Carbon County residents should expect to see their county taxes remain the same in 2012.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted 2-1 to accept the new proposed 2012 county spending plans. Commissioner William O'Gurek cast the sole "no" vote for the $40.6 million operating funds budget but in favor of the nearly $1.2 million capital projects and $2.2 million special funds budgets.
That means that if the budget passes with no changes on Feb. 2, a person who owns a home with an assessed value of $50,000 will be required to again pay $344.65 in county real estate taxes in 2012. This is up $50 from the 2012 budget that was passed by the previous administration in December.
Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, explained that the new proposed budget resets the millage for 2012, from 5.893 mills set by O'Gurek and former Commissioner Charles Getz; to 6.893 mills, which it has been for nearly a decade. It also decreased the raises for county employees from 5 percent back to 3 percent; removes some items and moves other items into the contingency funds.
O'Gurek also pointed out that the new board reduced expenses in the budget by $492,000.
He then asked the majority commissioners to consider giving the taxpayers a break in the form of passing the final budget with only a half-mill increase instead of the 1-mill increase.
"When the last budget was adopted, it had a carryover balance of $1,158,000 and a lot of things have happened since then," he said, noting that the salary board voted to give 3 percent raises to employees instead of 5 percent.
O'Gurek said that move alone saved $110,000.
He added that the board also made decisions on staff change requests showing a savings of $120,000 and $300,000 on position requests.
"Given those numbers and the fact that the raise was only 3 percent and not 5 percent, that represents much more than the $1,158,000 that was going to be in the budget that we had talked about," O'Gurek said. "I was kind of hopeful that we could give the taxpayers a break and I would really like to see us think about and actually vote on setting the millage a half-mill less than what it was rather than putting the full mill back."
Nothstein responded to O'Gurek's request, saying that he would have loved to do that, but the board needs to look toward the future.
"You have to look at what's going to occur if we do that," Nothstein said. "We're going to be operating on a nearly $4-plus million deficit more than what we're taking in."
He noted that there were items, including a lightning suppression system at the Carbon County Correctional Facility, that were overlooked and not put in the budget, which also now needs to be addressed.
"No one really wants to come into this office and just raise taxes," Nothstein continued. "If we do not do anything we will be looking at just about a 3-mill tax increase next year just to survive.
"My proposal today is to keep it the same so maybe by next year it will be less of a burden so we don't have to increase it anymore. We're trying to keep an even keel here, but if we cut it we are just cutting our own throat and setting ourselves up for failure. And I really believe that this is what's happening and why this budget was passed by the previous administration, to set this administration up for failure."
Nothstein added that the county has a lot of work to do at looking at cutting expenses wherever possible because state and federal funding is not there.
"We all know that the federal and state governments have been cutting our reimbursements," he said. "We have to take some serious looks at a lot of these offices. The prison alone cost us over $4 million in our operating budget. We don't have a choice in those issues. We don't have a choice in child placement programs. We don't know what to expect with the budget cuts of the state and federal government. I will not sit here, as much as I want to, and cut that budget. I will not jeopardize the future of this county by cutting now so we have to raise it by even more in the future."
O'Gurek then pointed out that a $20,000 request by the prison was cut out. That money was needed to build a shed to house chemicals and other items that are not allowed to be in the main building.
"Just so you know it's not budgeted but it's been made pretty clear that when the state comes in to inspect our prison, one of the things they said that was going to be contingent on passing the exam and getting certification, was to remove some of the things in the building like gasoline and put it in the storage building," he said. "They need a building up there otherwise in the next inspection we risk not passing the Department of Corrections examination and certification."
Nothstein said that this has been an issue for years and that the past administration had done nothing about it either.
Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard then asked why the issue wasn't addressed by the previous administration.
In response, O'Gurek said it was only brought to the county's attention for the first time this past August.
The amended spending plan is available for public inspection in the Office of the County Commissioners, located in the courthouse annex in Jim Thorpe, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, until Feb. 1.
It will be officially adopted at 10:30 a.m., Feb. 2, during the weekly meeting of the commissioners.
In other matters, Valerie Norato of Penn Forest Township approached the board to ask Gerhard and new county solicitor Daniel Miscavige if they have read the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions.
Both Gerhard and Miscavige said they have to an extent.
She then gave both men copies of the constitutions and asked to return in about a month to see if they have questions on the documents.