Friday, December 01, 2006

Bethlehem unveils a more public-friendly budget

OK, you can recite the names of all the members of Bethlehem City Council. You've weighed in on the casino debates online. And you may even have heard that the mayor — you know his name — is proposing a no tax-increase budget for next year.

But do you know that real estate taxes only make up 34 percent of the city's revenue? Or that the biggest expense — nearly 70 percent — goes to personnel? How about that Bethlehem was able to squeeze more water from its sludge this year, saving nearly $100,000 in landfill costs? And what about the city's plan to fix that swale problem near Bridle Path Place?

Haven't heard about that? Well, pick up a copy of the city's budget proposal — either in the Bethlehem Area Public Library or on the Web. It's all in there.

Responding to a mandate from council, Mayor John Callahan has submitted a newly formatted budget that makes it easier for the city's 72,000 residents to wade through municipal finances.

Instead of a telephone book-sized volume, the city streamlined its spending proposal, omitted some line items and reported spending trends in colorful graphs and charts. Bureau heads painted the big picture of city services by listing their goals, achievements and summarized changes to next year's budget, proposed at $58.3 million.

The format earned praise from Councilman Joseph Leeson Jr., whose job as finance chairman is to keep a check on city spending. He called the new format a ''quantum leap'' in making city finances more accessible to the public.

''This is an outstanding job,'' Leeson said.

More here.

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