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Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham
Military tax rebate remarks to LVMAC – April 18, 2007

I am proposing today to give a full property tax rebate for the home of any service member from Lehigh County called into duty for six months or more to support United States efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of those serving to support our military efforts are reservists who have had to put their lives on hold. The families left behind struggle to keep everything in order – and to pay the bills – while their loved ones are making a very dangerous sacrifice to serve their country .

I believe that the people of Lehigh County can make a shared sacrifice for these service members and their families and cover the cost of the property taxes on their homes while they serve our country in a larger capacity.

This really would be an effort by the more than 330,000 people in our county to say while you’re on the front lines we’ve got you covered. We’ve got your backs. In this small way, we’ll take care of this for you. And, more importantly, it’s a nice way to say thanks.

Regardless of our personal viewpoint on the war, we need to be willing to sacrifice together to help those who are sacrificing for us. And, many from our county have given the ultimate sacrifice to these efforts.

Just since the start of this year, four Lehigh County residents have been killed while serving in Iraq: Ashly L. Moyer of Emmaus, Mark T. Resh of Lowhill Township, Brandon J. Van Parys of Lynn Township and Luis O. Rodriguez-Contreras of Allentown.

Let us never forget them – and all the others from our region and beyond – who have answered the call and paid with their lives, their limbs and their blood, sweat and tears.

But, as it was once said, let us pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

On a personal level, I am reminded every day of the difficulties endured by not only the soldiers but those left behind to cope. In our executive office, a young lady named Jill Slivka, whose husband is a Whitehall Township police officer serving in Iraq, struggles to work full-time and to raise two small children alone. Last weekend, she was sick. She had to pay a babysitter to watch her kids because she couldn’t. 

 It’s for the people like Jill and all those families across our county who struggle with the same issues that we ask the people of Lehigh County to cover their taxes for this year and next.

One of my best friends growing up, Doug Bruce, who worked with me in City Hall, and is now the assistant township manager in Bethlehem Township, today is on a green zone base in Baghdad. He lives alone here. I have no idea who is doing his finances, gathering his tax bills and sending his money to his county government while he deals daily with car bombings, insurgents and a burgeoning civil war. In addition to the affect on all of us by our county residents being killed, it’s been these personal experiences for me that have led to this proposal.

We are keeping it simple. If you’re activated for more than six months, you get your money back. If your tenure covers any part of this year or next you get rebated for both years. We will revisit whether we need to extend it toward the end of next year. 

You need not be in Iraq or Afghanistan to be eligible. Many of our personnel are called to serve in another capacity because someone else has been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. If you’ve been activated for more than six months, whether you’ve gone to Bosnia or a base somewhere in the states, it’s most likely because of our efforts there. We’re not looking to create devilish details; we’re looking to help. All full time regular military are eligible as well as reservists deployed for active duty. Initially, application must be made for the rebate with a copy of military papers.

We don’t know exactly how many households there are in our county. Estimates we get from military sources tell us there are about 300 reservists in Lehigh County. We don’t know how many active military live here but we suspect not many since we don’t have a base here in the Lehigh Valley.

Our average property tax bill is $479. Our millage rate is 10.25 mills.

The issue here is not the total number that this affects. In our $354 million budget, we can handle the costs. We won’t need to raise taxes to do it.

What is important is that we be willing to do it. Willing to recognize the difficulties these people endure – over there and here on the home front. And, as these conflicts drag on, and as we all express our thoughts on whether we should stay there or not, let us never allow those discussions to cause us to forget the sacrifices that are being made by these good people every day who are doing their jobs and answering their call.

And, let us never forget to do the simplest and most often forgotten thing in life, to say thanks; thanks to these service personnel and thanks to these families – and to give them a helping hand in a time of need.

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