of vehicular homicide, otherwise known as murder, if done to run down a protester.

As many of you will recall, Heather Heyer was mowed down by a pro-Trump white supremacist on August 11 in Charlottesville.  Though the grass has yet to grow on her grave, this is what "Christian" Bernstine tweeted about protesters who blocked traffic in St. Louis last week:

"If anyone EVER tries to stop my car on a highway with negative intentions... I will not stop under any conditions."

When taken to task, he doubled down with this:

"Feel free to call my office and let me know if you think it is ok to refuse to stop if thugs try to stop me or my family on a highway."

And this:

"Difference between me and these snowflakes is that I won't be assaulted in name of "free speech"

And even this:

"Wrong.... I'm saying when thugs try to stop cars and threaten drivers trying to go to work."

These offensive have actually trumped Trump, at least within the last week. although Trump has everyone beat over the long haul.

The Pennsylvania Democratic party has asked Bernstine to apologize, like that's gonna' happen. Bernstine's Republican leaders will no doubt get him his own engraved hood, along with a year's supply of tiki torches.

They may also advance a legislative proposal that already exists in six other states to shield drivers who negligently hit protesters who obstruct traffic. This has been criticized by the ACLU as a "hit and kill" bill, but defended as a way to protect drivers from liability when a protester darts into traffic.

Hyman: "If We Do Not Have Safety, We Do Not Have a City"

When Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski recently posted a Labor Day montage that included city workers, he omitted firefighters. Of course, that's something he's been doing for years in his annual budgets.

I told you in April that the department's operating budget has shrunk from $455,098 in 2008 to just $156,896 in 2017, a drop of 65.52%. No provision has been made for repair or maintenance supplies. The equipment on hand has decreased from $108,638 in 2008 to just $23,396 this year. Only $35,000 is allotted to train 122 firefighters. A scant $3,500 is set aside to purchase chemicals that are often more important than water in extinguishing a fire.

"He is setting our department up for failure," said firefighter Jeremy Warmkessel, a hero who once gave up his own breathing mask so that a little boy could breathe in a building being consumed by fire.

He does not care about politics. He cares about lives.

Allentown City Council President Ray O'Connell has previously called the situation an "embarrassment to the City."

What about Mayoral candidate Nat Hyman ?

He met with firefighters recently to get a jumpstart on a positive dialogue and relationship with them, something that's currently absent with Fed Ed.

Hyman said there will be three non-negotiable items in the city budget - fire, police and EMS. "If we do not have safety, we simply do not have a city," said Hyman. "Safety is the foundation for everything we want to do in this city."

Hyman said that the first thing he will do as Mayor is "sit down with all of the stakeholders from the firefighters, push the reset button and start a fresh new relationship. While I cannot promise you that I will always tell you what you want to hear or agree with everything you want, I can promise that I will always listen and do what is in the best interest of Allentown. I have absolutely no other agenda."

He addressed the fact that there are fewer firefighters today than 12 years ago and called that "obscene, particularly when you consider that they have double the call volume from 12 years ago!" He likewise said that the fact that they do not have a functional ladder truck while Bethlehem has three is unconscionable."It is not a function of if there will be a tragedy but rather when and the likelihood of loss of life is very real."

Hyman assures firefighters that if he is Mayor, they will have a friend in city hall as he views his number one job as Mayor is to "ensure that every citizen is safe and that we do everything we can to get every firefighter and police officer home safely at night."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Was It Something I Said?

Bernie O'Hare is a class A Asshole POS!
Karen J. Garlock-Szatkowski Politics really sucks!!
5 hrs
Donna Baran At least the tabloids have a grain of truth in their stories, his blog not so much.
3 hrs

Special Thank You From a Democrat to Justin Simmons and Gloria "Lee" Snover

This is who General Lee Snover has picked
to replace Charlie Dent in Congress.  
Hello Comrades!

I interrupt my weekly reading of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals for a special Thank You to Congressman wannabe Justin Simmons and his good buddy, NorCo GOP Chair Gloria "General" Lee Snover. Thanks to their combined efforts on our behalf, Pennsylvania's 15th Congressional District will finally be returning to us for the first time since 1999. That's right, folks, the 15th is going blue. We would never have done it without the help of Justin Simmons and Lee Snover.

