No tax hike in Schuylkill
The 2012 budget for operating the county was adopted by the Schuylkill County Commissioners at Wednesday's work session held at the courthouse in Pottsville, calling for no increase in taxes. However, to balance the budget at the end of the year funds may be needed to be drawn from an unreserved county fund held in case of a catastrophe which could be as high as $3.3 million.
The anticipated revenue for all funds is estimated at $128,107,286. General fund revenues are being projected at $45,362,263 which is $1,058,340 or 2.39 percent more than the 2011 budget. The increase is credited to increase in tax revenue from about 91 KOZ (Keystone Opportunity Zone) tax parcels.
Real estate millage remains at 11.98 mills to include 11.42 mills for the general fund account (114.2 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation; .56 of a mill for the funded debt account (5.6 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation and a per capita tax at $5 per person. Real estate collections remains the core at 61.6 percent; per capita taxes, 1 percent from charges for services,18.4 percent; federal and state grants, 6.8 percent and others 13.19 percent.
In summary, the 2012 budgetary 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 budget expenditures and there may be a need to draw down on the unrestricted fund balance to cover the shortfall and prevent a tax hike.
The adopted budget sets an expenditure limit of $12,001,414 on the Rest Haven Nursing Home in Schuylkill Haven; $679,249 for the Capital Project Accounts; $553,500 for the Workers' Compensation Fund; $22,929,620 for the Conduit Accounts, which include CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) Program, Driving Under Influence Program, Schuylkill Transportation Authority, Affordable Housing Agency and Economic Opportunity Council.
Budgeted for special departments were as follows:
Liquid Fuels, $1,611,580; Demolition, $253,450; Farmland Preservation, $26,577; Human Service Complex, $203,200; Office of Senior Services, $6,866,122; Drug and Alcohol Agency, $2,173,033; Mental Health and Mental Retardation Program, $7,086,456; Children and Youth Service Agency, $16,455,661 and Domestic Relations Department, $2,133,835.
Paul Straka, assistant county administrator, observed the county's overall healthcare costs have remained steady for the second straight year and the projected increase for 2012 was 6.8 percent which is the second lowest increase in the past five years. Also, Workers' Compensation costs are trending downward because of the establishment of a Risk Management office. Benefits are also reaped from many job consolidations and eliminations. Under the energy upgrade project initiated at the courthouse, prison and Rest Haven Home in November 2010, the electric savings were 283,7878 kW for a savings of $23,475. Gas savings for all three facilities was 21.844dk therms, amounting to a savings of $29,000. The total savings to the county was $52,475.
Straka concluded, "How we resolve the financial issues is no easy solution but we must continue to scrutinize all expenses, eliminate wasteful spending and come up with new and creative ways to increase revenue."
County Administrator Mark J. Scarbinsky commented, "There will be a constant scrutiny to maintain expenditures within the budget projections, maintain a hiring freeze except for critical positions, freeze on all travel allowing critical travel only, continue to eliminate and consolidate positions preferable through attrition, consider employee furloughs in area of non critical functions, more utilization of part-time employees and potential outsourcing of specific job functions."
Scarbinsky summarized, "Some very tough choices will have to be made moving forward. In this uncertain economic environment we must prepare for decisions and actions which will significantly challenge the status quo and need to focus on our priorities and manage for results as a way to do county business"
Both commissioners Mantura Gallagher and Frank Staudenmeier lauded the financial staff in coming up with a budget that does not deny service to the needy with no increase in taxes.