Bethlehem City Council toughs it out one last time to adopt 2013 budget

Author: , WFMZ.com Reporter
Published: Dec 20 2012 11:15:42 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 21 2012 07:41:19 AM EST
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

City council ratified the results of a sometimes stormy budget process with relative calm Thursday night, adopting seven of the 11 components of a proposed spending plan for 2013 by a unanimous 7-0 vote and the other four by a 6-1 margin.

In doing so, council raised property taxes by 7 percent, or .28 mills. The tax bill if a homeowner with a house assessed at $50,000 will rise $52 in 2013, to $759, according to administration officials.

Before the voting began, council member J. William Reynolds called the
$7,053,000 budget "my toughest in five years." He said it contains "things we're all not happy about ... but we found room to compromise."

Two of Reynolds' colleagues, Michael Recchiuti and Robert Donchez, used the words "tough" and "difficult," respectively, to describe the budget process. Donchez noted the budget requires no layoffs in the public safety departments, "and that's very important to me."

Council member David DiGiacinto cast all four of the dissenting votes.
He voted no on adopting the general fund and 9-1-1 fund budgets, the capital budget for non-utilities, and raising the property tax rate, but he chose not to elaborate.

One of council's regular critics offered qualified praise for council's ability to reach agreement on the budget, as well as a touch of humor.

"There were moments when I thought I was on the H.M.S. Pinafore, I heard so many ayes," said Mary Pongracz, referring to the British ship in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. "You did not come up with solutions, only adjustments. It's not a budget I could live with in my household. But I give you credit for trying."

Even though Reynolds lauded council's ability to be conciliatory, he told his fellow officials, "The pain doesn't end here. It's only going to get more difficult."

One of the looming issues that will test council's ability to solve thorny problems is Mayor John Callahan's proposal to have the city change over to a single-hauler system for garbage collection, which he says will bring in an extra $500,000 in revenue.

Callahan included that money in his original 2013 budget proposal, and council appeared willing to implement the plan in early December.

But because the proposal proved so controversial, Callahan and council removed it for further study at the final budget hearing on Monday.

A handful of residents spoke against the plan Thursday night, and a couple of them were unhappy that the mayor has already sent out requests for single-hauler bids. Nancy Mataczynski was especially rankled. "Put out this damn [single-hauler] nonsense and put a referendum on the ballot!" she told council.

Council president Eric Evans said a specific date has not been chosen for a meeting on the plan, but speculated it would be "early in the first quarter of 2013 and very well publicized."

After the meeting, Callahan said he expected single-hauler bid proposals would be coming in by the end of January, adding it isn't necessary to wait until a meeting is scheduled before asking for bids.

"We want to keep moving forward," he said.