2022 Bethlehem City Council President’s Report

2022 was an ambitious and successful year for Bethlehem City Council. Three veteran legislators welcomed four new members who teamed to complete unfinished business and begin new initiatives. In all, Council held 24 regular meetings and 17 committee and budget sessions resulting in the adoption of 247 Resolutions and passage of 40 Ordinances.  The following highlights made these actions more than just statistics:
 First, Bethlehem came alive again as it emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic in the first quarter of 2022. The City’s Health Bureau stood tall in leading the fight along with our public safety teams — all of whom are owed a great deal of gratitude.
Despite the many hardships and challenges posed by the pandemic, the City now has perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebound and thrive thanks to $34.4 million in appropriations through the American Rescue Plan Act. This federal money was provided for pandemic recovery, and the City has seen fit to use it in several ways: recover revenue loss, invest in infrastructure, and establish an affordable housing fund and a homelessness initiative.
In October, a joint meeting of the Community Development and Public Safety committees included a presentation by the City’s Department of Community and Economic Development concerning a proposal to use $1.4 million in ARPA money toward a 50- to 70-bed non-congregant shelter to assist the homeless. If this vision becomes a reality, this would be the Lehigh Valley’s first year-round permanent shelter to address homelessness. It is envisioned that this plan would be coupled with a program in which those served by the homeless shelter would transition to affordable housing. The City is spearheading these initiatives and intends to gather partners for financial and professional support. These initiatives will continue to be developed and Council’s Community Development Committee will meet again with DCED in February and March to receive updates.
Meanwhile, Council continued its efforts toward increasing transparency. The practice of live-streaming its meetings began in 2019. Today, live-streaming continues as a permanent feature. In June of 2022, Council participated in its biennial training conducted by the State Ethics Commission to educate members on identifying and avoiding conflicts of interest and fulfilling requirements of submitting Statements of Financial Interests.  The year also brought passage of a Conflict of Interest Ordinance requiring the mandatory recusal of public officials in matters in which they hold a financial interest. Council held three Committee of the Whole meetings to work out details before approving passage in November.
City Council also reviewed and took action on several financial matters during 2022. This included authorizing the refinancing of water debt to cap existing debt service payments and borrow an additional $10 million for capital projects over the next several years, approving several budget adjustments, and convening the Committee of the Whole to review the Five-Year Capital Program.
In 2022, Council conducted its fifth annual Financial Accountability Incentive Reporting hearing to evaluate the effectiveness of economic development incentives – perhaps familiar to you as LERTA and CRIZ – and to increase transparency. These annual hearings are conducted by the Community Development Committee to review administration reports submitted to Council pursuant to Article 349 Economic Development Incentive Reporting and Evaluation, established in 2018.
The Community Development Committee also held a meeting in which the City’s land development process was outlined. Other CD Committee meetings involved review, and eventual Council passage, of five zoning text amendments to update the Zoning Ordinance. Similarly, the Human Resources and Environmental Committee assisted in updating an ordinance regulating solar energy devices. The Community Development Committee also reviewed creation of a Southside LERTA District II. This tool, known as Local Economic Revitalization Tax Abatement, has been important in incentivizing the development of blighted and brownfield properties. After committee review, Council passed the ordinance in August.
Council committees also reviewed, and Council passed, amendments to Article 1701 adopting the 2018 Pennsylvania Unform Construction Code, Article 157 entitled the Civil Service Board, Article 1733 adopting the 2018 International Property Maintenance Code, and Article 1501 entitled Fire Safety and Code Enforcement Inspection Fees adopting the 2018 International Fire Code. Council also approved Community Development Block Grant/HOME allocations.
Additionally, Council approved resolutions to allow the City to accept state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant funds to help pay for the Fairview Park Revitalization, and DCNR and the Northampton County Open Space Initiative Livable Landscapes Grant Program to help fund the expansion of the Monocacy Trail.
Finally, Council throughout the year authorized a number of contracts, use permit agreements, and certificates of appropriateness, and approved Councilmanic Appointments and Administrative appointments to various City boards, commissions, and authorities.
Michael G. Colón
President of Bethlehem City Council
January 3, 2023