Lehigh County executive candidates debate on WFMZ

Published: May 13 2013 08:00:00 PM EDT   Updated On: May 13 2013 10:46:01 PM EDT

It's a rematch between old foes. Two political rivals want to be Lehigh County Executive. They squared off Monday right here on 69 News.

Dean Browning hoping to become the "comeback kid," two years after conservative Republican Scott Ott helped engineer his ouster from the county commissioners after Ott blamed him for a 16 percent tax hike.

In Monday night's debate, Browning fought back.

"I never in the four years that I was on the board of commissioners, voted for a budget that increased taxes," he said. "Not once, and you know that."

While Ott admitted that was true, he said Browning's failure to essentially "veto" the tax hike led to its passage.

"You voted against sending the budget back," said Ott. "The only possible outcome then was a 16 percent tax hike. You knew it. I think we should be honest about that."

Allentown's controversial water lease came up as well. Ott called it a bad deal for county water customers, who are taking over the system. But both admitted, there's little they can do about it.

"At this point, it's in the hands of the city and the county commissioners will continue to exercise due diligence over who gets appointed to the LCA board, but that's it," said Ott.

As to whether the county should keep subsidizing the zoo?

"I think the zoo has made tremendous progress and I think they have progressed far enough that it is worth giving them another extension," said Browning.

"When you're taking money out of the hands of senior citizens in order to feed zoo animals, you need to be very -- you need to look at that very seriously and say, 'How long can that go on?'" asked Ott.

Only one man will represent the Republicans in this fall's county executive election. The primary is next Tuesday.