BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez held the second of four town hall meetings Wednesday evening, where he addressed and updated a crowd of 25 concerned Southside city residents on the status of multiple issues facing his administration.
The mayor's entire city cabinet joined him as he commented on issues such as public safety, road and bridge construction, city employee pension funding, and city income from the Sands Casino.
Donchez stated Bethlehem currently receives $9.8 million in annual revenue from the Sands, and this pays the salaries and benefits for the city's 50 police officers.
"I think public safety is extremely important, " he declared, an added the city has increased on-foot and horseback police patrols in addition to getting more aggressive on code enforcement.
"It's all about the quality of life and public safety", said Donchez, who detailed how he and his cabinet have been walking city neighborhoods meeting residents, inquiring about their problems and concerns, and performing inspections.
He noted that on a recent Southside walk, over 200 citations were issued to residents for required home repairs.
The mayor also said Bethlehem will undertake a $30 million repair and refurbishment project for three city bridges including the Fahy (New Street) Bridge, Lynn Street Bridge, and the Hill-to-Hill Bridge.
He said the Fahy project will begin next spring and last for 18 months.
Donchez said 78 percent of Bethlehem's city employee pensions are funded and remarked. "We're in pretty good shape" compared to other area cities, however, residents needs to lobby their state legislators to make changes especially for new city employees.
"The current pension system is unsustainable," he commented and added, "We need some kind of hybrid plan for pensions."
He noted the city budget for 2015 includes $3 million for pensions and $1 million for healthcare.
Finally, the mayor commended the Sands for being "a great corporate citizen" because of its support for Southside city schools Broughal and Donegan, and the Southside Hispanic Center.
"The Sands has lived up to every promise they've made to Bethlehem" said Donchez.
He cited the Sands being responsible not only for the development of its casino property, but ArtsQuest and PBS-39 at Steelstacks as well.
The town hall meeting was held at Saint John's Windish Lutheran Church in South Bethlehem.