Bethlehem City Council is expected to adopt a budget for 2013 spending and revenues – and a new real estate tax rate – during a meeting at 7 tonight in Town Hall.
After weeks of deliberations between the mayor, council members and other key stakeholders and about 20 hours of budget hearings, here is what you need to know about the 2013 Bethlehem budget:
- By the end of the last budget hearing, council had agreed, by a 6-1 vote, on a 7 percent real estate tax increase. That translates into an increase of 1.04 mills – an average hike of $52 for the year for a typical property owner with an assessed home value of $50,000.
- With the recently completed reassessment of properties in Lehigh County, the millage rates may translate differently in West Bethlehem, but even if you live there, your city real estate tax will go up by 7 percent.
- Council rejected Mayor John Callahan’s plan to hire a single trash hauler for city homes in 2013, which was tied to $500,000 in new revenue. About a quarter of the new tax increase might be viewed as most of the replacement revenue.
- Callahan initially proposed a tax hike of 8.5 percent, but suggested a reduction to 5.1 percent at the last budget hearing, offering a series of budget cuts and new revenue sources to make up the difference. Council rejected the tax rate reduction and several of the budget cuts, including the elimination of their health insurance. But they did accept some of the new revenue projections. (See next bullet.)
- Callahan was not able to gain $1 million in new contributions in lieu of taxes from some of the city’s larger nonprofits, such as Lehigh University, Moravian College and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Muhlenberg. For the purposes of this budget, that anticipated revenue has been replaced – by Callahan and with council’s blessing – with savings from debt refinancing and new higher revenue projections from earned income taxes and host fees from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.
- There will be a new amusement tax of no more than $1.50 per ticket for concerts and other large events at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, the Musikfest Café and Musikfest. Funds derived from the tax will be devoted to police, fire and emergency medical services.
- About three-quarters of the real estate tax hike -- .76 mills -- will be devoted exclusively to the continued operation of the city’s 911 emergency dispatching center. Bethlehem is unique in Pennsylvania – as it, along with neighboring Allentown – are the only municipalities to have their own 911 call centers. It is a county-run function everywhere else in the state.
- The city’s total budget is $72 million. Of that, nearly $50 million, 69.2 percent, is spent paying the salaries and benefits of Bethlehem’s 472 employees.
- On a department-by-department basis, the city’s largest expense is police, which costs $14 million, or 19.5 percent of the total budget. The Fire Department, at $10.2 million, which includes $2.1 million for city emergency medical services, is the second most expensive.
- The budget calls for nearly $7.9 million in long-term debt maintenance. There is a plan to take out a new $5.1 million bond in 2013 for non-utility capital expenses. Among the items that bond is expected to pay for is a new $430,000 streets milling machine, which Public Works Department Director Mike Alkhal said will double the city’s capacity to conduct street repaving projects in-house.