Bethlehem City Hall and Police Department

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Bethlehem City Council adopted a 2021 general fund budget during Tuesday night's meeting and approved a property tax increase. 

The $87.4 million spending plan includes a 5% tax increase on property owners. For Bethlehem residents in Northampton County, this computes to 8.61 mills on each dollar of assessed valuation. The rate for Lehigh County residents will be 2.72 mills, according to city documents.

"While we are raising taxes this year...we are doing a good job by those we serve here in the city of Bethlehem," said Councilman Michael Colón.

Council voted 6-1 for each of the two separate bills that respectively include the general fund budget and the tax increase. Councilman Bryan Callahan offered the dissenting vote on both measures.

Prior to the budget vote, Police Chief Michelle Kott discussed a community engagement plan for 2021, which she described as an evolving program. It was based on a request made by Councilman J. William Reynolds to examine policing philosophies.

"I appreciate you are looking for a process that will allow different people to engage in different ways," said Reynolds.

City council separately approved various departmental budgets. They included the water, sewer, golf course enterprise fund, liquid fuels, Community Development Block Grant, and stormwater budgets, along with capital budgets for utilities, non-utilities, and sewer utilities.

In other news, Darlene Heller, the city's director of planning and development, requested city council schedule a public hearing for a zoning text and map amendment to create student housing overlay districts and provisions to address student housing.

In addition, the amendment would include minor revisions to certain dimensional requirements and accessory structure regulations.

On Dec. 10, the planning commission voted 4-1 to recommend city council support the proposed zoning ordinance amendment. This was the planning commission's second review of the amendment, Heller told council.

One component of last week's meeting was that the amendment had an added revision to allow maximum occupancy of three college students in the industrial redevelopment-residential zoning district, in keeping with what is proposed in the central business and limited commercial zoning districts.

A public hearing for the student housing overlay districts was scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2021.

In other news, council also approved a hearing for a proposed zoning district overlay amendment petition. The applicant, Bethlehem Manor Village LLC, is requesting the overlay of two lots, located at 1838 Center St. The applicant desires to construct a grocery store, which is prohibited in the institutional zoning district.

A public hearing for the petition was scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2021.

In other business, council approved appointments to various boards and commissions. They include: Ellen Foscue Johnson and Sandra Gillen to the Fine Arts Commission, Jessica Lee to the Zoning Hearing Board, Kenneth Loush and Mike Simonson to the Historical Conservation Commission for South Bethlehem and Mount Airy, and Barry Cohen to the Code Board of Appeals.

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