Thanks to Simmons and Snover, there's a new purity test for Republicans. You either support Trump or you don't.

Pre-Trump, there were all kinds of litmus tests. One group believed you had to be pro-life and opposed to all forms of abortion, even if that meant the mother would go tets up. For the NRA wing, it was the right to carry rocket launchers wherever and whenever the hell they wanted. Another faction believed that the rich should either pay no taxes at all or pay lower taxes than you. Most favored deporting anyone whose name ends in a vowel. And though some of their best friends are black, some party members could never warp their heads around the idea of a black president, even though he was only half black. They never learned to just love the white half.

Now things are much simpler. You either support Authoritarian Donald Trump or you don't. If you support Donald Trump, you could open an abortion clinic tomorrow and General Lee Snover would kiss you. But if you subscribe to all kinds of Republican theories but detest Donald Trump, you're no good.

Every year, the county Republican parties host a Lincoln Day's breakfast in honor of the man who said we should act with malice towards none and charity for all. Traditionally, Democrats were invited because we all are, after all, Americans.

But General Lee stopped that practice. It was Republicans only. And not just any Republican. Charlie Dent, the most powerful and popular Republican in the Lehigh Valley, was snubbed.

Under General Lee's strict rules, Lincoln himself would have been cast aside.

A party that once met in ballrooms now meets in a phone booth, if you can find one.

The persons left include extremists like flamethrower Tricia Mezzacappa, who actually penned a letter to the editor supporting mass murderer Rockne Newell.

But that's OK because she supports Donald Trump.

She got a major award.

It was not enough to just snub Dent. General Lee Snover, the Republican party chair, actually took to the stage at a Trump cult rally that was only open to about 200 people with tickets, and bashed Charlie Dent, accusing the centrist Republican of being part of the establishment elite.

That's because Dent, who has principles and morals, stood up to Trump, who has neither.

Another person lacking principles and morals is Justin Simmons. Last year, he took campaign money from Dent. He sought and received an endorsement. Dent even put him in touch with some of his own contributors. And Simmons asked Dent what they could do to get Trump off the ballot.

But now with Trump elected and Charlie Dent being subjected to daily attacks by General Lee and others who should be ashamed of themselves, Justin Simmons sensed an opportunity. So this summer, he made trips to the swamp in Washington (that he pretends to detest) to line up support for his own Congressional bid.

Now he is suddenly pro-Trump and is challenging Dent.

General Lee loves him because he is on the Trump train. Never mind his shitty attendance record, his missed votes in the House.

Simmons and Lee are both busily bashing any Republican who gets in their way, including South Whitehall's Ryan MacKenzie.

But it does not stop there.

When Charlie Dent announced his retirement from public life, he asked Lehigh County GOP Chair Jessica Banotai and Exec Director Trevor Waldron for their help in putting the event together. As they prepared, someone in the Simmons camp posted a very ugly and vulgar personal attack (since deleted) aimed at Banotai in PoliticsPA. It shook her up. Banotai and Waldron fired off a number of unflattering text messages about Simmons in reaction to this attack. Simmons, who had no problem with General Lee Snover's bias against Charlie Dent, is now demanding the heads of Banotai and Waldron for their bias against him.

Thanks to General Lee and Simmons, Lehigh Valley Republicans are eating their own.

The result is that next November, conservative Democrat John Morganell will be elected to represent the 15th Congressional District in Congress.

It would never have happened without you, Lee and Justin. Even your pal Vladimir Putin would be impressed.


Anonymous Comments and Justin Simmons

Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky is trashing me again, this time over my treatment of anonymous commenters. He claims I am fine with people so long as they agree with me, but otherwise call them anonymous cowards. He also attacks me for answering every pro Justin Simmons comment as though it comes from Simmons himself. Molovinsky also takes a few personal shots to which I decline to respond, but I will discuss my comment policy.

This is an interactive blog. It is not just me, but you. I rely upon and am educated by my readers through the dialectical method. I don't have one editor. I have 5,000 of them. As fellow blogger LVCI recently learned, it can be exhausting to respond to the diverse points of view.

