Leaders address state of counties
Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure and Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong, along with state Rep. Zach Mako, R-183rd, and Michael Dee, chief of staff for state Rep. Jeanne McNeil, D-133rd, gathered at Fellowship Community, Whitehall, Sept. 12 to present their thoughts on the state of the counties to Whitehall Area Chamber of Commerce.
McClure emphasized the crossroads he sees in the future.
“In the next decade, we need to decide if we are going to be the home of fulfillment centers or if we can balance economic development and land protection,” he said.
According to McClure, people are coming to the area because of the quality of life they can have. He emphasized the people coming in are not only families, but also couples who see quality of life as an important consideration. The population continues to grow but at controllable rates.
McClure emphasized his attention to small business development as the major driving point for economic prosperity.
“The business development that I see next is in the Slate Belt. Right now, they don’t have infrastructure needed to live up to their full potential, and that needs to be the focus of our attention,” he said.
McClure praised the cooperation between the two counties.
“Lehigh has stepped up to help us in many different ways,” he said.
Armstrong returned the compliment.
A quality-of-life project that both executives are working toward is a federal grant to extend the D&L Trail. The portion that needs to be improved is the section between Whitehall and Allentown. The improved D&L Trail will ultimately be incorporated into the Sept. 11th Memorial Trail (9/11 Trail). Under the vision proposed for the national trail, when it is completed, hikers and bikers will able to take the trail from the Pentagon to New York City to see all the Sept. 11 memorials. According to Armstrong, a federal grant to improve the local section of the D&L Trail is close but has not yet been approved.
Armstrong announced he is in favor of an additional $5 registration cost for annual vehicle registration renewals. Armstrong said he feels the fee is needed to repair bridges and roads.
Previous administrations reduced county property taxes from 3.79 to 3.64 mill. Armstrong wants to raise the tax back to the original 3.79 mill. According to Armstrong, the county requires the additional tax money to maintain its financial integrity.
At an Oct. 10 Lehigh County Commissioners meeting, commissioners voted 6-3 to keep the millage rate at 3.64 mills.
Armstrong proposed a county budget of $506 million — the highest in history. Commissioners were set to vote for the final budget Oct. 24.