Northampton County OKs budget with no tax hike
Spending plan for 2019 includes new forensics center, courthouse parking.
Northampton County Council unanimously passed a 2019 budget Thursday night, paving the way for a series of long-desired capital projects in the new year.
Under the adopted plan, the county will purchase its Human Services Building, construct a state-of-the-art forensics center and add more parking around its Easton courthouse.
Calls for a new morgue or forensics center have lingered for more than two decades without county leaders taking action. Parking for the Washington Street courthouse facility has been a problem since at least 2006.
Executive Lamont McClure thanked council for taking the steps to address these long pushed back problems. While building new facilities or parking lots are unlikely to get their names immortalized, council members have shouldered responsibilities past councils have failed to address, he said.
“It is important for us to tie up loose ends before we can proceed boldly into the future,” McClure said.
Under the budget, the tax rate will remain at 11.8 mills. The owner of a home with an assessed value of $100,000 would owe $1,180 in county property tax, same as this year.
Earlier this year, the county took out a $35 million bond to purchase the Human Services Building in Bethlehem Township and construct a new forensics center somewhere in the county. Thursday’s budget directs those borrowed funds to the projects.
The county had already set aside $14.2 million of the $14.4 million needed to purchase the Human Services Building, which it has rented since 2014. At the time the lease was approved, the council members said the deal would prove to be a burden for taxpayers due to the escalating rent unless the building was purchased in March 2019
By borrowing the money for the building’s purchase, however, the county can dedicate the already saved money to the public-private partnership bridge project approved under former County Executive John Brown. As an added bonus, the county will be eligible for state assistance in purchasing the building by taking out a bond. Had the county paid with cash on hand, no state dollars would have been available, McClure said.
The county has not finalized where it will build its new forensics center, but McClure indicated it will likely go next to the 911 Center in Upper Nazareth Township. The facility is expected to cost $10.6 million.
The budget also calls on the county to raze the Milides Building across the street from the Northampton County Courthouse to make room for 60 additional parking spots. The county moved its Voter Registration office out of the aging building earlier this year. The property is located at the top of a steep, unstable hill, and the county will need to make improvements to the site before moving forward.
Council approved an amendment to the budget Thursday night that will re-establish an in-house administrator for Gracedale. The county-owned nursing home has been managed by consultant Premier Healthcare Services since 2011.
In the past three years, the county has eliminated the million-dollar subsidies needed to balance the nursing home’s finances. With Gracedale on firmer financial footing, McClure is following up on his campaign promise to return day-to-day management of the nursing home to county control. The switch is projected to save the county about $200,000 a year.
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