A proposal to have Lehigh County contribute to a new revolving loan program -- designed to help businesses succeed in Emmaus and Whitehall -- will face some opposition when it comes up for a vote at the county commissioners’ next meeting on Sept. 12.
The proposed ordinance would use the county’s Community Revitalization Grant Program to give $15,000 to Emmaus Main Street Partners and $15,000 to Whitehall Township for revolving loan start-up funds aimed at business retention, expansion and attraction.
The proposal was introduced at Wednesday night’s commissioners meeting, but no vote was taken.
Commissioner Daniel McCarthy, its sponsor, said unnamed banks are prepared to put up “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to support the business loan programs in Emmaus and Whitehall.
Virginia Savage of the county’s community and economic development department explained those banks will contribute up to $100,000 a year in loans to assist businesses in the two municipalities. But she warned the banks won’t move forward with the loan program if the county does not approve the grants because they want to see “community input.”
Savage told commissioners both municipalities don’t have the money to get the loan program started. “They just need a little bit of assistance from us.”
Commissioner Scott Ott made it clear he will not support the proposal. He feels residents or businesses in Emmaus and Whitehall, not county taxpayers, should come up with $15,000. Ott said the banks want “buy-in from the local community.
They want community involvement, but we’re not giving them that.”
Ott was skeptical that the two municipalities “are utterly tapped out” and can’t come up with $15,000 each, if in fact people and businesses in those communities “are truly excited about the potential of this project.”
He said those municipalities should “have so-called skin in the game,” maintaining the municipalities will be better off if they can raise the money from within, saying that builds strong communities. If they can’t do that, he suggested, this may not be the right time for the loan program.
Ott also said: “We’re involuntarily taking money from farmers in Lynn Township who are not going to enjoy the benefits of that money.”
McCarthy countered by saying people in Allentown might not get a direct benefit from farmland preservation in Lynn Township.
“Nonetheless, Lehigh County taxpayers in Allentown have contributed to that. We as a county board do set those priorities. We make decisions all the time. We don’t equally distribute county funds to every municipality. We do make distinctions with respect to our priorities.”
Ott called the proposal a bail-out by the county. McCarthy disagreed.
Commissioner Percy Dougherty said it would be better if the county would be doing a matching grant with the municipalities.
Dougherty also said the borough of Emmaus “is not doing its proper job in fully funding” what the Emmaus Main Street Partnership is trying to do.
But Dougherty said he will support the ordinance because it is way to use county funds to help get economic development
The proposed ordinance states the purpose of the county grant program is to provide monetary support to promote economic development “and the well-being of the community.”
Savage stressed the negative economic impact of businesses closing and said the revolving loan fund will assist them, adding: “I think we all want our businesses to stay here and prosper.” She said the program will allow some businesses to expand and new businesses to start up.
The ordinance also proposes granting Coopersburg $2,000 for phase two of its streetscape plan. Ott said Coopersburg has 2,500 residents and if that municipality “passed the hat and everybody put a dollar in, they could get their $2,000.”
Also during the meeting, the public was invited to attend the swearing-in ceremony for newly-appointed county executive William Hansell at 1 p.m. Aug. 28 in the commissioners meeting room in the county government center building.
The six commissioners attending the meeting unanimously approved awarding slots and table games revenue from the Sands Casino in Bethlehem to three Lehigh County municipalities:
• Upper Saucon Township: $45,000 to purchase mobile data terminals for
nine police cruisers and $30,000 to purchase a new police cruiser.
• Fountain Hill: $34,493 to purchase a new utility patrol vehicle and
$23,444 to train and outfit two new part-time police officers.
• Salisbury Township: $14,998 to fund overtime for police officers and
purchase traffic signs.