Northampton County announced its 2023 budget plan in October. Stephen Barron, the Northampton County director of fiscal affairs, said the plan aims to keep taxes low, protect open land and focus on county citizens.
County Executive Lamont McClure announced the proposal for the plan. It includes a $40 million decrease in countywide spending and a $544.8 million spending plan, which will not raise property taxes. The county millage rate — the tax rate imposed on real estate or other properties — will remain unchanged from 2022.
Barron said keeping tax levels the same while simultaneously cutting spending out of the budget is possible because of the county’s large fund balance.
A fund balance refers to the total accumulation of a city government’s operating surpluses and deficits. Barron said the county’s fund is larger this year compared to previous ones because Northampton County taxpayers were overtaxed in past years, specifically during the pandemic.
As the county continues to recover from the pandemic, Barron said returning funds to taxpayers who were overtaxed is a priority for the county executive.
The 2023 proposed budget reflects Northampton County’s efforts to do so.
“The tax cut last year was just one way to do it,” Barron said. “We are also continually investing in open space and the like, too, because that is important to stop warehouses from coming in and keep(ing) off traffic.”
Barron referred to what he called “warehouse proliferation”: the rapid increase in the number of warehouses present within Northampton County.
“As there has been warehouse development that we couldn’t stop, we want to make sure now that the taxes for the residents remain low,” Barron said. “We want to make sure we can return that money to them so they can make improvements to their land.”
Bryan Cope, superintendent of Parks & Recreation for Northampton County, said open land will be one of the county’s priorities.
With consistent annual funding, Cope said it is easier to plan for projects and preserve land.
“We have received consistent funding for the parks, recreation and open space since Executive McClure took office,” Cope said. “He has dedicated funding for these programs.”
According to the 2023 Proposed Annual Budget Summary and Detail, Northampton County’s Parks & Recreation Division has received an increase and/or consistent budget since 2021. The county’s dedication to preserving the quality of open land in the county is reflected in the budget allotments.
Cope said the budget plan for 2023 will provide new planning, engineering and construction projects, while also matching grant funds for future development projects.
“The proposed budget will help the Parks & Recreation Division construct new trails, update amenities and purchase new maintenance equipment,” Cope said. “It will provide grants for park acquisition, development and rehabilitation, and land conservation efforts through our Livable Landscapes Program.”
Concerning the Lehigh University community, Barron said the budget plan will positively affect rent rates for students living in off-campus housing in the coming years.
“By the county executive cutting taxes last year, the landlords (of off-campus housing) are not passing those taxes onto the student, which would impact their total rent,” Barron said.
The consistently lowered level of taxation on Northampton County properties is advantageous for students currently in the process of signing leases for the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years.
Caroline Morgan, ‘25, has begun the journey of leasing off-campus housing for her senior year.
“After just signing a lease for the 2024-2025 school year, it feels good knowing that our rent won’t be reflective of high tax rates,” Morgan said.
The county will vote in December to approve the budget proposal.
“We try everyday to make sure that the living here is affordable, and that citizens and students here have a good quality of life,” Barron said.