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Lehigh County Commissioners again delay decision on 6 park and trail projects

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Dec 20 2012 05:44:18 AM CST
Updated On: Dec 20 2012 06:36:36 AM CST
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

For the second week in a row, a majority of Lehigh County commissioners withstood a steady barrage of pleas from the public and public officials to vote on releasing funds for six park and trail projects in the 2012 budget.

Supporters of the projects who spoke for almost an hour at Wednesday night's commissioners included Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, as well as officials from Emmaus, Lower Macungie, Upper Saucon and Salisbury townships, and Easton.

They made many of the same points backers of the projects did at the commissioners' Dec. 12 meeting. And although they far outnumbered the people who questioned spending the money on the projects, their pointed and sometimes angry words seemed to have little effect.

Several of the commissioners in the majority also repeated what they said at their Dec. 12 meeting -- that the issue wasn't the projects themselves, just spending $1.06 million on them at a time when the county is looking at a $4 million deficit in 2013 and a possible tax hike in 2015.

However, after initially deciding to delay a vote on releasing the money in the Green Future Fund on Wednesday night, as they did on Dec. 12, commissioners Vic Mazziotti, Thomas Creighton III, Scott Ott, Lisa Scheller and Michael Schware eventually agreed to a parliamentary maneuver that put the issue on the agenda of the commissioners' Jan. 9 meeting.

While they were doing so, several people in the crowd loudly chided the commissioners for delaying a vote on the issue. "Do it now!" one person shouted. "You're stalling!" said another.

This led Mazziotti to accuse the crowd of trying to "stampede" him into a vote, "and I'm not going to let anyone do that," he said.

Ott said the crowd should "honor the process," and added, "If I packed the room with people who thought like me, I might be accused to trying to hijack the meeting."

Schware said he would not consider approving a vote until the county executive "prepares a list of cuts that would responsibly fund these projects."

That brought an emotional response from county executive William Hansell. "There's no need to make cuts," he told Schware. "[The money] is in the budget. They're funded for 2012."

Hansell added, "Some of you [commissioners] are doing this to hold me more accountable. All well and good. But don't hold these projects, don't hold these public servants, don't hold these six municipalities hostage. These projects don't add one penny to the deficit."

Schware then offered to meet with Hansell on Thursday and show him where cuts in county spending could be made that would slice the $4 million deficit in half. "It will be up to you to come up with the rest," he told Hansell. "You can work with me, or you can ignore me."

In other business, commissioner Daniel McCarthy's proposal to raise the next county executive's salary from $75,000 to $127,500 went down to defeat, with only McCarthy voting yes.

McCarthy was ready for the result. Before the commissioners were polled, McCarthy wryly remarked, "I learned to count in first grade, and I know there aren't the votes to pass it."