Schuylkill County Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously adopted a 2014 budget that calls for a two-mill property tax increase. It increases the millage to 13.89 mills, and is the first increase since 2004.
All three commissioners, Frank Staudenmeier, George Halcovage and Gary Hess, were of the opinion the increase was inevitable because of the increase in costs in providing the type of service residents of the county deserve.
They include upgrades to the 911 center, which provides security; upkeep of the county prison; care provided to senior citizens and children; rising cost of health care; pension obligations; and maintenance costs of county buildings. Staudenmeier noted the county received only 20 percent of the taxes paid by property owners as school districts and municipalities receive greater amounts.
They lauded the "row" office holders for their prudent management of their departments by keeping the working staff at a minimum, but continuing to provide great services to the citizens.
The commissioners also placed restraints on the budget by initiating a hiring freeze, and by freezing all travel except that for mandatory training; the elimination and consolidation of positions where feasible; consideration of "right-sizing" operations through employee furloughs in noncore and noncritical areas; utilization of more part-time employees, and outsourcing of specific operational functions.
Fiscal Officer Paul Buber reported the option to raise taxes was the only viable alternative for balancing the budget adopted.
The commissioners a number of years ago established a reserve fund which was created by former County Commissioner Paul Sheers, Coaldale, to be used for any major disaster which could occur in the county. The fund has been built up to $9 million.
The board of commissioners from 2008 to 2013 dipped into the fund to balance the budgets and avoid tax increases. However, for 2014, despite another dip into the reserve fund, the commissioners needed to raise taxes.
Next year's budget calls for the property tax rate to be set at 13.98 mills. It breaks down to 14.83 mills for the general fund account; .15 of a mill for the funded debt, and a $5 per capita tax on all adults living the county.
The total amount of expenditures budgeted is $53,733,255, and the anticipated revenue is $50,099.460, including real estate and per capita tax. But $3,633,795 will be needed from the reserve fund, in addition to the tax hike, in order to balance the budget.
Amounts budgeted for various accounts were as follows:
Rest Haven Home, $12,646,092; Emergency 911 Center, $9,091,509; Capital Projects, $2,850,000; Capital Reserve Fund, $1,192,249; Workers' Compensation, $756,200; Liquid Fuels, $1,988,005; Demolition, $335,837; Farmland Preservation, $64,882; Other Agency Funds, $9,580,824; Office of Senior Services, $6,214,465; Drug and Alcohol, $2,100,5011; Mental Health, $6,642,7332; Children and Youth Services, $17,309,201; Domestic Relations, $2,252,378; and Special Programs, $11,476,982.