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$58.8 million Franklin Co. budget approved

December 30, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Franklin County Commissioners on Thursday gave final approval to a $58.8 million budget for 2000, an appropriation that will increase real estate taxes of an average property owner by $16.50 a year, from $138 to $154.50.

The vote was unanimous for a budget that Commissioners Chairman G. Warren Elliott said is being driven up by increased costs for courts, crime and corrections. The county is supporting its largest-ever prison population and the district attorney's largest caseload, he said.

About 76 cents of every budget dollar will go to fund those three areas, Elliott said. "Unfortunately that does not leave a whole lot to do all the things we are responsible for," he said.

He said the county's administrative costs have decreased in recent years to 6 percent of the budget.

The new budget is about 5 percent higher than last year's, which came in at $55.9 million.

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The extra money this year will come from an increase in the county's mill rate by 2.75, bringing the total new rate to 25.75 mills for the general purpose and debt service budgets, said Commissioner Bob Thomas. One mill represents $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value.

In addition, residents in most municipalities will pay an additional 1.5 mills to support the county's library system. Waynesboro, Pa., taxpayers will pay into the library fund for the first time this year. The Waynesboro Library Board voted to join the county system to be eligible for more state funds, according to officials in that borough.

For the first time, Elliott said, no tax money will go into operating the county's nursing home. Three years ago the county had to put $1 million into the facility.

"It is now self-supporting and was named county nursing home of the year in Pennsylvania," Elliott said.

The second biggest chunk of money from the 2000 budget, behind crime-related costs, is the $200,000 the commissioners are setting aside for the county's farmland preservation program. It's up by $50,000 over last year.

Sheri Clayton, senior planner for Franklin County, said there are now 22 farms with a total 3,168 acres in the program locally. The newest farm to be added to the program is owned by William and Shirley Stoner in St. Thomas, Pa. The Stoner farm is 149 acres.

Clayton said plans are in the works to add another 12 farms totaling 1,800 acres next year.

"We have slow growth here so we can still get a handle on our farmland," she said.

Under the program farmers are paid $1,250 an acre, one time, to put their land into easements that protect it from development forever.

Elliott, a champion of the preservation program and member of the state committee that runs it for Pennsylvania, said the goal is to protect the best, most fertile farms in the county then cluster them into vast areas of protected farmland.

He said 50 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties have farmland preservation programs. Statewide there are 1,193 farms in the program for a total of 147,643 acres.

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