The Allentown City Council continued discussions on the 2014 budget at Tuesday night's hearing.
The Community and Economic Development’s annual budget did not differ too much from the 2013 budget, though four positions from the Redevelopment Authority have been dropped.
This decision came after federal funds to the program were cut, according to representatives of Community and Economic Development.
Some council members feared that this loss of staff could lead to a growing problem with blight in the city.
“I am concerned that we would take one of the most important problems facing the city and cut four positions,” said Council member Jeanette Eichenwald. “Blighted homes are one of the major issues in the city. It’s an enormous problem and what should we do? We cut staff? I just don’t get it. When property values fall, it’s a domino effect.”
The fire, EMS and police departments also presented their projected 2014 budgets.
Despite city growth and projections for rapid development and job increases for this year, the fire department has seen very limited growth in the past few years.
According to John Stribula, the president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 302, the resident-to-firefighter ratio in Allentown is quite low compared to the other major cities in Pennsylvania.
Fire Chief Robert Scheirer explained that the city has to occasionally rely on “mutual aid” programs with other fire departments in the county.
johnThe Allentown Fire Department often gives support to surrounding areas for free when needed and those areas return such favors, though having more staff would likely be safer and provide a surer guarantee of fire assistance.
When EMS presented their budget, Council member Peter Schweyer revealed his plan to pass an ordinance later in 2014 to create a third overnight EMS vehicle for Southside Allentown after the Eighth Street Bridge officially closes for three years starting this summer.
According to an EMS team member who spoke at the council meeting, EMS has not seen an increase in staff in the past 10 years.
Further budget discussions are scheduled to continue next week after the holiday.