LEHIGH COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
The Lehigh County Commissioners passed an amended version of the county executive's budget at their meeting Oct. 24.
The amendment directed the county executive to reduce county spending on personnel by $5 million. The new budget turned a $6.5 million one-time tax credit into a reduction of the millage rate by a percentage that would decrease county revenue by $5 million. The remaining $1.5 million will remain as a tax credit.
The vote fell entirely down party lines with Commissioners Vic Mazziotti, Scott Ott, Lisa Scheller, Michael Schware and Thomas Creighton III voting in favor, and Commissioners Percy Dougherty, David Jones, Daniel McCarthy and Brad Osborne voting opposed.
The vote followed three hours of public input on the budget which Osborne split into segments of the general public and county employees. Comments from the general public were unanimously made in support of the amendment, lauding the commissioners for reducing taxes and spending.
Comments from county employees advocated the merit of the services they provide and pleaded with the board to reject the cuts.
Schware argued the case for the amendment saying, "What we do here tonight is going to set up whether there is a tax increase in 2014 and 2015. A budget doesn't get blown in one year and all of a sudden we show up and get a tax increase; it is the effect of several years of failing to control spending. The choice tonight is to continue what the administration proposed and see those tax hikes in 2014 and 2015, or we take a more responsible path, make a portion of those tax cuts permanent and at the same time cut $5 million that is going to be carried into 2014 and beyond."
Osborne argued against the amendment saying, "This proposed amended budget passes up the opportunity to begin the process of defining what limited government looks like on a line by line program by program basis. It artificially distances the commissioners from the consequences of our decision and it sets up a dangerous precedent that two co-equal branches of government don't have to talk to each other."
The amendment budget now returns to the county executive who may make written changes or veto it entirely. Should either of those happen, it will return to the commissioners for a second vote which will require a majority plus one to overturn.