Last week, Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez delivered the annual “State of the City” address via Zoom.
Donchez spoke about how, despite the pandemic, Bethlehem remained committed to developing recreational areas, infrastructure, sustainable environmental practices and a high quality of life for its residents.
Donchez praised the Bethlehem Health Bureau in particular, which he said has played a large role in keeping Bethlehem Area School District “students and staff safe, healthy, and school doors open.”
The Health Bureau has also helped organize COVID-19 vaccination clinics, which have vaccinated approximately 40,000 people to date, Donchez said. Additionally, the city has remained conscious of connecting with residents throughout the pandemic and has equipped City Hall with cameras, microphones and other equipment necessary to hold and broadcast meetings.
Donchez reaffirmed the city’s commitment to natural and recreational community hubs.
“As our world evolves from the pandemic, and with more people increasingly spending time outdoors, the presence and upkeep of our streetscapes, paths, parks and recreational facilities become even more important,” Donchez said.
A number of city parks have been updated or revitalized, and phase five of the Southside Greenway, which will ultimately connect to Saucon Park, is about to begin.
As mayor, Donchez said he has a commitment to the environment. The rapidly changing climate will require a new vision for Bethlehem, Donchez said.
“We will aim to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions 33 percent by 2025, 60 percent by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2040,” Donchez said.
In addition, Bethlehem will invest in 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal operations and will continue engaging in cost-saving energy reduction initiatives.
In 2014, Bethlehem held a BBB- bond rating, the lowest in the Lehigh Valley at the time. In 2020, Standard and Poor’s conducted a credit review that reaffirmed Bethlehem’s A+ rating.
“Bethlehem’s improved financial condition has given us the ability to invest millions into many much needed, long deferred,capital projects and infrastructure improvements throughout Bethlehem,” Donchez said.
Such projects include paving roads and updating aging facilities. The city plans to transform the former water control room in the City Hall garage into a holding facility for housing stray dogs, as well as renovate Memorial Pool.
The pool, built in 1957, has since undergone a $5 million renovation. Donchez hopes the renovation will enable the pool to continue to be a community resource for generations to come.
“As the son of a detective, public safety is very personal to me,” Donchez said. “I have always felt that public safety is the most important function of city government.”
In response to the fire department’s aging fleet, the city purchased eight new advanced life support EMS vehicles and five new engines for the department, Donchez said. The city also installed new dash cameras, radios, and updated computer systems in police vehicles, in addition to outfitting police officers with body cameras.
The city has also seen positive results through the implementation of the Naloxone and Bethlehem Police Assisting in Recovery (BPAIR) programs which aim to help individuals struggling with drug abuse. Since 2018, 577 doses have been administered through the Naloxone program and public safety personnel, resulting in many saved lives.
Going forward, Donchez asserted the need to focus on Bethlehem’s existing housing stock, small businesses and family-sustaining jobs.
“One thing is certain—our future is very bright and Bethlehem will continue to be the jewel of the Lehigh Valley,” Donchez said.