Despite an anticipated deficit of $500,000 at the end of this year and an anticipated deficit of $3.3 million in 2012, a preliminary 2012 budget for Schuylkill County was adopted by the county commissioners in action taken at their work session Wednesday at the courthouse in Pottsville.

Final adoption is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 21. It will mark eight straight years without a property tax hike. The budget for all the funds is at $128,107,286 and for general fund expenditures, $45,362,263.

The real estate millage for 2012 is 11.98 and includes 11.42 mills for the general count (114.2 cents on each $100 of assessed value and .56 of a mill for the funded debt (5.6 cents on each $100 of assessed value; and a $5 per capita tax).

The anticipated expenditures of $47,989,064 are offset by projected new revenues of $45,362,263 (including real estate and per capita tax revenues) supplemented by borrowing $2,626,801 from the unrestricted and unassigned fund balance of $10,638,290, which was reduced from $11,138,290 by borrowing $500,000 to balance the 2011 budget.

Only two of the three commissioners were present to vote on adopting the preliminary budget chairwoman Mantura Gallagher and minority Commissioner Frank Staudenmeier. Commissioner Francis McAndrew was absent.

Gallagher, who will step down at the end of the year as she did not seek re-election, has been a commissioner for eight years, four years as the minority and last four years as the chairwoman. Gallagher pointed out some counties are increasing taxes, but was pleased the county is holding the line.

She congratulated the financial staff and the county employees in their cooperation to hold the line claiming deficits were predicted in the 2009 and 2010 budgets, which ended in a balance and the 2011 budget was projected in a $3 million deficit and may end up in the black.

Staudenmeier, who has served as commissioner 10 years, first filling the unexpired term of Jerry Knowles for two years, followed by being elected chairman for four years and the last four years was the minority commissioner. He spoke of a zero budget and called it a team effort.

The county has 700 employees and all played a part in keeping down expenditures, Staudenmeier pointed out.

Projected deficit

Fiscal administrator Mark Scarbinsky said the budget was built upon an extensive amount of planning and management strategies to maintain the county's strong financial base.

"Based on present analysis," Scarbinsky said, "The 2012 budget reflects a 8.8 percent decrease in total expenditures over the 2011 budget and a 5.2 percent decrease in total revenues. This equates to a projected budget deficit of approximately $3.3 million for 2012 fiscal year." He added, "The goal is maintenance of a hiring freeze except for critical positions, freeze on all travel and closely scrutinize travel requests with only critical travel permitted, continue to eliminate and consolidate positions preferably through attrition, rightsize operations by considering employee furloughs in area of noncritical functions; more utilization of part-time employees and potential outsourcing of specific job functions."

Scarbinsky announced the county has seven union contracts with six still to be negotiated. A contract with the teamster's union, which represents the county prison employees, has been agreed on for the next four years, which will add $700,000 in additional costs over the four-year span.

"We need to continue redefining and maintaining a focus on our priorities and manage for results as a way to do county business," he said.

Budget process

Paul Strake, budget director, and Paul Buber, financial officer, were the core of the staff preparing the budget.

"Healthcare costs increases are projected at 6.8 percent through the establishment of the Risk Management office," Strake said. "We continue to see savings on both the revenue and expense portions and workers' compensation costs decreased 15.3 percent. We continue to reap the benefits of the many job consolidations and eliminations with benefit packages now average between $8,000 to $16,000 per employee each year.

"The Energy Upgrade Project shows continued savings and for the period from November 2010 to October 2011 at the courthouse, prison and Rest Haven Home the electric savings amounted to $23,475; gas savings for all three facilities, $29,000. The overall savings to the county was $52,475. General fund expenditures decreased 8 percent. We will continue to scrutinize all expenses, eliminate wasteful spending and come up with a new and creative way to increase revenue."

Buber commented, "The anticipated revenue for all funds is estimated at $128,107,286. General fund revenues are projected at $45,362,263 which is $1,058,340 or 2.39 percent more than the 2011 budget for general funds. The increase is primarily attributed to an increase in tax revenue from KOZ (Keystone Opportunity Zone) tax parcels. The real estate collections remain the core at 61.6 percent, per capita tax at 1 percent, charges services at 18.4 percent, federal and state, 6.8 percent and others 13.19 percent.

"In summary, the 2012 preliminary budget revenues for the general fund are projected to be about $2,626,801 or 5.47 percent less than what is needed to fund the 2012 budgetary expenditures for the general fund. We suggested that monies be drawn from the unrestricted fund balance to cover the shortfall to maintain the real estate millage at 11.98 mills."

The unrestricted fund for the past 16 years has built up to more than $11 million. When past budgets finished with a surplus the monies were added to the fund for "a rainy day." In the past four years the commissioners have had to dip into the fund to balance the budget and prevent a tax increase.

The budget

Expenditures for general fund are $47,989,064 and projected revenues $45,362,263, which requires drawing $2,626,801 from the general fund unrestricted fund balance.

Funded Debt Account anticipated expenditures are $2,693,478 for debt service with offset projected revenues of $1,671,968.

Enterprise Fund Account – Rest Haven Home, expenditures proposed for nursing home operations is $12,001,414 to be offset by projected operating revenues of $12,001,414.

Enterprise Fund Account 9-1-1 Communications, expenditures projected at $4,648,501 and revenues projected at $4,656,087.

Capital Project Accounts, anticipated expenditures of $679,249 with offset revenues projected at $679,249.

Internal Service Fund Workers' Compensation, anticipated expenditures at $553,500 and offset projected revenues, $747,100.

Conduit Accounts, projected expenditures at $22,929,620 and projected offset revenues at $23,857,906.

Special Revenue Fund expenditures and revenues as follows:

Liquid Fuels, expenditures $1,611,580 and revenues, $720,000; Demolition, expenditures, $253,450 and revenues, $251,300; Farmland Preservation, expenditures, $26,577 and revenues, $26,577; Human Service Complex, expenditures, $203,200 and revenues, $203,200; Other Agency Funds, expenditures, $3,120,310 and revenues, $3,084,350; Office of Senior Services, expenditures, $6,866,122 and revenues, $6,866,122; Drug and Alcohol Agency, expenditures, $2,173,033 and revenues, $2,173,033; Mental Health and Mental Retardation Program, expenditures, $7,086,456 and revenues, $7,086,456; Children and Youth Services Agency, expenditures, $16,445,661 and revenues, $16,445,661 and Domestic Relations Department, expenditures, $2,133,835 and revenues, $2,274,600.

Attending the work session were newly-elected county commissioners, George Halcovich, who will join with Staudenmeier to be the majority commissioners, (both Republican); Gary Hess, (Democrat), who will become the minority commissioner, and Christy Joy (Republican) will replace Melinda Kantner as the county controller.

They all agreed to keep a watch on spending and still provide services.