Lehigh Valley

Northampton County controller's salary hiked by $10,000

Salary hikes for other officials removed for now

EASTON, Pa. - Starting in 2020, the elected position of controller in Northampton County will pay $75,000 annually — $10,000 more than the current salary.

By a 6-2-1 vote Thursday night, County Council approved an ordinance, introduced by council members John Cusick and Matthew Dietz, establishing the new salary, which will take effect when the next controller takes office in January 2020.

Former Bethlehem City Council member Richard “Bucky” Szulborski was appointed controller by council last month after Stephen Barron resigned in January to become the county’s fiscal affairs director.

Council members Lori Vargo Heffner and Ronald Heckman voted against the pay increase. Heckman said he voted “as a matter of conscience,” adding that “there are a lot of people hurting out there.” He said the county doesn’t have trouble attracting candidates and suggested the matter should have been placed on the ballot.

Council member William McGee abstained.

Council President Kenneth Kraft said council has the authority to adjust salaries under the Home Rule Charter and noted that only three candidates had stepped forward to fill the vacant post. 

Council also passed an ordinance that will place a question on the Nov. 6 ballot asking voters to decide if the controller should be devoted full-time to the office. Cusick said the matter has been “a constant political football” for years.

The job of controller, which oversees agencies receiving, disbursing or authorizing the disbursement of county funds, became full-time in 2012, when council amended the charter to prevent the controller from pursuing other work. Barron, at the time, was teaching courses on a part-time basis at Northampton Community College, and the matter was discussed as a potential conflict by council, even though Barron said the work did not interfere with his controller duties.

Cusick last night noted that “there’s no reason” that the controller can’t do outside activities such as coach football or teach part-time as long as it does not conflict with the job. Kraft agreed.

Salaries for county executive and council were also on the compensation ordinance, but Cusick asked for an amendment, which was approved, to remove the items. 

Under the ordinance, the executive’s annual salary would have been set at $95,000, a $10,000 increase, and council members, who serve a part-time, would have been paid $10,500 a year, up from $9,500, with an additional $500 for council president.

Cusick asked for the amendment to allow more discussion about the executive’s salary, which wouldn’t take effect until the next executive takes office in January 2022.

But he said there were misgivings expressed during a committee meeting Wednesday about the council pay. After the council meeting, he said there were not enough votes to support the change in pay and noted that the issue will likely be dropped.

Cusick said he still believes the county executive’s salary should be adjusted because of the responsibilities overseeing a $434 million budget and employees in multiple departments, adding that some township managers in the county make more money with fewer responsibilities.

Salaries for executive, controller, and council members have not been adjusted since 2010, he said. 

Other business

Council unanimously approved an ordinance aimed at spurring economic development in the Slate Belt by allowing tax exemptions for certain blighted industrial, commercial and business properties in Upper Mount Bethel Township over a 10-year period.

The ordinance cited Act 76 of 1977, known as the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Law, which allows taxing authorities to provide the tax exemption, and the Upper Mount Bethel Township board of supervisors’ desire to encourage development in deteriorating areas of the township.

Encouraging economic activity in the Slate Belt is one of the priorities of county Executive Lamont McClure.

In addressing council before its vote on the ordinance, former state Rep. Rich Grucela said the tax abatement program would be “a tremendous advantage to us” as the Slate Belt seeks to create good jobs by attracting companies to the region.

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