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Northampton County executive candidates debate in run up to Nov. 5 election

By Joe McDonald, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 11:34:44 AM CST
Updated On: Oct 23 2013 12:03:49 PM CDT
BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. -

In their first and only debate before the Nov. 5 election, the two men who want to become the next county executive of Northampton County generally agreed with each other Tuesday night on a number of issues, specifically better long-range economic planning and growth.

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, a Democrat, and Bangor Mayor John Brown, a Republican, each said they would search for more efficient ways to deliver county services in order to cut costs.

Brown said he would look “line by line” and put procedures and policies in place, adding that keeping “taxes low is paramount.”

Callahan said he has a record of “ringing out waste” in Bethlehem, noting his administration saved $14 million out of a $75 million budget.

About 100 people attended the one-hour debate at Northampton Community College.

Asked about the deteriorating state of county bridges and other county properties, Callahan criticized what he called “delayed maintenance” over the years. “I think it’s terrible what’s going on in county buildings,” he said, referring to the Gov. Wolf and Bechtel buildings.

Brown agreed, saying the county’s infrastructure is “not where we need it to be.” The county suffers from what he called a lack of vision and a lack of will. What is needed, he said, is setting priorities, developing a plan and setting aside funds that are not allowed to be used for anything else.

When the question turned to Obamacare and the impact it had recently on the county’s 1,500 workers, Callahan launched into an attack on current county executive John Stoffa, who initially announced plans to pass on significant cost increases to employees, then rescinded the plan in the face of backlash from workers.

The proposed increases were prompted by the determination that the county was offering  “Cadillac” insurance coverage to workers and would be penalized severely in the coming years unless changes were made.

Callahan said Stoffa had “jumped the gun” and acted “too early” because the penalties don’t kick in until 2018.

Brown said the county must reach out to its employees and “explore how we can manage this.”

The Express-Times, lehighvalleylive,com and the Women Voters of Northampton County sponsored the debate.