Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem closes gap with tax hike, adopts 2018 budget

Golf course budget still a source of disagreement

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Bethlehem City Council approved the 2018 budget proposed by Mayor Robert Donchez during Tuesday night's meeting. The vote was 6-1 with Councilman Bryan Callahan dissenting.

The $76.2 million budget includes a 2.3 percent tax increase.

In Northampton County this means a .40 mill hike from 17.15 to 17.55 mills and translates to about $20 annually for the average taxpayer.

The millage in Lehigh County will rise by .13 mills from 5.42 mills to 5.55 mills. In the Lehigh County section on the city's west side, taxes are based on 100 percent of the property value. This correlates to a payment of $832 on a property valued at $150,000.

The tax increase will close a $600,000 budget shortfall.

Included in Tuesday night's vote was adoption of the 2018 Golf Course Enterprise Fund budget for about $1.5 million. During a December 11 budget meeting, Callahan offered several budget cuts totaling about $201,000 to three management positions. His goal was to spur privatizing the course. Those cuts were rejected Tuesday night despite Callahan's "no" vote.

Councilman Eric Evans, who held hearings on the course's future during the fall, voted for the golf course budget Tuesday night with the three salaries included, but said his vote "was not without concern" and that the city needed to make progress in changing the course's financial situation by June.

Currently the course is losing money and can't cover the cost of course improvements. If the administration can't break this cycle in the next six months, Evans has said, privatization should be considered.

The budget was separated into several categories Tuesday night for passage: general fund, water fund, sewer fund, liquid fuels fund, community development, 911 operations, capital funds for non-utilities, water utilities and sewer utilities, in addition to the aforementioned golf course enterprise fund.

In other news, council approved a last-minute resolution to protect the tax-exempt status for developers who receive government grants and incentives that could be lost because of the proposed new federal tax code bill. The resolution adopted Tuesday night places city projects into a master development plan that coincides with the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone and the Tax Increment Financing district.

In his comments to council, William Leeson, the city's solicitor, said the resolution was designed to "give developers the best chance of avoiding adverse implications of the new (federal) tax law.

"We are trying to be developer-friendly," Leeson told council, adding that the purpose of this was to keep the status quo.

The new federal tax code bill could be signed into law by President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

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