In a final meeting regarding next year's $71 million budget, Bethlehem City Council Thursday evening voted on multiple additions and deletions to the 124-page document which is expected to be finalized and adopted by Council next Tuesday, December 17.
Bethlehem's 2014 budget calls for no property tax increase; however, water and sewer rates may rise by as much as 15 to 18 percent to pay for an aging wastewater treatment facility, water main repairs, and replacing outdated residential water meters.
The City's 18.4 percent water rate increase request is currently before the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC). According to Councilwoman Karen Dolan, who supports updating and investing in the water system's infrastructure, the city may only be granted half of the requested water rate hike.
Dolan also voiced her support for increasing the salaries of Parks and Public Recreation superintendent of maintenance and the building maintenance superintendent by $1,972. each to which Council voted for in addition to salary hikes of $2,000 and $2,250 for Parks department maintenance workers and engineer mechanics, respectively.
She remarked several times how important the work of the Parks and Public Property Departments is to maintaining the city's quality of life and property values in addition to attracting new residents and businesses to Bethlehem.
She also said the Parks Department is often overlooked with regard to annual salary increases despite the fact that Parks Department personnel often assists both the Public Works and Recycling Departments.
In order to balance the budget, Council unanimously supported Dolan's proposal of decreasing the salaries of the city's new Police Chief Mark DiLuzio by $5,000, Water Resources Director Ed Boscola by $4,000, and Community and Economic Development Director Alicia Karner by $1.000.
Dolan said she feels the pay reductions are justified because "there's a learning curve, a ramp-up period for these new city employees and why should the taxpayers have to foot the bill for this?."
Dolan also proposed reducing the gasoline budget for Public Works Department vehicles, however, Council rejected the $5,000 decrease but applied the available funds to an increase in the salary of City Deputy Controller Gene Auman by $3,261 annually in addition to the standard annual raise already included in the budget.
Early in the meeting Council rejected raising the deputy controller's salary by a 4-3 vote requiring five affirmatives to pass.
Finally, Council also approved a budget capital appropriations request for $100,000 from the Water Department to be used for water meters and maintenance equipment.