Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez hosted his first town hall meeting Wednesday since taking office at Northampton Community College’s Fowler Center on South Side.
During the meeting, roughly two dozen government officials and community members discussed upcoming construction projects, code enforcement, severe weather response and the city’s plans to strengthen ties with Lehigh University.
“One of my goals is really to improve the relationship between the city and Lehigh,” said Donchez. “Lehigh is very important to the city.”
The mayor went on to say that communication between his administration and Lehigh officials has been very positive, and that university officials have even reached out to him to get his thoughts on who should replace Alice Gast when she steps down as president of the institution.
Community members though questioned how the city planned to handle trash collection issues on South Side, which some pinned on the constant turnover of undergraduate students around Lehigh’s campus.
Donchez proposed that zoned garbage collection could alleviate the issue.
“What I’ve always advocated is zone hauling,” he said. “I’m hoping that maybe by the end of the summer or early fall we could take this to city hall for their debate.”
The plan would allow the city to target different areas on different days, which Donchez said was more effective than single hauling.
He also praised the university for contributing $40,000 annually toward a full-time city inspector position that will monitor housing blight and code enforcement on South Side.
Donchez also previewed upcoming construction projects, which include updates to Fahy Bridge, Lyn Avenue Bridge and two new South Side garages.
“We are probably looking in south Bethlehem at two new garages,” he said. “In Bethlehem we’ll have a lot of PennDOT work over the next 10 years.”
The Fahy Bridge will undergo an 18-month overhaul that will redeck it and give it new sidewalks.
Pennsylvania Route 412, which Donchez described as a “nightmare” undertaking, likely won’t see work done on it until late 2015 or early 2016.
Due to the weather, he opted to postpone a planned walk-through of the city which was supposed to follow the town hall until Monday morning, at which time he will traverse the city handing out smoke detectors and helping to enforce code violations.
The town hall meeting was a part of Donchez’s ongoing efforts to have an “open” and “accessible” government.
“We need your involvement,” he said to the crowd in attendance. “You’re our eyes and ears to help us with police issues. Don’t hesitate to call.”
The Bethlehem mayor will continue to hold open office hours the second Monday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m.. and 1 to 3 p.m.
“We’re here to listen,” he said.
The mayor will host similar town hall events on July 2nd and again in the fall.