Schware said just one meeting ago commissioners were told by the county administration that nothing could be cut. “Now suddenly there’s $3.5 million that can be cut.”

Commissioners who wanted to cut the budget by $5 million stressed it took only a week for Hansell to get 70 percent of the way there, by cutting $3.5 million with no lost jobs or reductions in county services. They were confident an additional $1.5 million could be cut without any lay-offs.

But Dougherty said even the commissioners’ office would lose one of its three employees if $5 million would be cut. “There is definitely the possibility of lay-offs.”

Dougherty said the threat to put personnel “on the cutting block has had a very poor effect on the morale of the workers here in the county.”

Scheller responded: “The tax increases over the last 10 years have had a very poor effect on the morale of the taxpayers of Lehigh County.”

Schware said some have chosen to mischaracterize the proposed $5 million cut as threatening jobs of county employees. “That’s not our intention. We can do it in a way that wouldn’t affect one job.”

Resident Joe Hilliard accused those who oppose $5 million in cuts of fear-mongering. He said some maintained those cuts “would wreak havoc and destruction on Lehigh County and its taxpayers.” He questioned why $3.5 million in cuts also won’t “wreak havoc.”

“A budget proposal which treats court employees with contempt and statements that suggest they are looking for a hand-out is just plain wrong,” declared President Judge Carol McGinley. “A budget which makes a hostage of public safety so the commissioners can shift the hard political choices onto the county executive, instead of making those choices themselves, is just plain wrong.”

McGinley said county officials never told commissioners that nothing could be cut. “We will continue to look for ways to control costs,” she said. “We do not need to be bludgeoned into doing the right thing.”

Commissioner David Jones said: “You can project onto county government all the ills of federal and state spending. But there’s no waste in county government, no bloated programs, no out-of-control spending.”

But Maryann Boone, who said she has been employed by the county for 24 years, told commissioners there is waste in county operations, specifically involving too many managers with secretaries. “You can find cuts,” she said. “Look above.”

Schware thanked Boone, saying: “Just like in the military, the people on the front lines know where the problems are, more so than the people above.”

Schware said even cutting $5 million would not be enough. “We’ve got a $7.6 million structural deficit.” He said the spending cuts proposed by Hansell are not sufficient to prevent taxpayers from paying more in 2014 or 2015.

Dougherty warned if the county cuts taxes every year without also bringing spending under control “in 2015 we’ll have the tax increase of all tax increases.”