Ott: The worst kind of board is one with no dissent, which merely rubber-stamps the administration's requests. What some might see as "divisiveness" is actually a legislature functioning properly. Our job is to raise questions, to debate issues, to conduct due diligence reviews and to deliberate carefully. The board is a co-equal branch of government that serves in a "checks and balances" relationship with the executive. When I'm county executive, I'll work to make sure that the board performs its "constitutional" role of establishing policy and exercising broad oversight, and that I do my job of running the day-to-day operations within those policy boundaries. Open communications is the key to a constructive relationship.
Muller: Extremism, personal attacks, bitterness and divisiveness, while being good theater and good for partisan politics, is not good for what should be our primary goal: an efficiently run, fiscally responsible, service-oriented Lehigh County government. I plan to reach out to our citizens as has never been done before to get their interests heard and to soften the political rhetoric.
If you don’t raise taxes, how will you balance future budgets without wiping out the county's emergency reserves?
Muller: As county administrator I have experience and proven results of being fiscally responsible, leading to two tax rebates for the residents of Lehigh County. I will fight every day to get every dollar back from Harrisburg and Washington to make tax increases a last resort. We also need to continue to encourage economic development in order to expand the tax base.
Ott: The current budget, and years of habitual overspending, already have depleted reserves to dangerous, unsustainable levels. Under my opponent's stewardship, the massive reserves established by the 69-percent tax hike have been drained. The new influx of taxpayer cash from the 16-percent tax hike has been consumed, and we stand at the brink of a 2015 double-digit tax hike if we don't change direction. Pension reform, priority-based spending, and creating a sustainable future for the nursing homes are the keys to addressing long-term cost drivers.
How much county financial support do you intend to give Lehigh Valley Zoo?
Ott: I voted to continue the county's zoo subsidy in 2014, because I think the current leadership is headed in the right direction. The county provides less than 10 percent of the zoo society's budget, and, of course, leases the land to the zoo for free. Ultimately, the zoo society, which is not part of county government, must develop the capacity to fund its operations through sales and donations. This is the only reliable way to ensure the future of this resource. I'm hopeful that the zoo is headed toward sustainability without requiring involuntary contributions by taxpayers, and I'll work with zoo leaders to help it get there. I encourage those who love the zoo to visit, and to give.
Muller: I plan on helping the Lehigh Valley Zoo to the modest degree they have requested and maintaining the support we have been giving to other non-profits.
Any possibility Cedarbrook, the county nursing home, could be sold during your administration?
Muller: Cedarbrook would not be sold under my administration. We will find ways to run it more efficiently, but it will not be sold.
Ott: The big question is how can we make sure that the residents of homes continue to receive excellent care without being subject to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats? For years, the nursing homes have been used as a cash source for government operations. The business is changing rapidly -- more in-home care and more options for low-income seniors -- but county homes have failed to keep up. Under my administration, we'll do a top-to-bottom review with a focus on providing excellent care for those seniors who may have no other options but a county facility. Something as important as the care of seniors must be structured for sustainability, and must never be used as a political football.