Northampton County exec says his final budget won't include a tax hike

Posted: 12:20 AM EDT Aug 16, 2013

Outgoing Northampton County executive John Stoffa revealed almost in passing Thursday night that as things now stand, the final budget of his eight-year tenure will not include a tax hike.

As he spoke to county council about his priorities in the waning months of his second term, Stoffa said the 2014 budget numbers are being finalized. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, "without a tax increase."

Stoffa will unveil his budget on Oct. 4.

In other business, council was presented with a recommendation that $6.38 million be spent on a new, state-of-the-art Forensics Center to replace the county morgue located in an old building in Louise Moore Park in Lower Nazareth Township.

The cost does not include the land on which the center would be built.

The recommendation was included in a $15,000 study on the need for a new morgue by Allentown-based W2A Design Group. The study does not say where the new center should be built.

County council has been talking off and on for more than two decades about building a new morgue.

W2A architect Glenn Lichtenwalner told council, "The current facilities are maxed out."

The new Forensics Center would have a sloped, long-lasting roof; a brick masonry facade; a sally port; a loading dock; a four-bay garage, and a refrigerated trailer "for major disasters," Lichtenwalner said, adding that the new building could easily be added on to if necessary.

County coroner Zachary Lysek, who worked closely with Lichtenwalner on the study, said the new center "will take Northampton County far into the future."

He said the new facility would solve security and access issues at the current morgue, as well as providing space for a receptionist and locker rooms.

It also have would a body storage area that could handle 22 stretchers, Lysek noted. Right now, Lysek said, the county has to store bodies on a space-available basis at Easton and St. Luke's hospitals and the Gracedale Nursing Home.

Council members were enthusiastic about the results of the study, even with the hefty price tag attached to its recommendation.

Council member Robert Werner suggested some of the center's cost could be defrayed by partnerships with area hospitals and colleges and universities who could use the facilities.

Stoffa told council the next county executive should propose a bond issue to finance the new center, rather than have the project included in some form in the 2014 budget. "If you put it in the budget, you have to find a funding source," he said, alluding to a likely tax increase.

Council member Ken Kraft responded, "We need to do something now to get [the project] moving. It's embarrassing that Northampton County doesn't have a real morgue. ... I'll be a strong vote for it."