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Budget Address

View the Mayor's 2020 Proposed Budget


MAYOR DONCHEZ'S 2020 BUDGET ADDRESS

Business Leaders Breakfast
November 8, 2019     
The Factory 7:30 am
 
Good morning and thank you for joining me this morning for the Annual Business Leaders Breakfast. I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Factory, and Richard Thompson personally, for hosting us, and all the sponsors of this breakfast.
 
Let me also thank the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring and organizing this event. This is the 21st year the Bethlehem Chamber has brought this event to the business community.
 
The City of Bethlehem’s strength is a result of our community partnerships. We are strong because of our residents, our businesses, our institutions of higher learning, and our medical institutions.

 To that end, I would specifically like to thank Lehigh University, Moravian College, Northampton Community College, East Stroudsburg University, St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network for their continued support and investment in our community.

Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to thank my department heads, and all City employees for their hard work and dedication during the year.

In addition, I would like to thank City Council for their support on many initiatives during 2019, and a special thank you to my Financial Advisory Committee for their insight and expertise.

As my sixth year in office comes to a close, I want to say, that I am proud of the continued progress we have made, with an emphasis on our streets, parks, downtowns, and improving the financial and operational stability of Bethlehem. The economy has remained strong on both the national and local level.
 
In Bethlehem, we continue to see new plans and developments in both our residential and commercial districts. Bethlehem is pro-business, and continues to be an attractive place to live, work, and play.

2019 has been a year of transitions…

Last year at this event, I spoke about dramatic changes on the horizon:
The prospect of Martin Tower coming down.
The possibility of The Sands selling the casino.

Within weeks of each other last May, Martin Tower was imploded, and The Sands sold the casino to Wind Creek. Both properties are now transitioning, with enormous potential in the years ahead.

The pace of the cleanup at the Martin Tower site has increased, and the owners have already submitted preliminary plans for a mixed-use development on the 53-acres. Wind Creek is moving forward with plans for a 2nd hotel, and exploring the possibility of rehabbing machine shop 2 into a water park and adventure center. I have met with the leadership of Wind Creek on several occasions, and they are excited about investing in the Bethlehem site, and being involved in our community.

Around the same time those transitions were taking place last spring, we consolidated our 9-1-1 Center with Northampton County, a complex transfer with critical implications. Through the efforts of our professionals, as well as those at Northampton County, we completed the consolidation, and continue working to make sure Bethlehem citizens receive a high level of service. I would like to specifically thank County Executive McClure for his leadership and support throughout the consolidation process.

After the 9-1-1 consolidation, I announced the opening of the Bethlehem Service Center, an operation that is staffed 24/7, and responsible for routing citizen service requests to the correct city department for resolution. The Bethlehem Service Center can be reached by:
* calling 610-865-7000,
* emailing bethlehemservicecenter@bethlehem-pa.gov,
* or by downloading the app that is available on Google Play or the Apple Store.
The “BSC” handles calls, emails, and requests each day, with the express intent of improving efficiency in our organization to better handle and support the residents and visitors of the City.

Once the summer heated up, Memorial Pool, a wonderful recreational resource, began its $5 million renovation. Construction began in August, and the warm and dry fall weather has been very advantageous to the schedule. The exciting, multi-functional design, includes a zero-entry wading pool with splash bucket, an activity pool with flume slides, and a competition pool, with 6 lap lanes and 2 diving boards. The existing bathhouse is also being fully renovated. Since opening in 1957, Memorial Pool has offered refreshing recreation to countless patrons over the past 62 years, and is on schedule be ready for the 2020 season. Senator Lisa Boscola has secured over $1.7 million in state grants for the new pool, and I want to thank her for her strong support for this project.

Across Illick’s Mill Road, projects and upgrades are well underway at the Bethlehem Golf Club. Opened in 1956, a year before Memorial Pool, it had the same issues as the pool; a popular recreational destination that needed re-investment so it could continue to be a community resource for many years to come. Last winter and early spring, targeted trees were removed. In late spring a new pavilion was constructed. October 21st marked the beginning of the latest project: having 37 sand traps completely restored.
In between the trees and traps projects we added new turf equipment, and significantly upgraded the irrigation system on both the 9-hole course and 18-hole course.

Next spring, new cart paths will be installed. Daily maintenance has been increased, and the course has had a successful season, both operationally and financially. It should be noted that all the projects at the course, are being funded with golf course dollars, not tax dollars.
 
As an enterprise fund, the course is responsible for and covers all expenses associated with the complex. On that note, I would like to thank St. Luke’s University Health Network who signed a 5-year, $120,000 sponsorship to the Golf Club.

On October 16th the City launched its brand new website, with enhanced capabilities and pages that can be quickly and easily updated by each department. This allows our departments to remain flexible and responsive to the changing environment in which they operate. This site offers quick links to the Bethlehem Service Center, purchasing, employment opportunities, and access to seasonal work schedules, so residents can track leaf collection, snow plowing, and recycling pick-ups.

Electronic forms and permits are available for download, and City Council has a calendar that posts their meetings, agendas, and meeting minutes in audio, video, and text format. We will also continue working with OpenGov to provide a portal into our financial software, which increases the transparency of our financial reporting to the community.

While Bethlehem continues to transition and evolve at a rapid rate, my administration has worked diligently with City Council over the past 6 years to deliver a balanced budget. We have streamlined operations, refinanced debt at lower rates, and leveraged our purchasing power to achieve better deals for energy, banking, and healthcare.

