Public hearing scheduled on parking meter rate increase in Bethlehem


BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Bethlehem City Council approved a $15 fine for meter violations, up from a $10 penalty that was deemed not high enough, during a meeting that lasted more than three hours Wednesday night.

Drivers who park on the street all day and get a ticket pay no more than they would at one of the daily garages and can save money compared to the cost of parking at a $1.50 per hour meter. Raising the cost may encourage more people to use Bethlehem Parking Authority garages. Tickets for other violations such as double-parking and over-staying in a spot that is free for a limited time will also go up.

Council President Adam Waldron along with Bryan Callahan, Grace Crampsie Smith, J. William Reynolds and Michael Colon voted for higher fines. Olga Negron and Paige Van Wirt were opposed. Van Wirt has suggested that free parking be allowed in certain areas, such as Main Street and Third Street, to encourage shopping. In turn, there would be much higher fines for violators who stay more than the allowed free time.

Callahan opposed that idea because downtown businesses need turnover to bring in customers. Giving out free parking when there is rarely an open spot on Main Street would not solve a problem, and there is free parking just a block or two away, he said.

Health Care

Much of the meeting was spent on a symbolic resolution that encourages the federal government to adopt a "Medicare for All" program. Members of the audience and council members discussed their experiences with health care at length.

Anthony Downing of Bethlehem said he is in "gripping debt due to my medical costs," while John McGeehan, also a city resident, said the council should consider how such a plan would be paid for before voting.

Reynolds and Colon conceded that the symbolic resolution would not solve any problem, but it would make a statement.

The council passed the resolution unanimously.

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As the meeting approached the three-hour mark, Waldron wielded the gavel to cut off Callahan's claim that a city employee had acted unethically. Van Wirt and Negron also objected to the personal attack.

When Callahan said he wanted to ask the employee a question, Waldron said he hoped the employee would not respond. The administration did not respond during the meeting, and afterward, Mayor Robert Donchez declined to discuss Callahan's comments.

The council approved $105,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for the Bethlehem Food Co-Op. Kelly Allen, chairman of the co-op's board, and others spoke about Bethlehem's need for a downtown store that will provide fresh, local food along with education about nutrition. The proposed co-op, which does not have a location yet, is not connected to any previous co-ops in Bethlehem.

The council also voted, unanimously, for a liquor-license transfer to the Weis grocery store in the Westgate Mall. Weis plans to move to the former BonTon store in the mall, and will sell beer and wine after the move. The current Weis market will remain open until the new one is ready, perhaps in 2020, according to Ellen Freeman, attorney for the grocery chain.

Donchez will present his 2020 budget on Friday, and the council will begin hearings on it soon.

Before the regular meeting, the council met to review the city's 2020-2024 capital plan. Proposals from that plan include converting one-way stretches of Linden and Center streets back to two-way traffic. Those streets were made one-way south of Elizabeth Avenue years ago to accommodate Bethlehem Steel Corp. traffic. The steel plant closed more than 20 years ago.

The city may also demolish the maintenance facility at Rodgers and Lewis streets and replace it with a pole barn. The current building is a former Naval Reserve facility that was built in 1950.

Bethlehem also is considering moving the recycling center on Illicks Mill Road, so it is not as close to the golf course, driving range and baseball fields. It would stay within a half-mile of its current location.