Carbon County budget keeps taxes level
Carbon County residents can probably expect to pay the same on their county taxes in 2014.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted to approve the 2014 budget with no tax increase. As it stands, the tax rate for the county will remain 10.25 mills.
That means that a homeowner with a $100,000 home that is assessed at $50,000 will pay $512.50 in county real estate taxes next year.
The proposed budget, which is broken down into operating funds, $42,138,271; capital projects, $745,000; and special funds, $2,292,325; totals $45,175,596.
One area in the budget that Commissioner William O'Gurek highlighted is employee salaries, which provides a 3 percent salary increase for all non-union employees in 2014. Those employees did not receive a raise in 2013.
One union, which the county settled with last week, will also receive a salary increase in 2014. Two other union contracts are currently in negotiations.
Other big ticket items in the budget include the prison, with a $4.2 million budget; and the courts, which runs annually on approximately $4.2 million.
To help keep costs down, Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, explained the county cut wherever it felt it was possible.
"I think the commissioners worked very hard this past year at trying to maintain the budget," he said.
In 2013, a total of 15 full-time and 18 part-time positions were eliminated in various departments.
But, Nothstein said, the county had to create eight full-time and five part-time positions in the courts to handle the extra caseloads that have been growing significantly over the last few years.
Property values dropping
He also pointed out that the projected revenue from property taxes is only $37,000 more than this year because property values in Carbon are dropping.
"The property values are killing us," Nothstein said.
Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard thanked his colleagues, as well as everyone involved in preparing the spending plan.
He noted that the county has leaned on the departments to do a lot more projects in-house instead of contracting to outside companies.
"We're stressing the fact that we have to save everyday so at the end of the year we're not having to crunch numbers," Gerhard said.
The preliminary budget is now available for public review at the commissioners' office in the county courthouse annex in Jim Thorpe between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, until Dec. 11.
In other matters, Nothstein and O'Gurek addressed the Commonwealth Court ruling in the Packerton project; as well as the funding that had been secured for the project.
O'Gurek added that he is disappointed by the decision.
"In essence, I think the rejection basically means the development of Packerton Business Park is over at this time," he said. "We were hoping to create an environment to create jobs ... unfortunately due to factors that are no longer secret, there are people who don't want that to be the case. If this county did anything, it made a strong attempt to try and create jobs in the county that has one of the highest unemployment rates in Pennsylvania."
He and Nothstein noted that the commissioners will see what of the $5 million in state and federal funding can be salvaged and used for other projects in the county.
The board is hoping that the state will allow them to redirect $1.2 million in Local Share monies to other projects in the county. They are also hoping that will be the case with $2 million that former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell earmarked for Packerton, but feel it will have to be returned.
O'Gurek noted that the $1 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant the county received will be given back.
"We had secured about $5 million for the concept of acquiring and improving and making Packerton Yards available as an industrial park," O'Gurek said, "and now that unfortunately won't happen. It's a sad day in Carbon County, most especially because we hear many people say that they don't want to see money go from the state and federal governments to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh and that's likely what will happen (with the money the county gives back). We got $5 million but due to court rulings and local decisions by the township, it doesn't allow us to spend that money and will potentially have to give it back."