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No tax increase for Schuylkill County

Published November 22. 2019 12:50PM

Schuylkill County’s preliminary budget for 2020 has no tax increase, holding millage at 15.98, but officials had to use $8.2 million from the unassigned fund balance to cover a structural deficit.

The commissioners unanimously approved the preliminary budget during their workshop meeting Wednesday; the final budget will be adopted at the commissioners’ meeting Dec. 18.

County Administrator Gary Bender said that the burden of complying with state mandates was an ongoing challenge.

“Making a sound, balanced budget remains problematic,” Bender said. “State mandates widen the gap between revenue and expenditures.”

Revenues for the county’s general fund are projected at $57,903,272 and expenditures at $66,141,193. Director of Finance Paul Buber said that the original preliminary budget deficit was $12,070,292.

“By applying expense trending techniques, by reviewing departmental/agency/row office narratives, by making inquiries on their justifications, by applying options for financing of larger capital items, and by finding alternative funding for some initiatives, the financial team was able to generate $3,832,371 in cost reductions,” Buber said.

Both Buber, Bender and the commissioners recognized financial analyst Chris Kerns, who they said “asked the hard questions” when interacting with department heads.

Buber said that the significant drivers of increased operational costs in the general fund included: an increase of $855,000 for employee wages; an increase of $258,039 for the allocation to Children & Youth; an increase of $257,421 for 911; and increase of $471,507 for the county contribution to the retirement fund; and an increase of $126,053 for the recycling program.

Bender recommended a hiring freeze, a strict limit to travel, elimination and consolidation of positions and the hiring of more part-time employees. He also said that state representatives needed to continue working on tax reform, and not rely on real estate taxes as the source of revenue.

In other action, the commissioners opened a lone bid for cleaning of the county courthouse. The bid is from TKO Cleaning, at $69,000 yearly beginning Jan. 1, 2020; and for $70,400 yearly beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The bid will be reviewed and awarded at a later date.

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