Council Rejects Single Trash Hauler Proposal

With garbage collection issue settled, Bethlehem City Council votes to increase real estate taxes by 7 percent; rejects mayor's proposal to cut their health benefits.


Bethlehem City Council on Monday night voted to kill Mayor John Callahan’s proposal to hire – by the end of 2013 – a single hauler to cart away residential garbage.

In its final budget hearing of the season, council also voted in favor of a 7 percent real estate tax hike. That is lower than the 8.5 percent increase Callahan initially suggested in the budget proposal he made on Nov. 9.

Callahan came to the last budget session armed with a proposal to cut the tax hike to 5.1 percent, but council rejected the mayor’s tax proposal along with a couple of new administration proposals for budget cuts – such as an elimination of health care benefits for City Council members.

In rejecting the mayor’s controversial proposal for a single-hauler collection system, council rejected $500,000 in new city revenue from garbage fees and had to find a way to replace that as well.

The vote for the new tax rate, which came at the end of a six-hour session, was 6-1 in favor, with only Councilman David DiGiacinto dissenting. The final official vote on the budget and a new tax rate is scheduled at council’s final regular meeting of 2012 Thursday night.

If the budget is adopted as it is currently conceived, the real estate tax rate will rise by 1.04 mills and have an impact of $52 a year on the average homeowner with an assessed property value of $50,000.

Three-quarters of that tax increase will be dedicated exclusively to the continued operation of the city’s 911 emergency dispatching center.

Bethlehem is one of only two cities in Pennsylvania that operates its own emergency dispatching center. In all other corners of the state, with the exception of Allentown, 911 call centers are operated by county governments.

Council made the trash hauler decision at the very top of the meeting, casting a 4-3 vote to remove single-hauler from the discussion even before council President Eric Evans granted courtesy of the floor to what was again a packed Town Hall.

DiGiacinto, Evans, Bob Donchez and J. William Reynolds cast the majority vote to remove single-hauler – and a $500,000 revenue stream – from the table.

Dissenting votes were cast by Karen Dolan, Mike Recchiuti and, oddly, Jean Belinski, who had previously voiced her support for small independent trash haulers that had lobbied City Council to reject Callahan’s proposal.

Callahan was not able to obtain $1 million in payments in lieu of taxes from local nonprofits, as he said he intended when he first proposed a 2013 spending plan.

Instead, Callahan came to Monday’s session with news of increasing revenue from the refinancing of one bond to lower an interest rate, $400,000 in new earned income tax revenue based on higher-than-anticipated receipts this year and an expected increase in casino host fees because of a recently approved plan to add 31 new table games at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.

While council accepted these new revenue projections, it rejected some of Callahan’s proposals to cut expenses, including one that would have eliminated City Council’s taxpayer-funded health insurance benefit – a $70,000 line item.

DiGiacinto, Dolan, Belinski and Recchiuti voted against eliminating health insurance for council members. Evans, Donchez and Reynolds voted for it.

