The only laugh of the meeting came after Atty. Tom Carroll of Bethlehem asked about court-ordered alternatives to county prison, as a way to reduce both recidivism and prisoner costs.
Joked Brown: “I’ll answer your question only if you can say ‘recidivism’ three times fast.”
He went on to explain doing what Carroll proposed is not a simple process, but the county is looking into ways to reduce prison costs.
He said it makes sense to get help and care for people with mental challenges rather than putting them into a prison environment.
Brown, a Republican, told the audience his goal as county executive is to create change.
“It’s not what I say and do that ultimately make the difference, but it’s really being able to get the employees to come along with me; because they’re the ones that do the work."
He said “department by department, business process by business process,” his administration systematically is evaluating “what are we doing, why are we doing it and are there other ways of doing it?”
But Brown said county administrators aren’t just sitting in an office and saying “let’s think of something we should look at” to save money.
He said county’s employees “are the ones pointing us in the directions we need to be looking.”
His administrators are talking to those employees directly to learn what they need to do their jobs better.
He noted: “Some of the business processes we’re operating with probably haven’t been looked at in 30 years.”
He said changing such things can be hard conversations to have because “we’re ingrained with how we go about doing things. When you go to try to create that kind of change, you normally meet resistance right away.”
Brown said he has an open door policy in his office: “Any employee can come in at any time.”
Brown said in 2012, the county had $60 million in a fund available for spending. He said the County Council chose to spend much of that money in the last few years --$18 million in 2012, $14 million in 2013 and a projected $18 million this year.
By the end of 2014, he said no more than $11 million will be left in that fund.
“You do the math,” he told the audience. “We’re already on that wrong side of that equation. Habitually, we’ve been spending beyond what we collect in revenue.”
If the administration changes nothing, the county would be facing a 2105 budget deficit of $11 million to $12 million before 2015 even begins, predicted Brown after the meeting.
“We’re looking to reduce spending as best we can,” he said, adding the process of developing the 2015 budget is just beginning.
The executive said county officials will take a look at “the first pass” of the budget in August. He said it will be presented to Northampton County Council in early October.
He said it’s too early to make any predictions about a 2015 tax increase, but added he’s going to work very hard to avoid raising taxes. He called a tax increase “the last possible resort. No one wants to have their taxes go up."
Brown said he knocked on a lot of doors when he was campaigning and learned many senior citizens financially are “teetering” because of taxes.
“How can we do this going forward?” asked Brown. "The easy answer would be one of two things. Raise taxes. We’ll just keep raising taxes and keep spending. That’s not my particular style.”
He said the other option is to just slash everything across the board.