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Lehigh says it won't contribute to Bethlehem City budget

By 69 News, follow: @69news, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 11 2012 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 12 2012 06:14:32 PM CST

Lehigh will not contribute to Bethlehem City budget

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

The largest land owner in the city of Bethlehem will not help balance the city budget.

Lehigh University has turned down a request from Mayor Callahan for an annual contribution in lieu of taxes.

The university's Assistant Vice President for Community and Regional Affairs says Lehigh makes donations to several areas around the city all year long.

The mayor tells us those donations don't help with essential city services.

For Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan it's not a tough question asking non-profits in Bethlehem to make a contribution to the city in lieu of taxes.

"I have an obligation to ask and I believe that Lehigh University has an obligation not to say no, but to say yes," said Callahan.

Lehigh University is saying no.

The university is the largest property owner in Bethlehem.

It owns 675 acres which translates to an estimated $1.1 million in lost property tax revenue to the city, according to the city.

Lehigh has its own police force, but according to city records Bethlehem police answered 369 calls associated with Lehigh.

Then there is fire department cost.

"We had 220 fire calls to Lehigh University in 2011 and that resulted in a greater than $280,000 expense to the city of Bethlehem," added Callahan.

Lehigh University officials tell 69 News they already contribute to the city in other ways.

Sixty thousand hours of volunteer work and more than a million dollars is spent through the Gold Plus card program, a meal card supplement where students use the card at local merchants.

"I recognize and acknowledge that Lehigh has positive benefits," said Callahan. "I've talked about those and awful lot in the nine years that I've been mayor."

Other higher institutions in the state have contributed in lieu of taxes.

In 2011, Franklin and Marshall paid $183,000 to the city of Lancaster, Alvernia University paid $20,000 to Reading, and Kings College paid over $61,000 to Wilkes-Barre.

All the money a percentage of the assessed property value.

"If Lehigh did what Franklin and Marshall did in terms of relative size they would be making a 720,000 contribution to city hall," said Callahan.

The city of Bethlehem is looking for one million dollars from 3 non-profits.

Two are making a contribution and we will have more on that at ten.