ALLENTOWN, Pa. – You've heard of Christmas in July, but how about Christmas in March?
Christmas, or more specifically, the Lights in the Parkway display in Allentown fostered a spirited discussion during Wednesday night's Allentown City Council meeting.
The discussion came from a request to amend the General Budget by the Department of Community and Economic Development to utilize $150,000 of unappropriated funds for Lights in the Parkway, which is the Allentown's longest city-sponsored event and will celebrate its 25th birthday next winter. Last year, more than 19,000 cars passed through the attraction, according to the city.
Most of the money was requested for the display itself.
"Many of the displays are rusted, falling apart and need to be replaced," according to Leonard Lightner, the city's director of community and economic development. He added that the money request is coming now so that the city can take advantage of current off-season discounts when the purchases are made.
Other funds were requested for wages. The reason, the city says, is that volunteers are becoming increasingly hard to acquire on a consistent basis.
Controller Jeff Glazier cautioned council about supporting the request. He said the three major considerations of budget, programmatic fairness and the event's financials did not warrant approval.
Glazier noted all city programs "are underfunded" and that Lights in the Parkway is no different. Singling it out for a cash injection at this time, he said, and not during budget season is at best questionable. He added DCED and the lights program in particular should become more innovative and proactive in attracting volunteers.
"The point is how we appropriate our money — what are our priorities?" said Glazier.
Lightner responded that if council approved the expenditure, it "will not hear from us for additional funding for the next three years." He went on, "Will we need money for maintenance? Absolutely. But we can assure you will not hear from us for additional funding for the next three years. Let's reinvest in it now, while we have the money."
"During COVID, having Lights in the Parkway was a savior for all of us," said Councilwoman Cynthia Mota. "This Christmas, worldwide, it wasn't a great Christmas due to COVID. Having Lights in the Parkway was something you could enjoy with your family."
"It's a long-term investment and I think programs like these have tangible and intangible benefits," said Councilman Joshua Siegel. "I think this is one of the wisest investments we can make."
While all councilmembers supported the program, the amount of money that should be awarded became the focus.
"I think $150,000 is a lot of money to put back into Lights," said Councilwoman Candida Affa."I'm not saying we shouldn't put money back into or give them anything, but because we are so strapped for money, I don't see putting $150,000 into Lights."
After further discussion, Councilwoman Ce-Ce Gerlach presented an amendment: $100,000 to be granted for displays, while tabling the $50,000 request for part-time wages.
Councilman Daryl Hendricks said if volunteers, in spite of the department's best efforts to acquire them, cannot be acquired, then council could revisit the prospect of funding wages in the fall.
Gerlach's amended version passed 6-1, with Affa voting against the measure.
In other developments, council approved the hiring of two police officers: Gregorio Mora of Allentown and Lynnsay Bauman of Gilbertsville. Each officer will receive a $62,632 base salary annually. The vote was 5-2, with Gerlach and Siegel voting against the hires.
Council also approved Ann Bieber to serve on the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority board. Bieber, who is president of Lehigh Carbon Community College, will complete David Mickenberg's term, which ends Jan. 2, 2022.
Finally, council approved an administration request to transfer funds so it can pay contractors who were hired to assist with snow removal following the Jan. 31 snow fall which produced 27.3 inches. The total amount is $267,661.96.