Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure proposed Monday a 2023 budget that keeps taxes at current levels.

If County Council, which has to approve spending plans, votes in favor of the McClure plan, property taxes would remain at 10.8 mills, or $540 for a property assessed at $50,000.

McClure's proposed operating budget is $544.8 million, down from $570.4 million in 2022. The county operates the court system, Northampton County Prison, human services, general government and public works.

"For as many years as I can recall, I have been attempting to reverse the tide of over-taxation for the citizens of Northampton County," McClure said during his budget presentation at the government center in Easton.

Last year, the county cut taxes from 11.8 mills to 10.8 mills. Each mill is one-thousandth of the assessed value of a property. The owner of a property assessed at $50,000 and taxed at 10.8 mills paid $540 to the county this year.

The budget hits upon familiar McClure themes: fighting off big-box development and not cutting county services.

"Budget priorities include combating warehouse proliferation through the funding of open space and farmland preservation. The budget invests in open space and includes improvements for County buildings, upgrades to equipment to maintain safe and secure elections and modernization of radio infrastructure for emergency services," the executive said in his budget address.

Debt-service payments will fall by $7.1 million, he said, and $17 million will be put into an emergency fund to keep the county financially sound.

McClure said in July he would veto a proposed tax break for warehouse development at the old Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough. County Council voted that plan down before he had to exercise the veto. He reiterated his stance Monday.

"The plan is simple," he said. "Preserve open space and farmland, and provide no tax breaks for warehouse developers."

He also vowed to "push back" against reckless spending, without saying what he deemed to be reckless.

As proposed, human services would consist of 55.5% of expenditures, with general government second, at 22.5%. The court system and prison would consume about one-in-six operating budget dollars, while public works would account for 4.3% and capital projects, 1.3%.

Stephen Barron Jr., director of fiscal affairs, said the Gracedale county nursing home is self-sustaining and has its own budget. McClure and County Council agreed earlier this year to spend about $15 million for employee retention and recruiting at the home, along with capital improvements.

The county received millions of dollars in federal aid during the COVID-19 pandemic. McClure said he and council have agreed to set aside about $6 million of that in case of a resurgence of COVID-19.

Three council members attended the budget presentation: President Lori Vargo Heffner, John Goffredo and Thomas Giovanni.

The nine-member part-time council will hold five hearings on the half-billion-dollar-plus budget before voting. The first hearing will be Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in the government center to review proposed spending for general government, excluding the Department of Community and Economic Development.

"It's our job to look at the big picture," Vargo Heffner said. "I do like that it does not include a tax increase."

Goffredo said the county has to work to retain employees. The benefits package may include perks that the private sector does not offer, but Goffredo said that may not be enough.

"Especially when it comes to recruiting younger employees, it's hard to show the value of a pension," he said.


Scroll down for comments if available