For the eighth year in a row, Carbon County residents should not see an increase in their county taxes.

Under the proposed 2010 spending plan, revealed Thursday at the Carbon County commissioners' meeting, the tax rate for the county should remain 6.893 mills.

That means a person who owns a home with an assessed value of $50,000 will be required to pay $344.65 in county real estate taxes again in 2010.

Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, said that the board worked hard on the budget.

He pointed out that projected figures for future years could mean that a tax hike may be necessary down the road. One major expense that the county is funding through the general fund currently is Weatherwood, the county-owned nursing home, which is showing nearly a $3 million loss for the year. That deficit is expected to continue through 2010.

In previous years, Weatherwood offset its deficits through a Weatherwood fund that was set up years ago, but that surplus has been used.

O'Gurek said during the meeting that he will not vote for a tax increase next year to keep Weatherwood funded, because he doesn't feel the debt should fall on the taxpayers. Carbon County is currently weighing its options on what it should do with the financially bleeding nursing home.

The county will begin 2010 with $8.3 million, down $2.1 million from the 2009 starting balance.

The proposed $67.04 million budget is down $604,687 from last year's $67.65 million budget. It is broken into three main funds, operating, which totals $62,406,540; capital projects, $2,725,584; and special funds, $1,914,137.

The preliminary budget is scheduled to be adopted on Dec. 10. Until then, it is available for review at the commissioners' office in the county courthouse annex in Jim Thorpe between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

In other matters, the board approved an amendment to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Community Conservation Partnerships program grant for the Nesquehoning Trestle to Jim Thorpe rails-to-trails project. The amendment extends the grant expiration date to Dec. 31, 2010.

Initially, the $330,000 DCNR grant that Carbon received was slated to expire at the end of this year.

O'Gurek said officials hope to have the trail open for hikers and bikers by this summer, but the extension was a good thing.

Randall Smith, county administrator, added that work on preparing the land for a trail had begun on Thursday.

Initially, the $330,000 DCNR grant that Carbon received for the project was slated to expire at the end of this year. This action extends that time frame until Dec. 31, 2010.

The rails-to-trails project has been in the works since 2005, but numerous hurdles shut down any progress that could be made, and continually pushed back the completion date.

Earlier this year, the county and the Reading and Northern Railroad reached an agreement on plans for the trail. Specifications for the project call for the path to come off the Nesquehoning trestle and be six feet away from the railroad tracks in that area, and arch out 100 feet until it is 15 feet away the requirement specified by the railroad. A four-foot high fence will also be installed 12 feet from the center of the trail as a safety measure.

In August, the county purchased the last piece of needed land for the project from Frank Foster. Negotiations for that purchase have taken place since at least 2006.

In October, S&K Construction of Tobyhanna was hired to complete the trail, which will connect Lehigh Gorge State Park with downtown Jim Thorpe at a cost of $318,622.50.