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Bethlehem council approves 2014 budget, begins search for mayor-elect's replacement

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A 2014 budget that has no property tax increase but a boost in water and sewer fees for Bethlehem residents cleared its first hurdle Tuesday night.

City council voted 6-1 to tentatively adopt the $71 million spending plan and then scheduled a final vote for Dec. 17.

Council member David DiGiacinto voted no on the budget, but gave no explanation why.

Council also agreed to begin advertising for candidates willing to finish out the term of Bob Donchez, who will be taking over as mayor in January. Donchez's term on council ends in 2015.

The final budget proposed by outgoing Mayor John Callahan calls for a 15 percent increase in both water and sewer rates for users in Bethlehem. The money would pay for improvements to the 60-year-old waste water treatment plant.

The average city customer would have to shell out an extra $59 a year for water service and an extra $33 a year for sewer service, if the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approves the hikes, officials said.

The rate increases will be discussed at a budget hearing in Town Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Council president Eric Evans suggested that council start finding out who might be interested in filling Donchez's seat now instead of waiting until January, when Donchez becomes mayor.

That way, council could move quickly to appoint a replacement and be at full strength sooner rather than later, Evans said.

Council decided that candidates can submit letters of interest and resumes until Dec. 31.

Council will discuss the ground rules for the selection process at its December meetings, Evans said.

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