As an opinionated person, I make things worse. I have made enemies over the years. I have also attracted a fairly large number of trolls. They sometimes try to hijack blog threads.

I will delete off-topic comments. I'm fine with a tip about a late-breaking story, but am insulted when someone rudely interrupts a discussion about a topic that I researched for several hours and then wrote as a story.

I also hate cut-and paste jobs because the person who wrote the original story deserves better treatment. But if you just post a link, it might go into my spam folder.

I will immediately delete any comment from one person who agreed in court to stay off this blog. Molovinsky knows who this person is, and he is the reason why Molvinsky has removed the anonymous option and sometimes moderates.

I will also delete any comment from another person who once threatened to kill Barack Obama when he was re-elected as the President of the United States. Molovinsky hosts the hate that still comes from this person as well as others who make ridiculous arguments about the IQs of Somalis being inferior and other such nonsense. That's just hate. Molovinsky has complained that I removed my link to his blog. This is why.

I generally will allow personal attacks aimed at elected officials, provided they are not vulgar. I tend to be more protective of appointed public officials, and will not allow snarky remarks about family members. They are civilians unless they make themselves part of the story.

I am of course fine with anonymous comments that agree with me. I am also fine with anonymous comments that disagree with me. But if the commenters get personal, I have no compunction about telling them they are cowards. If I call someone an anonymous coward for simply disagreeing with me, I am wrong. I deal with numerous comments every day, and sometimes I make mistakes. Molovinsky provided no examples of this happening, but I am sure there are likely some instances in which I do cross the line, mostly in defense of officials I like. I only mean to call someone an anonymous coward if he hides behind anonymity to attack someone personally.

Unlike Molovinsky, I write numerous articles about local races. Over the years, I have noticed that two types of races tend to attract ugly comments. The first is magisterial contests, believe it or not. The second is any race involving Justin Simmons.

In the last election cycle, in which Justin Simmons ran for re-election as State Rep and broke a pledge to serve only three terms, I published 13 stories. Almost from the beginning, the comments were very ugly, and would go on for as long as 11 days after my story originally published. At this point, the only persons reading the comments would be the candidates themselves and me. I would eventually get tired of it and close comments off completely. Even then, team Simmons would jump onto another thread and continue the flaming.

Now that Simmons is running for Congress, I am getting ugly pro-Simmons comments again. Instead of shutting down the discussion, I've opted to address all the slimy pro-Simmons comments as though they are coming from Justin himself. This has minimized the filth coming from him or his supporters.

I sometimes delete a comment accidentally. Also, there are times when a comment goes into my spam folder. I may think it is published, but blogger has incorrectly identified it as spam. I often fail to discover this for days.

My decisions regarding comments are unappealable. I will in fact delete comments complaining about my comments policy. I would rather discuss the issues, but you can always email me if I have made a mistake. BOhare5948@aol.com .

I will host no comments here because this is my blog. I set my own comments policy. Not Michael Molovinsky. Not anyone else.

LVEDC to Host Forum For LehCo & NorCo Exec Candidates

From Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.: All four candidates for County Executive in both Lehigh and Northampton counties will be participating in an upcoming forum hosted by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).
The candidate forum will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 17, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at the Coca-Cola Park (club level), and will be moderated by Chris Borick, Director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
This is the only candidate forum currently scheduled that will include all four candidates: John Brown (R) and Lamont McClure (D) in Northampton County, and Phillips Armstrong (D) and Brad Osborne (R) in Lehigh County.
“As LVEDC’s two largest investors, Lehigh and Northampton counties are critical partners in our regional partnership for advancing economic development in the Lehigh Valley,” said Don Cunningham, LVEDC President & CEO. “We’re happy to provide these candidates with a platform to express their visions and ideas about regionalism, job creation, and economic growth.”
The forum will not be a traditional debate, but rather a sharing of thoughts and ideas as they relate to jobs and economic development in the region. The questions will come from stakeholders in economic growth and job creation in the Lehigh Valley.
Registration is required and space is limited. Visit this site to register. Sponsorship opportunities are also available, and all inquiries can be directed to Michael Keller, LVEDC Director of Marketing, at mkeller@lehighvalley.org or 610-266-2217.