County board votes on Cedarbrook’s upgrades
Lehigh County Commissioners defeated by a 5-4 vote a major step in beginning the renovation of Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehabilitation facility in South Whitehall.
Commissioners gave a first reading to a resolution indicating the board’s support for a facility plan that meets the facility standards set forth by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The resolution would have authorized county personnel to take further action, including the transfer of funds, and to executed additional documents to carry out the project.
“We will have a five-star facility out there,” Commissioner Dr. Percy Dougherty said. “Not only in terms of the services, but the physical plant.
“This will get us off the eight ball and move us forward in terms of getting something done at Cedarbrook.”
Commissioner Geoff Brace supported the resolution but cautioned anyone who supports it should be prepared to enact legislation to support Cedarbrook’s future operations.
The resolution, sponsored by Commissioners Amanda Holt and Percy Dougherty, both Republicans, was defeated by five “no” votes from Nathan Brown, Marc Grammes, Dan Hartzell, Chairman Marty Nothstein and Brad Osborne.
The four “yes” votes were from Geoff Brace, Dougherty, Holt and Amy Zanelli.
A second Cedarbrook-related resolution, which indicated the board’s commitment to the Phase One renovation of Cedarbrook while identifying other major financial issues currently facing the county, did better.
Before going to a vote, commissioners voted to strip language revealing how much the approved expenditures would affect tax rate millage.
It provides $34 million for “miscellaneous capital projects” and $47 million for Cedarbrook rehabilitation costs, Brown cautioned his fellow commissioners.
“Once we decide to go this project, there comes a cost, and that cost is going to be tax increase somewhere down the line either this year or next year,” Brown said.
In discussion of the resolution, Nothstein mentioned there will be a $6.1 million “structural deficit” in fiscal year 2019 year-end projection.
“That needs to be fixed,” he said.
He also characterized the million-dollar numbers in the resolution as being “random numbers” being “thrown around.”
“We have to be smart with this,” Nothstein said.
This drew a sharp rebuke from Zanelli.
“I’m a little surprised by your comment because this isn’t new,” Zanelli said. “You voted two years ago to have this project.
“We had an opportunity at our last budget hearing to not have the deficit, but now we’re up here complaining we have a deficit that you voted to have. It’s not appropriate.”
“I’m very happy the board is going start actually doing work toward investments the board promised the people we would do.
“This deficit is the fault of the people sitting right at this table.”
Zanelli was referring to the budget vote last year when Republicans on the board rejected County Executive Phillips Armstrong’s 2019 budget.
Commissioner Brace also challenged part of Nothstein’s argument.
“These are not random numbers plucked out of sky,” Brace said. “Commissioner Osborne has done a magnificent job of articulating the financial picture we have.”
Holt said she disagrees with some of the comments made and expressed “huge disappointment” in the resolution.
“This is a huge step backward,” Holt said. “This leaves the people in D-Wing with no guarantee they will not have communal bathrooms in the future.”
The resolution passed 8-1 with Holt casting the lone “no” vote.
Commissioners also approved the internal transfer of almost $5 million from the stabilization fund to buying voting systems, upgrade the courthouse, and buy a Bear Cat armored police vehicle.
Also getting first reading approval was a professional services contract with Geographit, a division of EBA Engineering Inc. to assist the county with implementing a cloud-hosted regional 911 data standardization portal.
Lehigh County Commissioners confirmed Jeffrey B. Matzkin to the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority at their regular meeting on May 8.
Kelly Kozik, the nominee for director of human resources, was withdrawn by the administration with no reason given.
Numerous staffers from the human services department again attended the meeting.
Department employees have been pressing commissioners to increase staffing for the department that has responsibility for child welfare in the county.
They have been working without a contract since January.
“When tragedy strikes — and by tragedy, I mean when someone dies — there will be a public outcry,” said SEIU 668 shop steward Frank Gerlach speaking to commissioners.
He said people will start asking questions and pointing fingers.
“It’s very easy to point a finger at a worker and make them a scapegoat,” he noted. “And that has happened.
“For three and half years we have built a very long, public, documented paper trail of our effort to bring these needs to light.
“When it happens, the responsibility will lie where it belongs — with administrators and elected officials.
“We’re ringing the bell; we need the help. It’s not hyperbole. It’s the reality of what we deal with every day.”
In other business, Nothstein offered a letter of support for Sheriff Joe Hanna’s effort to get state funding with state Senator Pat Browne’s support for the sheriff’s department’s education and training program.
“Each deputy sheriff is required to complete 20 hours of training every two years,” Hanna said.
Hanna said training expenses are reimbursable by the state and pending legislation would make reimbursement easier.
He said Lehigh County is 10th on a list the state owes reimbursement.
“I will be delivering your letter of support as well as my letter of support to Sen. Browne,” Hanna said.