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Commissioners discuss ways to balance county budget

April 09, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners on Thursday discussed raising taxes and cutting $2.8 million from the School Board budget to balance the county's fiscal 2000 budget.

Reducing the Washington County Board of Education budget, which Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said is filled with "fluff," would cut a projected $3.31 million general fund shortfall to about $500,000.

Commissioners Bert L. Iseminger and Swartz said they would support a property tax increase to help balance the $113 million budget.

Iseminger said he is willing to raise the county's property tax rate by 6 cents to help pay for the shortfall. The increase would cost the average homeowner about $29 a year.

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A 6-cent property tax increase would bring in about $1.55 million in additional revenue, according to county documents.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said most residents he knows would prefer reduced county services to higher taxes.

Wivell and Commissioner John L. Schnebly opposed a tax hike. Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook missed the meeting because he was out of town.

The commissioners took no official action.

The county expects revenue in the upcoming fiscal year to be $7.03 million above that in the current fiscal year. But funding requests have increased by $10.34 million.

Giving the School Board its requested $6.71 million increase would eat up the additional revenue. The School Board has asked for $61.6 million from the county general fund.

Swartz said he supports cutting the School Board request by at least $1.6 million.

Swartz said he is convinced there is enough fluff in the budget to withstand the cut.

School Board budgets usually are padded since the commissioners are expected to make some reductions, he said.

School Board President Edwin Hayes has said there is no fluff in the board's proposed budget.

Rather than the requested 11.8 percent increase, Schnebly and Wivell discussed increasing the school budget by about 7 percent, or $3.8 million more than the current year, or by 8 percent, or $4.4 million more.

A 7 percent increase would leave the county with a shortfall of about $500,000, while 8 percent would mean a shortfall of about $1.1 million.

Iseminger said he opposes cutting the education budget by more than $1 million and knows the county can't make an additional $2.31 million in cuts. He suggested a tax increase as a partial solution.

The commissioners spent the first 90 minutes of the three-hour special meeting going over some of the larger general fund requests. Rather than making major cuts, the commissioners suggested a few increases.

They informally agreed, for example, to give the Washington County Free Library $54,000 more than previously proposed, which means it will receive the full $1.254 million requested.

An apparently frustrated Schnebly stood up at one point. "... Think about what you are saying," he said.

The focus must be on cutting, not adding to, the budget, he said.

Wivell agreed. "We are not going to get there without some difficult decisions," he said.

The commissioners are to make final budget adjustments Tuesday and hold a public hearing April 27.

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