Muller says Ott has stated he wants to cut as much as he legally can, including funding for the county nursing home, economic development programs to create jobs, The Regional Crime Center, support for local police departments and non-profits such as the Lehigh Valley Zoo “and much, much more.”
Muller promises to maintain those services for county residents, by finding ways to run them more efficiently.
Ott charged Muller has failed to adequately monitor changes in the nursing home business, leading to this year's "September surprise" – a $3.6 million emergency funding request from Cedarbrook when the nursing home went over budget.
Muller claims more than 40 years of business experience. Before becoming county administrator, he was chief operating officer at Crayola.
“My opponent has absolutely no business experience and lacks the background to be county executive,” said Muller. “Lehigh County cannot afford an executive who lacks experience, credibility and integrity, and fails to support services that are vital to the citizens of this county.”
Ott is employed as a writer/host at pjtv.com, a conservative news and television network that broadcasts over the Internet.
Fifty-two-year-old Ott, who grew up in neighboring Bucks County, lives in Lehigh County since 2004. Sixty-nine-year-old Muller, who grew up in New Jersey, lives in Lehigh County since 1990.
Both men reside in Lower Macungie Township, where development of the upscale Hamilton Crossings shopping center has been stalled by the county commissioners’ refusal to approve a tax increment financing (TIF) plan to cover some of the costs of that $140-million project.
Ott predicted that shopping center – which will include a Costco, Whole Foods and Target as its anchor stores -- eventually will be built, but without any subsidy from taxpayers.
“The question never was whether or not we’re going to have a Costco and the other stores that were going to be part of that development, but to what extent – if any – should taxpayers be forced to subsidize that development,” said Ott.
“If you look down the road five, 10 years from now, I’m betting there will be a Costco here and that they can do it without a taxpayer subsidy.”
Muller says job-creating economic development, which expands the county’s tax base, is a key to avoiding tax increases. He cites Hamilton Crossing as an example of that economic development, but said the TIF plan for that shopping center “was rejected by the extremist commissioners.” As executive, he said, getting the Hamilton Crossings TIF back before the commissioners for reconsideration will be a high priority early next year.
Here, in their own words, is more from the two candidates:
What makes you best qualified to be county executive?
Muller: My experience and history of proven results. Serving as Director of Administration for the last seven years, I have been an integral part of running Lehigh County in an efficient, fiscally responsible manner. My years in the corporate business world, both nationally and internationally, have given me the experience necessary to run Lehigh County, a large business with a $365 million budget and over 2,000 employees.
Ott: Common sense and a demonstrated ability to bring people together to find creative solutions. My track record in office shows I'm willing to challenge the status quo, find ways to reduce the tax rate, and to stand up to politicians, bureaucrats and special interests who team up against the taxpayer.
What are the biggest problems facing county government?
Ott: Escalating taxes due to habitual, planned overspending. But the budget is not the cause, it's the effect of a process that focuses on perpetuating the unsustainable status quo, and delivers good intentions rather than measurable results. Taxpayers deserve to know they're getting a good value for their dollar, but the current system relies, too often, on no-bid contracts rather than competitive bidding, on stories rather than data, and on good intentions rather than results.
Muller: Cuts in funding from the state and federal government. Sixty-eight percent of the county’s budget comes from the state or federal government. I will be a tireless advocate for bringing every dollar back from Washington and Harrisburg to help the residents of Lehigh County. We need to facilitate more economic development while enacting a smart growth plan so that we have funding to continue to keep the streets safe, which maintains a high quality of life.
What is your top priority if elected county executive?
Muller: Using my experience and proven results to maintain fiscal responsibility while providing quality services to the residents of Lehigh County.
Ott: To prevent a 2015 tax hike, which is the path we're on, due to years of overspending that drained reserves to dangerous levels. Government must live within our means. I'll implement the priority-based budget and performance measurement processes begun this year, thanks to one of my reform-minded colleagues. I'll do more competitive bidding, not just to reduce costs, but to increase innovation and demonstrate value for the dollar. I'll work to find a strategic approach to sustaining community arts, cultural, educational and human services organizations on a sustainable basis without involuntary taxpayer subsidies.
What, is anything, can the county executive do about the divisiveness, some of it personal and bitter, among the nine county commissioners in the last couple of years?