Northamp­ton County OKs bud­get with no tax hike

Spend­ing plan for 2019 in­cludes new foren­sics cen­ter, court­house park­ing.

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Tom Shortell

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.

tshort­[email protected] Twit­ter @TShort­ell 610-820-6168

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