Exceeding a half billion dollar spending plan in your free time can be a challenge.
The nine part-time members of Northampton County County Council began reviewing executive Lamont McClure’s 2023 spending plan on Wednesday.
The commissioners, some of whom work part-time or full-time day jobs, must work through a $544.8 million, 186-page plan. Their share is tiny. Each commissioner (the council member’s title) receives $9,000, and chair Lori Vargo Heffner receives an additional $500, for a total council salary of $81,500.
McClure has staff and department heads, including Stephen Barron, Northampton County’s chief financial officer and focal person for budget matters. The commissioners have a staff of three and a limited amount of time to work on a half-billion-plus-dollar spending plan. They have until December 17 to approve it, although their goal is to vote on December 1.
McClure’s proposed budget leaves mileage – the property tax – at 10.8. A home valued at $50,000 would pay $540 under its plan, like last year. Each mill equals $1 tax on $1,000 of property value, so 10.8 mills equals $10.80 per $1,000. McClure’s 2022 budget cut taxes by 8.5%.
Reviewing the plan is an important task for part-time elected officials, Vargo Heffner said.
“You can’t just wait for budget time and try to get it,” she said Tuesday. “You have to be attentive all year round. And you have to rely on the administration to bring you good figures.”
Vargo Heffner, in his fifth year as commissioner, said the council relies on the experience of members. Board veterans John Cusick and Ronald Heckman, a former head of the Department of Social Services, bring their expertise to the process, and this year former County Executive John Brown joined the board.
Each commissioner brings their experience to government, she said. Commissioners John Goffredo and Kevin Lott, for example, know the construction business.
The budget process gives the board the chance to hear from managers at different levels who do not appear before them regularly.
“We have the opportunity to ask questions, see if they get the resources they need, and thank them for the great job they are doing,” Vargo Heffner said.
In the first budget session on Wednesday, the council considered the government’s general budget, excluding the Department of Community and Economic Development. The general government covers the costs of the board, executive, comptroller, attorney, human resources, tax affairs and administration. It represents 22.8% of expenditure.
The Board has scheduled four more reviews for McClure’s 2023 budget, all at 4:30 p.m. in its chambers at the Government Center on Washington Street in Easton: Wednesday, Oct. 12, Courts and Corrections; Wednesday, October 26, Department of Community and Economic Development; Wednesday, November 9, Public Works, Capital Projects and Capital Improvements; Tuesday, November 29, budget changes.
The schedule may change, check the Town Hall website for more information.