The Morning Call (Sunday)

Easton will overcome pandemic challenge and thrive

- Sal Panto is the mayor of Easton.

Easton has weathered some serious challenges over our 268-year history. Our story is woven together by the resilient spirit of our residents.

We played an important role in our nation’s independen­ce; showed courage with our public reading of the Declaratio­n of Independen­ce on July 8, 1776; made sacrifices during wars, from the French and Indian War through recent wars and conflicts; we labored and sacrificed to build the great canals and railroads; we were a birthplace for the Industrial Revolution; our ancestors survived the Great Depression and we endured and survived the 2008 Recession; we weathered the flight to the suburbs and watched our population decline; the loss of our business district; a rise in drugs, violence and crime.

But COVID-19 was the most challengin­g. Pre-COVID-19 Easton was not only experienci­ng a renaissanc­e but showed more opportunit­y for the future.

COVID-19 created a $5.5 million loss of revenue. Our administra­tion made the tough decisions to present a revised 2020 budget to City Council. Our current budget is built on our economy; therefore, when the economy shuts down, so do several funding sources.

The most painstakin­g part of the revised budget was the furloughin­g of 81 city employees. To ease the pain, we furloughed at a time when the federal government offered an additional $600 per week benefit.

The revised budget still had a $2.6 million gap, which was ultimately closed by heeding the advice of our financial advisors and refinancin­g the city’s debt and extending the term. The refinancin­g also provides funds needed for the Fourth Street parking garage.

Our decision was to face COVID

19 head on. While constantly asking the residents to adhere to Gov. Wolf’s guidelines, we knew we needed to assist those small businesses most affected.

Our senior staff met and assisted greatly in putting into place my business recovery plan. The first phase provided outdoor dining, which helped restaurant­s and retailers who opted to stay open later.

For the holiday season, we turned attention to retailers. Having recently

traveled to Europe twice during the holiday season, I remembered the wonderful Christmas markets we visited in places such as Vienna, Budapest and others. Born out of that experience is the Easton Winter Village.

We opened applicatio­n for the huts to any Easton businesses, not just downtown businesses. We sourced and built the hut kits, with the assistance of the Great Easton Developmen­t Partnershi­p, volunteers, city employees, Home Depot Whitehall store, Lehigh

Valley Carpenters Union, and sponsors.

Our city employees transforme­d Centre Square into a magical wonderland that included a skating rink, entertainm­ent and even visits from Santa himself. Despite COVID-19, both phases were a huge success.

It is our intent is to bring back outdoor dining and the Winter Village annually.

We are also excited that economic developmen­t projects announced before the pandemic are all moving forward.

We look forward to The Seville,

The Commodore, The Mill at Easton, Easton Yards, new residence halls at Lafayette College The Easton Home, The Confluence, WaterMark, the Benner project and all of the smaller, but equally as important, developmen­ts in Easton’s future.

With a strong center and lowest crime in decades, developmen­t is occurring in the neighborho­ods. Families are moving to Easton. These developmen­ts help increase our taxable properties and population to pre-urban renewal levels, and helped maintain level tax rate and fees for 13 years.

But we have more good news for 2021. Thanks to a $1 million grant, we will clean up the former Easton Iron and Metal site that the city purchased. Spring of 2021 will see the start of a complete upgrade of Centre Square; improvemen­ts to Wood Avenue, and pedestrian improvemen­ts to Cattell Street and Bushkill Drive; Bike Works will come to Easton; new LED streetligh­ts and much more are planned.

This holiday season may look different than any of us wanted or planned, but I’ve been inspired how our residents have found ways to support each other, stay connected and keep each other safe throughout this pandemic. We can get through this together, and the vaccines provide us with a light at the end of the tunnel.

The good news is that despite 2020 being one of the most challengin­g years in our history, Easton has fared well and can come out of COVID-19 better than ever.

Unfortunat­ely, that may not be true for small businesses. So I am asking everyone in the Lehigh Valley to support our small businesses, and together we will get through COVID19 and restore our thriving Lehigh Valley economy.

 ?? MORNING CALLFILE PHOTO ?? Skaters use the ice rink on Dec. 27 in Easton’s Centre Square. It’s part of the city’s Winter Village.
MORNING CALLFILE PHOTO Skaters use the ice rink on Dec. 27 in Easton’s Centre Square. It’s part of the city’s Winter Village.
 ??  ?? Sal Panto
Sal Panto

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA