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County Budgets For Dummies

Administration director hands out primers for where taxpayers’ dollars go to combat misinformation as campaign season gets under way.

Call it a preemptive strike.

Lehigh County Director of Administration Tom Muller Wednesday handed out laminated fact sheets to county commissioners, the press and others as a budget primer for the campaign season. Eight Republicans are running for nominations for four at-large commissioners seats. Four Democratic candidates are unopposed in the Primary. 

“I’m a Republican, I’m not a candidate,” said Muller, who added sarcastically, “I guess I’m one of those lazy county employees who gets alluded to a lot in campaign brochures.”

The budget breakdown and county “factoids” on the back should help when candidates get hit with questions from voters about where their money goes, he said.

“It shows you exactly where the county tax dollars go so when you are showing me how easy it is to do my job, the answers are all on that sheet,” he said.

Asked why he created the budget fact sheet, Muller said he didn’t want candidates spouting misinformation. 

Most of the county’s $391 million budget is federal and state “pass through” revenue that goes to fund human services programs and . So, for example, of the $60.7 million allotted for Cedarbrook this year, only $2.1 million comes from county tax dollars, Muller said.

The bulk of county taxpayers dollars – about 70 cents of every dollar – goes toward law enforcement, courts and prisons.

A few more fun facts:

-- The average homeowner pays $714 in county property taxes.

-- The county has a “Rainy Day Fund” of $21 million.

-- It owns and maintains 47 bridges and 2,487 acres of park land.

--  Of the county’s 2,122 employees, 58 percent are in collective bargaining units.

-- County employees’ median salary is $49,718 and health care costs total $20.9 million.

-- Non-union staff pays 20 percent of their health care expenses.

-- Workers contribute 5.8 percent of their pay for pensions and the county kicks in 3.08 percent.

Earlier in the evening, commissioners approved the hiring of Cornerstone Advisors Asset Management, Inc. in Bethlehem as the new financial manager for the county’s pension fund. Cornerstone was recommended by the county retirement board which interviewed firms after sending out a request for proposals and getting 19 bids, Muller said. The previous firm, The PFM Group, was very good, Muller said, but the board felt Cornerstone might be able to get a better return on investments for the fund.

Vic Mazziotti of Allentown, who is running for an at-large county commissioner seat in the GOP Primary, asked the commissioners if any of them had received campaign contributions from Cornerstone.

“When a contract like this comes before the board I would urge you to provide transparency if anyone on the board has received a campaign contribution from this firm,” Mazziotti said.

Commissioner Chairman Dean Browning said he wasn’t aware of any commissioner who received a campaign donation from the firm.

Muller added that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has a rule that financial investment companies can’t contribute to the campaigns of county commissioner candidates.

After the meeting, Mazziotti said he wasn’t implying that any commissioner had received such donations, he just believes transparency is important.

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