After wrangling about application scoring criteria, the Northampton County Gaming Revenue and Economic Redevelopment Authority awarded about half of an estimated $1.6 million in restricted grant funding to several area municipalities Monday evening.
At issue was the fact that in individually scoring the 25 applications for casino impact funding, some board members allocated zero points out of a possible 75 to about a quarter of the applications, skewing the average scores.
Alicia Karner, county administrator for the funds, said the applications should have received at least some points, as the board had formerly determined that the contiguous municipalities to the Sands Casino in the City of Bethlehem would receive between one and 15 points for their applications.
“It is my contention that the applicants cannot receive a zero based on that,” Karner said.
Other board members agreed, saying the zero scores were inconsistent and left the board open to litigation.
“I am concerned that the basis for these rankings are hard to understand,” said board member Thomas Nolan, of Bethlehem Township.
Board solicitor Graham Simmons agreed.
“It can't be done arbitrarily,” Simmons said. “The immediate issue is, when people see a zero, it looks arbitrary...You can't give a zero to a contiguous municipality. Whatever (the scoring criteria is), you can't have half the board doing one thing and half the board doing another. You will invite litigation.”
Board members Stephanie Hoppes-Kovacs, from Hellertown, and Priscilla deLeon, from Lower Saucon Township, whose municipalities had submitted 16 of the 25 applications under consideration, both admitted they had each scored some at a total of zero points, but said it was because they failed to show the casino's impact and its relationship to the requested funds.
“I don't care if you post my scores on the website. After we vote, I'll tell you where you went wrong,” Hoppes-Kovacs said.
DeLeon said the scoring matrix was set up to show proven impact and several of the applications failed to do so.
“You can't just fill out an application and say you're impacted,” deLeon said.
But others pointed out that nearly identical projects in different municipalities were scored differently as a result, with an application for an ambulance rechassising from Hellertown getting 66 points, but a nearly identical application from the City of Bethlehem getting only 49 points with the zeros figured in.
“We're going to be spending money on litigation...and in my view, that's a misuse of public funds,” said board chairman John Finnigan.
In the end, the board agreed to discount the zero scores and use the averages of the rest, voting to award the following funds:
Hellertown was awarded seven of the 11 grants the borough applied for. Approved was $27,719 for a police vehicle, $22,448 for police Toughbook computers, $107,863 for an ambulance rechassising (in conjunction with Lower Saucon Township), $35,885 for a LIFEPAK defibrillator (in conjunction with Lower Saucon Township), $6,200 for a radar sign, $17,840 for rescue equipment appropriate to the area (in conjunction with Lower Saucon Township), and $4,405 for a gas metering device for the fire department. Denied was $170,000 a multi-year application for two police officers, $22,641 for fire hydrant adaptors, $356,833 for stamped crosswalks and $380,113 for a traffic calming project.
In addition to the funding received in conjunction with Hellertown, Lower Saucon received $100,701 of a requested $113,242 for a police officer and vehicle. Denied was an application for $33,000 for an all-terrain vehicle for the township's emergency services.
Freemansburg Borough was approved for $12,000 for 11 AED devices, $78,010 to purchase two police vehicles and related accessories and $16,500 for police computers. Denied was a $50,000 application for road improvements.
Bethlehem Township was granted $44,135 for CPR equipment, $102,150 for emergency vehicle preemption technology and $90,800 for the purchase of two police cars. Denied was an application for $754,378 for a rescue truck.
The City of Bethlehem received $121,109 to re-chassis an ambulance. Denied were applications for half the cost of a new pumper truck for the fire department at $274,850 and $163,000 for a multi-year application for the LANTA LOOP shuttle bus.
Hanover Township was denied its one application for $249,145 for SPARC program equipment for its emergency services department.
The awards leave an estimated $812,058 left available for distribution. If the money isn't awarded by year's end, the remainder will go into the authority's unrestricted funds balance for next year, Karner said.
The board, which had planned to possibly not meet again until January, said it will revisit the denied applications again at its November meeting. No further documentation or supporting information, however, will be allowed to be added to the denied applications.