ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The 2022 Lehigh County budget had its first reading at Wednesday night's meeting of the board of commissioners and was moved to a second reading on Oct. 27. The budget proposes to spend $500,000,000 and has a tax rate of 3.78 mills, unchanged from this year.

Most of the discussion of the budget centered on four amendments, particularly one that adds a footnote to the budget, earmarking $1.75 million of American Rescue Funds to develop the Northern Lehigh Community Health and Wellness Center. The amendment passed 8-1 with Commissioner Percy Dougherty voting no.

The amendment was directly related to another bill authorizing Lehigh County to negotiate an agreement to purchase and/or lease approximately 3 acres of real property located in the Borough of Slatington which would be the site of the health and wellness center. That bill was also moved to a second reading.

The commissioners approved the continuation of the employee referral bonus incentive program by which eligible county employees receive a monetary bonus for referrals resulting in the hiring of any of the following: full-time corrections officers, full-time and regular part-time nurses who work as resident caregivers at Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehabilitation, and full-time communication operators.

Two bonus payments in the amount of $250 each and a final payment of $500 are incrementally made to the eligible employee if the referred employee is still an active employee at three months, six months, and twelve months following their hire.

"There's a problem in Lehigh County and elsewhere with people not going back to work," Doughtery said, speaking in favor of the bill. "This is absolutely needed."

Service agreements

The commissioners approved a professional services agreement with Cetronia Ambulance Corps to provide ambulance and paratransit services for the residents of Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehabilitation in Allentown and Fountain Hill.

The contract is effective Oct. 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2023. The contract may be extended for two additional terms of one year upon the same terms and conditions and the written agreement of both the county and provider.

Commissioners also OK'd a professional services agreement with HNL Lab Medicine to provide clinical laboratory diagnostic services for Cedarbrook residents.

The contract is effective Oct. 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2023.

Health Network Laboratories will bill Medicare, Medicaid and/or other third-party insurance directly and will accept fees received as payment-in-full for services rendered, except for those services which are reimbursable under Medicare Part A.

Small business grant program

The commissioners authorized the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce to assist with outreach, marketing, and the application process related to the second round of funding from the Lehigh County COVID-19 Relief Small Business Grant Program.

The funding will support Lehigh County businesses with fewer than 100 employees with COVID-19 related expenses.

The county was awarded approximately $72,000,000 of funding pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act, and it has earmarked $10,000,000 of that funding. The GLVCC would receive an administrative fee of $300,000 for its assistance with the administration of the Program.

Agricultural and conservation easement appraisals

Also, the commissioners approved an agreement with Agrarian Associates, Inc. to provide appraisal services to the Lehigh County Farmland Preservation Program.

The contract will be effective Jan. 1, 2022 through Dec. 31, 2023.

Individual appraisals following state guidelines will be performed for an amount not to exceed $1,700. Individual appraisals following federal guidelines will be performed for an amount not to exceed $3,000. The maximum annual compensation payable to Agrarian Associates is $28,900.

DISCLAIMER FOR COMMENTS: The views expressed by public comments are not those of this company or its affiliated companies. Please note by clicking on "Post" you acknowledge that you have read the TERMS OF USE and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Your comments may be used on air. Be polite. Inappropriate posts or posts containing offsite links, images, GIFs, inappropriate language, or memes may be removed by the moderator. Job listings and similar posts are likely automated SPAM messages from Facebook and are not placed by WFMZ-TV.