Carbon reduces tax rate
Carbon County residents can expect to pay less on their county taxes in 2012.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted 2-1 to approve the 2012 budget with a one-mill tax decrease. As it stands, the tax rate for the county will be 5.893 mills. One mill generates $1,533,000.
That means that a homeowner with a $50,000 home assessed at $25,000 could expect to pay $147.33, $25 less than in 2011.
Minority Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, who will become a majority commissioner in January when incoming commissioner-elect Tom Gerhard takes office on Jan. 3, again cast the sole "no" vote. He also voted against the proposed spending plan earlier this month because he felt the plan was irresponsibly spending the county's financial surplus.
Nothstein again said that he felt the budget was unrealistic and irresponsible because it "calls for an increase of 5 percent in salaries for employees, approves all budget requests for every department, and reduces all revenue or general fund balances."
He added that the budget also lowers the general fund's balance to nearly $1.2 million from $7.5 million.
Nothstein and Gerhard will have the opportunity to reopen the budget to revisit the figures in January, if they so desire.
Commissioner Charles Getz, who has been very vocal about Nothstein's actions and decisions since the November election, said that he was tired of hearing Nothstein saying the budget was irresponsibly spending county funds.
"You sit here and make remarks," Getz said, "but back in 2007 when the county paid $700,000 for a lawsuit of an illegal dismissal of a public defender, which is all political, you didn't even ask the solicitor at that time of you can do it. You didn't care about wasting that money. You got us into a $700,000 lawsuit that could have been avoided because you never took the time to ask the county solicitor if it was legal. You just went and did it.
"So don't sit here and make a big play on words when you got this county into a lawsuit for $700,000. I'm tired of your lies."
Nothstein responded to Getz's comments with a question.
"Would this budget have been adopted like this had you both won the election," he asked.
Getz responded, "That's a good question, but we try to save money. We watch. We don't get the county into situations where we're spending money recklessly and you've done that."
The 2012 budget is broken down into three main funds. Of the $46,876,317 plan, $41,482,475 is for operating funds; $1,188,900 is for capital projects; and $2,204,942 is for special funds. This is down $4.1 million from this year's budget.
Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, commented on the budget and pointed out some of the "big ticket items," which include $275,000 for converting the communications center to be narrowband compatible and $60,000 for the operations of the solid waste recycling program.
"Every year we take pride in being able to operate within our means," O'Gurek said. "I think that's the objective that we not only work toward, but what the people expect us to work toward. When you sit in these chairs I believe it comes with the responsibility to be a good steward of the county taxpayers' money.
"To go (nine years) without having to raise taxes and also eliminate the occupational tax a few years ago, we hope that the people are appreciative of it. It's something we're proud of."
Getz added that one factor that helped the board keep taxes low was grants that covered a number of larger projects.
"If we didn't get all the grant money we got, we would have had to raise taxes," he said.
In other matters, the county said that recycling will continue in Carbon County, at least for 2012.
O'Gurek said receiving a grant to help cover some of the costs helped the program.
The recycling program serves nearly 30,000 residents in 14 municipalities of the county through the blue bins. Residents in those communities can recycle newspaper; corrugated cardboard; magazines; green, clear or brown glass; aluminum cans; and No. 1 or 2 plastics.
O'Gurek pointed out that the program, which is not a mandated program, costs the county money annually through operations and costly equipment repairs.
"I think in the future, boards of commissioners are going to have to address the program based on the situation that we're going to find ourselves in financially," he said. "I think it's going to come down to what's necessary and what's not necessary with regard to the county."
He pointed out that the county currently has an 8.4 percent recycling rate with the bins.
Getz added that if the county discontinues the program, municipalities would see the rates on garbage collection rise.
The county also said they received an email from the Commonwealth Finance Agency regarding its grant application for $1.4 million for the purchase of narrowband radios. The radios would be used in 19 municipalities.
O'Gurek said that the email asked what the lowest amount was that the county would be comfortable accepting. He said they indicated that "we may be able to do with less but it will impact all municipalities involved and force them to have to come up with the rest of the money."
He added, "We requested all of it and we would like to see it fully funded. I think it's a good sign that they asked the least amount we could accept. I think it's a good sign that they think there's merit to our application and they want to fund it."
Over the last year, Carbon County has volunteered to take the lead on a countywide grant application for local share monies through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to help area municipalities and emergency services get the funds they need to replace their radios, pagers and other communication devices.
The need to replace this equipment is due to a Federal Communications Commission mandate that is changing frequencies to narrowband frequencies, meaning that there will be more channels available for emergency services. The cost of this equipment is estimated to be between $500 and $2,000 per item. The deadline for changeover is Dec. 31, 2012.