Council Rejects Single Trash Hauler Proposal

With garbage collection issue settled, Bethlehem City Council votes to increase real estate taxes by 7 percent; rejects mayor's proposal to cut their health benefits.


Bethlehem City Council on Monday night voted to kill Mayor John Callahan’s proposal to hire – by the end of 2013 – a single hauler to cart away residential garbage.

In its final budget hearing of the season, council also voted in favor of a 7 percent real estate tax hike. That is lower than the 8.5 percent increase Callahan initially suggested in the budget proposal he made on Nov. 9.

Callahan came to the last budget session armed with a proposal to cut the tax hike to 5.1 percent, but council rejected the mayor’s tax proposal along with a couple of new administration proposals for budget cuts – such as an elimination of health care benefits for City Council members.

In rejecting the mayor’s controversial proposal for a single-hauler collection system, council rejected $500,000 in new city revenue from garbage fees and had to find a way to replace that as well.

The vote for the new tax rate, which came at the end of a six-hour session, was 6-1 in favor, with only Councilman David DiGiacinto dissenting. The final official vote on the budget and a new tax rate is scheduled at council’s final regular meeting of 2012 Thursday night.

If the budget is adopted as it is currently conceived, the real estate tax rate will rise by 1.04 mills and have an impact of $52 a year on the average homeowner with an assessed property value of $50,000.

Three-quarters of that tax increase will be dedicated exclusively to the continued operation of the city’s 911 emergency dispatching center.

Bethlehem is one of only two cities in Pennsylvania that operates its own emergency dispatching center. In all other corners of the state, with the exception of Allentown, 911 call centers are operated by county governments.

Council made the trash hauler decision at the very top of the meeting, casting a 4-3 vote to remove single-hauler from the discussion even before council President Eric Evans granted courtesy of the floor to what was again a packed Town Hall.

DiGiacinto, Evans, Bob Donchez and J. William Reynolds cast the majority vote to remove single-hauler – and a $500,000 revenue stream – from the table.

Dissenting votes were cast by Karen Dolan, Mike Recchiuti and, oddly, Jean Belinski, who had previously voiced her support for small independent trash haulers that had lobbied City Council to reject Callahan’s proposal.

Callahan was not able to obtain $1 million in payments in lieu of taxes from local nonprofits, as he said he intended when he first proposed a 2013 spending plan.

Instead, Callahan came to Monday’s session with news of increasing revenue from the refinancing of one bond to lower an interest rate, $400,000 in new earned income tax revenue based on higher-than-anticipated receipts this year and an expected increase in casino host fees because of a recently approved plan to add 31 new table games at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.

While council accepted these new revenue projections, it rejected some of Callahan’s proposals to cut expenses, including one that would have eliminated City Council’s taxpayer-funded health insurance benefit – a $70,000 line item.

DiGiacinto, Dolan, Belinski and Recchiuti voted against eliminating health insurance for council members. Evans, Donchez and Reynolds voted for it.

Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 02:58 AM
I'm thinking the mayor asking 8.5% was more than was needed. A start of "negotiation". When he went to 5% and it was voted down .... they all lost me .... the one who pays for THEM. I think it was a well developed set-up. Good guy .... bad guy.
Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Not true, Bill. We, who were there, knew there would be a tax increase. The problem was, where could they get it? The answer: wherever they can, LOL! Bethlehem likes the individual trash hauling system. A LOT. The lesson learned on Monday night? Don't mess with what is not broken. City Hall will get their blood out of a rock. They just couldn't on the "third rail" of the individual trash haulers. Story over.
Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Jim, Going to a single hauler system is only as good as the last contract. They tried this years ago. It never works. You are listening to what the City says the cost to you, will be. They don't even know. How do I KNOW? I asked if there was a contract written to bid on! In a letter! There is not. The City needs money to pay the legacy costs they negotiated years ago. Now, they are desperate to find that cash! But not, of course, from their own health care. (Aren't some on Medicare, employee plans, teachers unions??) But I digress. The raise in taxes was inevitable. Where it comes from was not. An individual trash hauler is what the majority wants. If the City wants to change it, put it up for a referendum. That way, you get a clear picture of how Bethlehem feels.
Ruby Montana December 20, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Jim Reighty, I have met many on Council, and many before this! Here's my breakdown: Jean Belinski knows more in her pinkie finger than any of us. I know. She was MY mentor. "Doober Dolan" is a teacher. Period. Her biggest claim to fame was "saving" Illick's Mill at Monocacy Creek. The place she remembers as "love and peace". I remember it, too. "Drugs, sex and rock & roll". Reynolds did more than Knock on my door. He spoke to me and listened. Evans is easy handed and fair. He is what is needed in the group. DiGiacinto actually makes phone calls to "the people". Donches looked at my mom's home ... to buy it. I go with Jean, Evans and DiGiacinto. Always.
Mike January 28, 2013 at 01:16 PM
For all of you out there that believe that your choice for services should be decided by Government should not stop at single trash hauler and move to have all services provided by single providers. You should include product delivery (FedX or UPS), lawn service (pick one), Propane (pick one) Pizza (pick one). I will never understand why people do not respect freedom and will trade it for money or security!


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