“We are not in deficit spending,” said McCarthy. “We have a balanced budget. These funds are in the budget. We should go forward with this. I don’t think it’s going to bust the budget. As Commissioner Osborne says, it’s the honorable thing to do.”
Schware agreed the 2013 budget is balanced, but said the county is using $4.5 million of its reserve savings to do that, because the budget projects spending $4.5 million more than it will take in. “We can’t afford to eat into our reserves,” said Schware. “That ends up in a tax hike.”
But McCarthy doesn’t think the county’s financial future “is as dire as some people would have us believe.”
Osborne said the county’s financial situation has not changed in the last seven weeks, when Mazziotti chaired the committee that made a unanimous recommendation to the full board of commissioners to approve funding the projects. Osborne repeatedly quoted Commissioner Scott Ott, who in November said the commissioners were “honor bound” to approve full funding to the municipalities.
Schware said the $296,514 figure he’s recommending to fund the six projects is the amount Lehigh County has received in Marcellus shale impact fees. Commissioners said the county should be getting more from those fees in 2013.
Schware also proposed canceling the Reading Road Bridge project in Allentown, which has not met with commissioners’ approval for more than a year, and instead doing less costly repair work, freeing up another $521,000.
And Mazziotti said a number of Green Future projects were approved as far back as 2001, but the money never was spent. He said that money also can help fund the six projects.
Other officials who appealed for release of the Green Future funds were Ron Eichenberg, president of the Lower Macungie commissioners, who was accompanied by most of his fellow commissioners; Emmaus council member Wesley Barrett; Randy Soriano, manager of Salisbury Township, and Salisbury commissioner Debra Brinton, who described herself as a conservative Republican.
But not everyone who addressed commissioners thought the municipalities should get any money.
Allentown resident Joe Hilliard suggested that, rather than “whining for free money,” the municipalities should get money for the projects from their own taxpayers. “The government is not a bottomless well of money. Get it out of your own community.”
Emmaus resident Lynn Donches suggested the county does not need more parks and trails. Because the communities must match funds provided by the county, she said they should wait, budget the same amount next year and do the full projects themselves.