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Bethlehem Community Benefit District considered

By Rosa Duarte, Reporter, RDuarte@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 25 2013 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 26 2013 08:10:50 AM CDT

Some people who live and work in Bethlehem are looking to spruce up the city's Southside.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

Some people who live and work in Bethlehem are looking to spruce up the city's Southside.

However a new look comes at a price and not everyone is willing to pay.

Half of the annual budget to fund the Community Benefit District proposal would come from institutions and non-profit organizations.

Lehigh University has already committed to $100,000 per year for the first five years if the plan moves forward.

A community benefit district is a legal way for business and property owners to come together and pay for services in addition to what their municipality provides.

John Saraceno is a business owner and committee member of the group behind the proposal.

"We need to make some improvements over here, I've been working on turning around the south side for 30 years and 30 years later I'm still dealing with some of the same problems I started with 30 years ago," he said.

Cleaner sidewalks and public spaces, additional landscaping, even hired 'ambassadors' with connection to the police department to help keep the area safer are all things that would come with a Community Benefit District.

"There's a whole host of issues the city just can't take care of any more; they don't have the money," said Saraceno.

The money that would fund the second half of the proposal would come from a mandatory fee from each taxable property in the district, all based on its assessed value.

Residents would pay a flat fee yet to be established.

The annual fee being considered for single family residences is approximately $8.33 per month.

But it's the 'fee' that has some residents and business owners nervous.

"I do understand where we live it should be nice, it should be safe and it should be clean, but at our cost? It's hard, it's difficult...at least I don't have it," said resident Gloria Nieves.

"We pay taxes and we're just like everybody else in the city of Bethlehem. Everybody should take care of that. If they're going to do it here, they should do it throughout the whole city of Bethlehem," said business owner Albert Nieves.

Saraceno adds nothing is yet written in stone and hopes those who live and work in the district will see the benefits of becoming a community benefit district.

"We've seen the benefit of it in other places around the state and actually around the country,” he said.

A public meeting will be held July 10th at 7pm at the Comfort Suites in Bethlehem.