He said it doesn’t make sense to add to that deficit by assisting the six municipalities with their projects.

Mazziotti said those projects are worthwhile, but are not the county’s core responsibility. He suggested the municipalities should raise the money within their own communities to complete them.

Eichenberg said Lower Macungie’s match of the county grant for the Camp Olympic project is in the 2013 budget township commissioners will approve next week.

Eichenberg said many county residents enjoyed Camp Olympic when growing up. Before becoming a township park, it was a private sports camp. He said the township’s renovation includes maintaining historical features “so county residents can continue to enjoy this park.”

Commissioner Scott Ott called them “nice-to-have projects that I’m sure are meaningful to people in those communities.” But he said to spend $1 million on them when the county has a multi-million-dollar deficit is “a bad budget philosophy.”

“Our executive has told us he does not know how he is going to get out of that multi-million-dollar hole,” said Ott. “And he has told us we’re likely to face a 2015 tax hike.”

Commissioner David Jones said the possibility of a tax increase in two years should not stop commissioners from approving the grants.

Several commissioners said this probably will be the last year for the Green Future program, but Schware was skeptical about that.

Dougherty said the program was intended to put $10 million into parks, recreation and open space over about 10 years.

The fund was created with money from the sale of county properties, said commissioners, including land sold to Dorney Park.

Dougherty explained it was created because the county was concerned about spending too much money to purchase land for parks. By partnering with the county, local municipalities are extending county funds.

Dougherty said creation of the fund was approved “by roughly two-thirds of county voters in a non-binding referendum” in 2002. He said the county never had to float a bond to carry out the program, so it never added to the county’s debt.

Ott expressed skepticism about how much weight a non-binding referendum passed 10 years ago should have today. He said that referendum, held during a primary, was approved by no more than 10 percent of the county’s registered voters.

Jones indicated Ott was elected county commissioner by only 14 percent of the county’s registered voters.

Jones took issue with any effort to “de-legitimize the voice of the people made at the polls by referendum.”

Jones said when voters speak it is the responsibility of county commissioners as legislators is “not to execute our will, but the will of the voters.”