Bethlehem City State preaches diversity, asks how pandemic relief funds should be spent

The people of Bethlehem will help shape the future of the city.

That was the central message of new Mayor J. William Reynolds’ first State of the City address on Thursday, which promoted community engagement initiatives — including a way for residents to directly weigh in on how Pandemic relief funds should be used.

It’s not uncommon for such events, where city leaders promote achievements and plans, to have a vibrant feel. In this case, it was more literal with the Liberty High School Grenadier Band attending the event at the ArtsQuest Center in SteelStacks. The hour-long event touted many traditional items: city finances, business plans and departmental activities.

Perhaps less traditionally, Reynolds shared the stage with others in his administration, perhaps as a symbol of the overall theme of partnership.

Here are some highlights:

1. Diversity commitment

Bethlehem has been identified as a hotspot for white supremacist propaganda in 2021. In response, the city recently held an anti-racism march and raised the transgender flag during a day of visibility.

Reynolds, declaring that Bethlehem is “a city for everyone”, said the stories of all of its 75,000 residents should be recognized.

“We all know that as America’s culture and identity changes, not everyone agrees,” the mayor said as he surveyed the stage. “We don’t just agree with that, we’re here for that. It will never be about where we stand as a city on issues of equity, diversity or inclusion. We are in solidarity with the future.

2. We build Bethlehem

On the theme of community engagement, the State of the City address announced the launch of We Build Bethlehem, an online hub to solicit feedback from residents on issues.

Its first use is to determine how the city should direct federal pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, said Janine Santoro, the city’s director of equity and inclusion.

Residents can register at webuild.bethlehem-pa.gov. The site, available in English and Spanish, allows users to prioritize potential projects from a list.

3. Housing and Homelessness

Bethlehem’s housing supply hasn’t matched its job growth, but it’s hoped continued investment and partnerships will help address that issue, said Laura Collins, the city’s director of community and economic development. city.

As part of developing an affordable housing strategy, Santoro said Bethlehem is bringing together a group of city officials and residents to plan a permanent homeless shelter. To be decided: where it will go, who will operate it and how it will be financed.

4. The employee promise

In 12 years, Bethlehem’s payroll has fallen from 670 employees to 589, Reynolds said in his description of the city’s finances. More than half of them are police, fire and EMS – “the things you would expect the government to take care of”.

Reynolds said he would not ask them to work without a raise. He said Bethlehem can find the extra $2 million a year to cover those increases through public-private partnerships touted elsewhere in the city state.

Police Chief Michelle Kott said her officers responded to 56,000 calls in 2021. The fire department received 4,000 calls and EMS 11,000.

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Steve Novak can be reached at snovak@lehighvalleylive.com.

Edward K. Thompson