With 85% of our proposed budget tied up in personnel and debt service, we focus intensely on discretionary spending (materials, supplies, outside services, equipment). By making sustainable adjustments to our income statement, we have built a stronger balance sheet. The results have been noticed and validated through significant credit rating upgrades. On October 21st, S&P affirmed Bethlehem’s A+ stable bond rating.

Bethlehem’s improved financial condition has given us the ability to invest $8.5 million this year into many much needed, long deferred, capital projects and infrastructure improvements throughout Bethlehem, without taking on additional debt.

My administration takes public safety very seriously, and spends more on public safety than any other area. From 2000-2008, the City did not purchase any fire trucks, and a result we have an aged fleet. In order to bring our fleet back into line with national standards, we purchased 2 fire trucks in 2019. Engine 5, a Quint, was recently completed and dedicated on October 17th at Lincoln Fire Station on Easton Avenue. The replacement for Engine 6 is in the works and will be delivered to Broad Street in 2020.

With public safety being a high priority, my administration invested in a new EMS vehicle, body cameras for police, new Motorola radios, and security upgrades for City Hall. This is a picture of our new EMS vehicle, a 2019 Ford E-350. It joined our fleet on August 7th, and replaced a 2009 vehicle with 110,000 miles on it. In 2019, EMS will respond to approximately 12,000 calls.

Roads have been at the top of many people’s list for some time, and again I increased our paving budget in order to catch up on street paving throughout the city. This season we used nearly 10,000 tons of macadam to pave and repair over 5 miles of streets. Our in-house miller and paver are efficient, and we were able to complete all targeted streets during the 2019 paving season.

Additional funding has also been provided for repairs to City Hall and for a replacement to the Public Works facility on Rodgers Street. The facility on Rodgers Street houses our Grounds Maintenance and Traffic Maintenance divisions, and is long outdated. It is in the design stage now, and will be demolished and replaced, along with site improvements.

So as we transition from 2019 into 2020, we will look to build on our momentum.
For 2020, I am proposing a no tax increase budget.

The budgeted General Fund Revenues for 2020 is $80,150,000. Real Estate tax remains the largest revenue component at 36%. Federal, state, and county grants account for 10%.

The General Fund Expenses are set at $80,150,000 million to balance the budget for 2020. Note that personnel expense is, by far, the largest percentage of our budget at 75%. The Police Department is the largest in terms of employees and dollars, at 154 and $24.5 million, respectively. As a group, our public safety departments (Police, Fire, and EMS) will cost over $44.3 million, or 55% of the total general fund expenses in 2020.
The proposed 2020 budget includes funding for a climate action plan. Bethlehem will join many other progressive cities across the United States, by consulting with experts on how best to reduce our carbon footprint and make sustainable changes to our City.

Another 2020 initiative, will be educating our residents to participate in the Census. Cities, counties, and states across the country are focusing efforts to increase participation in the Census, as the results have a significant impact on federal funding.

We will be partnering with Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, to engage our communities and share information on the impact the Census will have on Bethlehem. To kick start the campaign, I challenged a Bethlehem Area School District web design class to create a logo that could be used on the City’s website and Census education materials.

Dozens of designs were submitted for consideration, and the winning logo was created by Aidan Swenor, a sophomore at Freedom High School. As we move into the new year, the logo will appear across Bethlehem.

On a larger scale, two important programs are included in my 2020 budget proposal:

  1. Enhancements to our Housing Inspections Program
  2. Stormwater Pollution and Flood Prevention Program

The introduction of these programs will improve the quality of life for Bethlehem residents in several ways.
 
Housing Inspections
As our vibrant downtowns evolve and grow, we want to provide the necessary support to the many residential neighborhoods that make up the fabric of Bethlehem.

Our Housing Bureau works hard to ensure properties are kept up and maintained. Although we have worked hard to control the quality of rental housing, it has historically been monitored on a complaint-driven basis. A comprehensive study presented to City Council, contained a very important suggestion; to move from the complaint-driven basis to a strategic, data-driven inspection schedule, to ensure consistent, timely, inspections and a higher-quality housing stock for rental properties across Bethlehem.

It is the goal of this program, to inspect every rental property throughout the City every 3 years. The Department of Community and Economic Development has developed this plan and the proposed budget includes the necessary resources to implement the program in 2020.

Stormwater Pollution and Flood Prevention Program
As the City’s storm water infrastructure ages, flood events increase in intensity, and water regulations become more demanding, we will need sustainable and consistent resources to achieve the goals of the community.

The Stormwater Pollution and Flood Prevention Program will be implemented by our Public Works department to meet those goals. (Similar programs are running in Easton, Allentown, and cities all across the state.) The stormwater program is actually required for the City to meet its obligations under the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System’s Municipal System (MS-4) permit.

This program will provide for the complete evaluation of the City’s stormwater system, identifying capacity deficiencies, designing and constructing improvements to address deficiencies, preparation of a pollutant reduction plan, identification of best management practice of existing facilities to improve water quality and remove pollution, and the design and implementation of those improvements.

The program will also provide for the inspection and maintenance of the storm water system, cleaning of streets, and cleaning of inlets and the overall City storm sewer system, which is extensive. The program’s main objective is to reduce the amount of pollutants discharged to waters of the United States, improve water quality, and mitigate and/or eliminate flooding.

Bethlehem has watched various cities and townships implement their plans over the past few years, and the proposed 2020 budget includes the resources that will be required to begin this important mandated program.

As evidenced by the slides we’ve seen, Bethlehem is undergoing transitions all over the City. Whether it be facilities, equipment, technology, or programming, we are planning, adapting, and investing to meet the needs of our growing population. We are a city with a rich and proud history, and our future is very bright. Bethlehem will continue to be the jewel of the Lehigh Valley.