Armstrong unveils proposed 2020 Lehigh County budget
Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong unveiled his 2020 proposed $514.6 million fiscal plan Aug. 30 to department heads, staffers, four attending commissioners and the public. Speaking in the public hearing room of the Lehigh County Administration’s Seventh Street headquarters in Allentown, Armstrong’s budget raises taxes to 5.5 percent.
That translates into a millage rate of 3.84, which will generate $115 million. That would be a $771.84 tax per year on a $201,000 home, according to information provided by Armstrong. That is about $3 more per month than is currently being spent in property taxes by families, according to the executive.
The new millage rate is where Armstrong predicted it would be as a result of the Republican-dominated board of commissioners cutting his proposed 2019 budget last year.
“People elected me to do the right thing,” Armstrong said, attributing the phrase to Lehigh County Commissioner Marc Grammes who was in the audience.
“We’re trying to be responsible to the taxpayer,” Armstrong said. “The (budget) process was long with tough decisions. It’s been 15 years since an executive presented a balanced budget.
“Only 26 percent of the budget is paid for with property taxes,” he added.
According to Armstrong, Lehigh County pays a smaller percentage of household income at 1.26 percent than Northampton County at 3.76 percent or Berks County at 2.41 percent.
Sixty-four percent of the budget is paid for with grants and reimbursements. Of the 2020 budget expenditures, 64 percent are for nursing homes, with $46.7 million for the construction of a new wing at the Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehabilitation Center and the human services department.
The balance of the budget pays for the courts, with $1.3 million for court security upgrades, and $9.6 million for courthouse renovations, the jail, district attorney’s office, sheriff’s department, the public defender and the coroner.
Also paid from the budget are general services, which include bridges, parks, trails, the Valley Preferred Cycling Center Velodrome with $420,000 for track resurfacing, historic sites, Coca-Cola Park, Trexler Nature Preserve, emergency management and the farmland preservation program at $3 million.
It also pays for salaries, benefits and the pension plan, with $15 million to the employee retirement plan, which is 86.5 percent funded. It pays for administration, which includes Lehigh County Veterans Affairs, human resources and the voter registration and election process.
“We made $638,000 in cuts before this presentation,” Armstrong said. “We’re trying to predict 18 months ahead. If there is a surplus, I agree with the board (of commissioners) that it should go into the capital fund.”
The proposed budget retains the capital fund at $25 million.
“This 2020 budget is fiscally responsible and adheres to the five-year fiscal strategic plan,” Armstrong said. “It prioritizes the protection and security of the most vulnerable among us. It makes a significant investment in our infrastructure and ensures a balanced budget.”
Armstrong said the 2020 budget is critical to ensuring the county stays within Government Finance Officers Association standards.
“It prevents further cuts that would undermine our ability to provide services, promote public safety and serve the people,” Armstrong said. “It ensures our bond rating remains stable, saving taxpayers money in the long run, and it protects Lehigh County taxpayers from a more painful and severe tax increase.
“And it keeps the stabilization fund at $25 million through 2023,” he said.
Armstrong said his administration has made every effort to be transparent, accessible and open with the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners.
Despite all the commissioners being invited to attend, Commissioner Amy Zanelli noted she was the only commissioner to attend all of the budget input and planning meetings.
“This budget was the result of simply looking at the numbers and making realistic decisions based off of them,” Armstrong said. “This is about ensuring we maintain a strong bond rating and leave Lehigh County in a strong position for the future.”
The proposed budget presentation was simultaneously uploaded to the Lehigh County website.