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Board supports farming inducements

Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehabilitation is celebrating its 175th anniversary – that’s its dodransbicentennial, for readers who love obscure facts. The word had the board of commissioners stumped as they approved a resolution honoring the occasion.

Commissioners May 22 had a first reading for a bill that will authorize a lease for The Seed Farm to the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) for $1 per year. The 43-acre site at 5854 Vera Cruz Road is also known as Lehigh County’s Agricultural Incubator Program which is an educational program for future farmers.

The site overlaps two townships, Upper and Lower Milford. The five-year lease will be effective starting July 1.

“We all know how important farming is to Lehigh County,” said Commissioner Percy Dougherty. “It is important to support the training of new farmers.

“This is a good marriage for the county – it’s a good deal for us,” said Dougherty. “CACLV has an important role in supplying fresh food to residents through its Second Harvest Food Bank program.

“I would love to see this effort expand into dairy, farming for soybeans, corn and other crops,” said Dougherty. “It’s important to the economy. If we’re putting all this money into farmland preservation, we better damn sight have somebody out there to farm that land.”

Commissioner Amanda Holt asked CACLV Executive Director Allan Jennings about any plans he might have to sub-lease the land. “Is it anticipated that there will be any sub-leasing going on in the premises?”

“We have no plans to sub-lease, but if someone made a good enough offer to sub-lease, we would come to you [the board of commissioners],” said Jennings.

“We are 200 percent behind you,” said County Executive Phillips Armstrong, directing his remark to Jennings.

In other business, the commissioners dropped plans to approve an amendment to the articles of incorporation for the Lehigh County Authority (LCA) that included clauses requiring the water and sewer authority to make periodic public reports about financial performance, capital improvements, audits and other information to the board of commissioners.

Lehigh County Director of General Services Richard Molchany offered a spirited argument against having the commissioners micromanaging the operations of the LCA.

He cautioned that the level of management that the commissioners were attempting to insert into LCA’s charter could backfire and leave the board of commissioners responsible for the LCA debt, which is currently the risk of the bond holders who finance LCA’s operations.

“The oard needs to understand the risk, said Molchany. “The more you involve yourself in their business, you’re pulling us into responsibility for their debt.

“We set the charter and we control who is on their board. We set the time of their lease. “The intent of the LCA is to share, openly share,” Molchany concluded.

Commissioner Amy Zanelli also took exception to the proposed amendment.

“I’m uncomfortable telling the LCA what they must do,” she said. “Devolving ourselves into this level of minutiae is bad government.”

LCA Chief Executive Officer Liesel M. Gross resolved the issue of using language in the proposed amendment to the charter that required or used the word “shall” to language that left some choice to the LCA on what it would or would not do regarding reporting to the board of commissioners.

“Our board will need to take action on the new resolution,” said Gross. She offered to leave the word “shall” in the requirement to provide an annual report, but “offer to provide a public presentation.”

After listening to Molchany’s argument against the amendment and Gross’s offer to modify the amendment’s language, Commissioner Geoff Brace withdrew his sponsorship of the bill. Commissioner Brad Osborne also withdrew his sponsorship and consideration of the bill was set aside.

Personnel from the Human Services Department continued their pressure to get their contract approved by the board of commissioners. They have worked without a contract since January. Besides filling one side of the aisle with members, several people took the opportunity to speak to the board during public comment opportunity on the agenda.

Stephanie Huber, an employee for 19 years, spoke of the personal danger that she has faced in her career.

“We are in dire straits,” said Huber. “We deserve better. I barely make double the minimum wage with my 19 years of service.

“I go into dangerous situations that the police won’t go into without a back-up,” said Huber.

At the conclusion of Huber’s comments, her colleagues gave her a round of applause. The commissioners remained mute.

The board had assumed responsibility from the county administration for negotiating the union contract with the Human Services union members.

Negotiations with the Pennsylvania Social Service Union, Service Employees International Union, Local 668 (SEIU) have been stalled since January for reasons unclear, as neither side has been willing to provide details, citing legal contraints.

Dougherty, who is on the three-person negotiating committee, said in a later interview that he believes the final agreement with the labor union could be finalized as soon as this week.

Zanelli was not shy about calling the stalled negotiations a “leadership” problem.

“I’d like to reiterate my frustration that there has not been a recent executive session [on the contract negotiations]. There is still no contract. That fault does not lie with anyone who has come to speak. It lies solely with the negotiating committee. I’m sorely disappointed with the lack of leadership updates we have received, or, rather, the updates we haven’t received.”

With that, Commissioner President Marty Nothstein, who heads the all-Republican negotiating committee, adjourned the meeting.

“We are in dire straits,” said veteran Human Services employee Stephanie Huber. “We deserve better. I barely make double the minimum wage with my 19 years of service.”