Staberdearth December 18, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Well..at the least my successfully challenged assessment in Lehigh county will somewhat offset the new tax hike that WE CAN ALWYS EXPECT FROM A RAVENOUS AND OUT OF CONTROL GUBMINT. DON'T THEY ALWAYS HELP THEMSELVES! BETTER HEALTH CARE THAN YOU, BETTER PENSIONS THAN YOU, BETTER SECURITY THAN YOU. THESE ARE YOUR OVERLORDS....YOU VOTED THEM IN AND CONTINUE TO DO SO! Tell me, who made Doober Dolan spokesperson? I place no faith in this, bereft of private sector experience, yayhoo from the BASD.
Mitch Johnson December 18, 2012 at 01:01 PM
What happened to all those promises about having lower taxes if the casinos are allowed in? Just another lie amongst theives who help themselves first.
Dana Grubb December 18, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Callahan's eleventh hour cuts beg the question, "why not do this from the start?" Why not? Because it's better to screw Bethlehem taxpayers as much as possible until you get caught. He has no credibility, despite all of his spin tactics. As for Council, outside of one or two who consistently challenge the administration on their initiatives by asking the tough questions and demanding hard to come by answers, most aren't representing Bethlehem residents well all of the time. Some work hard, but the results are usually mediocre because the majority choose to roll over more often than not. They remind me of the getaway car driver sitting behind the wheel with the engine idling, while the real bank robbers (Callahan and his lap dogs) are inside stealing everything they can get their hands on. They're not pointing the guns at anyone, but they're just as guilty for their participation. The bottom line with this budget is that the residents of Bethlehem lost; Callahan's mismanagement continues; and, nearly everybody in Bethlehem still wants to know what happened to the $9-$10 million casino host fee.
Jim Gregory December 18, 2012 at 02:29 PM
The single hauler proposal and the non profit proposal all should have been debated during the calender year. Evans was right on the money..This had no place in the budget discussion and should not have been brought to council in this manner. I have no idea what Callahan was thinking. You dont bring items to a budget that have little chance of passing and then expect council to fill in the blanks unless of course you want to put all the political pressure on them to raise the revenue. This revenue should have been moderately raised over the past four years. If that had been done, the budget would have been in better shape.
Bill Gontram December 18, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Instead of the average household saving over $100 a year with a single hauler, we now are facing a tax increase averaging $50, they say. And we'll continue to have trash-strewn streets and unnecessary noise and trash truck traffic due to Council's majority-of-one decision that forces residents to continue subsidizing a terribly inefficient system for the sole benefit of a small but very loud special interest clique.
Jim Reighty December 18, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Agree with Bill Gontram. Sorry this failed. Dana fGrubb is right the residents lost by not going to single hauler. Going to single hauler, and the cuts and revenue increases that were passed, would have lowered tax increase even more. Also, think it could have been presented better, but think there was time to debate this. Budget came out in early November. Hopeful that this will get a real look in February. As for the host fee, I have looked at the budget on city's website, and having experience in budgeting, I can clearly see that there were increases in pensions and medical obligations since the Host Fee began that utilize most of the host fee. Legacy costs like pensions are killing lots of municipalities (and even some old school private companies-though most have moved to defined contribution plans, some still have issues with their established defined benefit plans) It is too bad the city can't make that move to defined contribution. The nickel and dimes cuts also hurt in the end. If the Mayor forces the department heads to justify each item, then those cuts truly diminish service and the ability to provide service.
Dana Grubb December 18, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Jim, I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I think the residents won by retaining the independent hauler system. I also agree with Jim Gregory that this had no business being included as part of the budget process. It's a stand alone issue. Sadly, the residents lost overall because of a substantial real estate tax increase and not enough cuts in spending.
Jim Gregory December 18, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Dana, As you are aware, everyone plays the "no tax increase game" year to year until everything begins to fall apart. They then are forced to do a substantial increase and play all kinds of games to raise revenue. I don't get that..Never will. Ken Smith usually raised taxes moderately from time to time and kept the city in good shape while doing so...That seems to be a lost art..
Dana Grubb December 18, 2012 at 08:35 PM
You're absolutely right, Jim. That's the difference between someone with real life and business experience, and a bunch of amateurs.
Jim Gregory December 18, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Lol..You said that Dana, not me..I just believe when there is so much emphasis on slashing services to the bone eventually everything crumbles. We then have to spend ten times as much to get services back up to par. It's crazy.
Jim Reighty December 19, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Dana, Sorry I confused your point. I think the residents lost without single hauler. Tax increase is easier to swallow if I am paying less for trash. I also think the bulk of the tax increase goes to funding 911 center. I do believe that this is something the city should keep. Many cities want them back after moving to county. I support tax increase for these reasons. Also seems like a recycling fee increase would be better than the small tax increase above the 911 tax. We have all heard that short fall in recycling was reason to go to single hauler.
Jim Reighty December 19, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Dana, sounds like you don't like council very much. I met several of them, all seem knowledgeable about issues. I never met Belinski, though heard she may be past her prime, Evans or Digiacanto. I met Dolan a few years ago at a school event. Reynolds, Rechutti and Donchez all knocked on my door while campaigning. All seemed passionate about issues, and understood the issues.
Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 02:53 AM
"Doober Dolan" made quite the spectacle of herself at the budget meeting. A bit of contempt for those that pay her salary? Yes, I do think so! I was there. I saw it. It is so.
Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 02:58 AM
I'm thinking the mayor asking 8.5% was more than was needed. A start of "negotiation". When he went to 5% and it was voted down .... they all lost me .... the one who pays for THEM. I think it was a well developed set-up. Good guy .... bad guy.
Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Not true, Bill. We, who were there, knew there would be a tax increase. The problem was, where could they get it? The answer: wherever they can, LOL! Bethlehem likes the individual trash hauling system. A LOT. The lesson learned on Monday night? Don't mess with what is not broken. City Hall will get their blood out of a rock. They just couldn't on the "third rail" of the individual trash haulers. Story over.
Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Jim, Going to a single hauler system is only as good as the last contract. They tried this years ago. It never works. You are listening to what the City says the cost to you, will be. They don't even know. How do I KNOW? I asked if there was a contract written to bid on! In a letter! There is not. The City needs money to pay the legacy costs they negotiated years ago. Now, they are desperate to find that cash! But not, of course, from their own health care. (Aren't some on Medicare, employee plans, teachers unions??) But I digress. The raise in taxes was inevitable. Where it comes from was not. An individual trash hauler is what the majority wants. If the City wants to change it, put it up for a referendum. That way, you get a clear picture of how Bethlehem feels.
Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Jim Reighty, I have met many on Council, and many before this! Here's my breakdown: Jean Belinski knows more in her pinkie finger than any of us. I know. She was MY mentor. "Doober Dolan" is a teacher. Period. Her biggest claim to fame was "saving" Illick's Mill at Monocacy Creek. The place she remembers as "love and peace". I remember it, too. "Drugs, sex and rock & roll". Reynolds did more than Knock on my door. He spoke to me and listened. Evans is easy handed and fair. He is what is needed in the group. DiGiacinto actually makes phone calls to "the people". Donches looked at my mom's home ... to buy it. I go with Jean, Evans and DiGiacinto. Always.
Mike January 28, 2013 at 01:16 PM
For all of you out there that believe that your choice for services should be decided by Government should not stop at single trash hauler and move to have all services provided by single providers. You should include product delivery (FedX or UPS), lawn service (pick one), Propane (pick one) Pizza (pick one). I will never understand why people do not respect freedom and will trade it for money or security!


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