Proposed Lehigh County Budget Reduces Tax Bills, Staff
Executive Don Cunningham’s plan would restore $2.7 million for Green Futures Fund.
Lehigh County taxpayers can expect to pay an average of $30 less next year under County Executive Don Cunningham’s proposed budget, thanks to a one-time tax credit that will use up the $4.3 million Tax Relief Fund.
The 2012 budget plan, which Cunningham introduced Wednesday in a speech before the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce at Coca Cola Park in Allentown, anticipates getting by on less – less tax revenue and about 44 fewer employees on the county rolls.
“For those who say government only ever gets bigger, send them to Lehigh County,” he said. “Our total cost of payroll, including benefits, will be lower next year than it is now, the first time that’s happened in county history.”
Most of the personnel cuts would be in general services and human services and the majority will be through attrition, for a savings of about $1.8 million, Cunningham said. Since he took office in 2006, the county’s total workforce has shrunk by about 5.5 percent, he said.
The belt tightening is necessary because of falling tax revenue. “For the first time in 25 years, the total assessed value of property in the county will decline due to a combination of four years of slowed growth and assessment appeals,” he said. The county has seen earnings from its investment income drop from $6.9 million in 2008 to a projected $576,000 next year.
The county plans to earmark $2.75 million it receives from the sale of 6.78 acres of land to Dorney Park for the Green Future Fund, which got no county dollars this year. The fund is used for farmland preservation, open space and parks.
The total proposed budget is $388.9 million, which is $2.1 million less than this year’s. Of that, about $109 million is paid by county tax revenue and the rest is mostly pass-through money from the state and federal governments for programs like Cedarbrook, the county’s nursing home.
About 64 cents of every county tax dollar goes toward law and order spending, such as courts, prisons, and crime investigations and prosecutions. The district attorney’s office is expected to add a detective focused solely on domestic violence – one of only two new positions funded by the spending plan.
The proposal earmarks $9.7 million for capital projects, which include construction of the planned detox and rehabilitation facility and a new building for the coroner and emergency management in partnership with Cetronia Ambulance.
The county’s reserve fund is projected to grow to about $25 million, thanks in part to money saved by refinancing debt for a savings of about $4 million.
The spending plan retains funding for community arts and education programs, Quality of Life grants, tourism, community and economic development, mass transit, the planning commission and the Chamber of Commerce, he said.
Cunningham alluded to the rancor from last year’s budget turmoil surrounding the 16 percent tax increase -- an issue some GOP candidates for county commissioner seats used to defeat incumbent Dean Browning in the May Republican Primary. Cunningham praised Browning and Democratic Commissioner Bill Hansell, who chose not to run this year.
“They both have put their public service above their politics and delivered results by putting hard work, a commitment to their ideals and cooperation above grandstanding – and Dean Browning paid a price for it this year.”
That tax hike increased the average property owner’s tax bill by $99 to $714.
After his budget address Wednesday, Cunningham was asked if he thought the average $30 tax credit will help Democratic county commissioner candidates in the fall election.
“I don’t think it changes a lot politically,” he said.