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Lehigh Co. Executive: Commissioners are using blackmail to get 2013 budget modified

By Gina Johnson, Web Producer
Published On: Jan 12 2013 11:54:16 AM CST
Lehigh County Executive William Hansell

Lehigh County Executive William Hansell called the Board of Commissioners' request for cooperation to modify the adopted 2013 budget a form of blackmail in a letter sent on Friday.

Hansell is upset commissioners once again failed to release more than $1million in Green Future Fund grants to six municipalities in the county on Wednesday night's meeting. 

The bill approving the grants has been deferred several times since it was introduced in November.  Commissions voted 7-2 Wednesday to delay action on the issue for another two weeks, until a meeting on January 23rd.

In the letter, Hansell tells commissioners the funds for these projects were appropriated in the approved 2013 budget.  He says the approval would have no impact on the County's deficit between revenue and expenditures.

"These six municipalities and their elected officials have engaged in the Green Futures project process in good faith and with no indication in the budget deliberation process in September or October that these projects might be in jeopardy," Hansell wrote.

Hansell also outlines the responsibilities of the Board and Administration under the county's Home Rule Charter in the letter. He said there are no provisions in the Charter authorizing the Board to amend or modify an adopted budget.

Hansell said commissioners were reported as asking for "cooperation" in modifying the adopted 2013 budget at Wednesday's meeting.  He says that "cooperation" requires him to agree to an additional $1 million of expenditure reductions beyond the $3.5 million already committed in the budget.

"I see that as a form of blackmail to hold hostage the six projects so as to modify the 2013 budget," Hansell said. "This is not a proper role for the Board under the Charter," he added.

The money allocated in the county's budget is to fund park and trail projects in Allentown, Bethlehem, Emmaus, Lower Macungie, Salisbury and Upper Saucon.

Commissioner Michael Schware on Wednesday proposed an amendment to release less than 28 percent of the money allocated for the six projects, as a down payment, then seek other funds to eventually pay the rest. 

He proposed releasing $296,514 to fund the six projects, rather than the $1,061,000 the municipalities expected to receive.

Lehigh County's director of administration Tom Muller said Wednesday that the grants were not approved because "What's happened in seven weeks is a budget got adopted that not all the commissioners are happy with."

Commissioners are set to once again meet on January 23rd.