Lehigh County Commissioner Candidates Talk About Open Space Funding
If elected, would they dedicate money to farmland preservation?
Lehigh County Republicans who go to the polls for Tuesday's primary election will be able to select four of eight candidates to advance to November's general election. Patch asked the candidates for succinct answers to three questions to help voters make an informed choice.
Our first question dealt with possible privatization of Cedarbrook nursing home.
Our second question addresses how candidates would avoid deficit spending.
Here is the third of the three questions:
Should Lehigh County put money in the Green Futures fund for farmland preservation and park improvements in 2012?
Dean N. Browning: Even with the tax increase for 2011, the county had a $4 million hole in the budget for this year. That will have to be filled by keeping costs below budget in 2011. Once that is done it will be necessary to hold the line on those expenses in the budget for 2012. Green Futures funding for 2012 should be considered only if these two objectives have been met and exceeded.
Norma Cusick: Along with economic benefits, the Green Futures fund program has been a very effective tool helping many communities in Lehigh County protect, restore and enhance the environment. Since the program began Lehigh County has received and used millions of dollars to help preserve more than 20,000 acres of farmland from development. However, if there is no money available in 2012, I do not favor putting additional money in at this time.
Vic Mazziotti: These programs should not be funded in 2012. Too many of our residents are facing very difficult times in this recession and we should not expend funds on such non-essential programs at this time. We should reconsider this decision when the economy improves.
David C. Najarian: In 2002, the Green Futures referendum was overwhelmingly approved by voters 70.6 percent in favor versus 29.4 against. The referendum authorized $30 million to protect open space and farmland. The county should not nullify a referendum approved by the voters. That being said, the program could be made smarter by adjusting the criteria for farm rankings, accounting for zoning and flood plain restrictions, and by tying County funding to that actually received through the State’s Growing Greener program (approved separately by referendum in 2005). This may result in a smaller program but allow it to continue in accordance with the referendum.
Brad Osborne: The Green Futures fund was approved by voters in 2002 to help preserve and create city parks and fields for children’s sports, as well as protect farmland. This has been a productive initiative and we may take some of its county-wide success for granted now. This program should continue into 2012, but funding must be scrutinized, and it certainly cannot result in a tax increase.
Scott Ott: Everything must be prioritized at the department level, and the county executive must lead his departments to cut spending starting with the lowest priorities. Commissioners must reject tax hikes, and require spending cuts to match expenses within existing revenues. We should not fund anything outside of the core functions unless it can be done without raising taxes or increasing borrowing.
Lisa Scheller: Before we commit to spending money and potentially incurring debt for farmland preservation in 2012, we need to examine and prioritize county expenses. During these tough economic times, I would put a temporary moratorium on the spending. Because this program was a voter referendum, frequent and regular review of when it could resume must happen.
Mike Welsh: County spending cannot continue on its current path and, unless measures are taken to end deficit spending, it will be difficult to fund Green Futures for 2012.