According to Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller, Lehigh County is financially strong.
That is what he told a crowd of more than 100 people this morning at the State of Lehigh County address at DeSales University in Upper Saucon Township.
The event was hosted by Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. and gave attendees a clearer look at the county’s economic picture.
In the address, Muller discussed several major Lehigh County projects, including Hamilton Crossings in Lower Macungie Township, which Muller said is now 96 percent leased and already has generated nearly $1 million in tax revenue.
Some other positives he mentioned are that unemployment in Lehigh County continues to drop, while the real estate market has strengthened.
According to Muller, the county tax rate is less than 1 percent above where it was 25 years ago.
“We have a financially strong county, rich in resources, rich in opportunities,” Muller said. “Economically, things are on an upswing.”
The construction of Hamilton Crossings, a $140 million, 565,000-square-foot retail complex in Lower Macungie Township, is in full swing after more than six years of planning. The Goldenberg Group broke ground on the project in May.
Muller also weighed in on the planned redevelopment of Martin Tower in west Bethlehem, which the city is seeking to rezone for mixed use to make it easier to demolish the former Bethlehem Steel headquarters. Some downtown city merchants oppose those plans, fearing it will threaten their businesses.
“Those concerns are understandable, but in my opinion those concerns underestimate the strength of those businesses, the strength they’ve created over the years,” Muller said. “I support what those elected officials are trying to do at the Martin Tower site.”
Muller also said cost-reduction efforts at the Cedarbrook Nursing Home in South Whitehall Township have brought its ongoing financial troubles “well under control” while also maintaining its positive rating. He added that legislation pending in Harrisburg could positively affect county nursing-home funding and bring Cedarbrook’s finances to “a break-even point or maybe even better.”
Despite the positives that the county is seeing, there are issues of concern, Muller said, including eliminating a $6.5 million 2016 budget deficit, meeting pension obligations after a down-market year, positively concluding union negotiations and maintaining county services as Harrisburg stalls in passing a state budget.