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Franklin County property taxes expected to increase

December 10, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Rising health-care, prison and court costs and the loss of some state human-service funding were among the reasons cited by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Tuesday when it approved a preliminary $86.4 million 2004 budget with a 2-mill increase in real estate taxes.

The tax increase is split into an additional 1.15 mills for the county's general fund and .85 mill for debt service on a $13 million bond issue, according to the budget package. The increase will bring the county's tax rate up to 16.75 mills.

This year there was no tax for debt service because the county had sufficient interest set aside to make the payments on the bond issue, Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said.

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One mill represents $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value on a property and generates about $1,085,000 in revenue, according to Kristie Boxler, the county's acting fiscal director. The hike will mean about $31 more in taxes for a property with a market value of $100,000, Elliott said.

Real estate taxes will raise a projected $17.1 million of the county's $24.2 million in revenues for the general fund, according to a budget summary. Charges for services generate about $4.4 million.

Expenditures in the general fund will be about 11 percent higher than the current year, according to budget projections, although department heads were asked to present budgets 10 percent lower than those for 2003, Elliott said.

"The majority of the departments came in with a decrease in the line items they could control," County Administrator John Hart said.

There were, however, cost increases that had to be dealt with, according to the board. Court administration costs rose by almost $250,000 to $1,652,000, a large part of which was to pay for the office and staffing of the new seventh district justice office that opens in January.

The only part of the new district justice position paid by the state is the salary of the magistrate, Elliott said.

The courts and corrections account for about 73 cents out of every dollar spent from the general fund, according to budget figures.

The cost of operating the prison will increase approximately $400,000 to almost $4.9 million, which includes three new correctional officer positions, Elliott said. With a rated capacity of about 200 inmates, the population has risen in recent months to nearly 400, according to prison records.

Warden John Wetzel said the number of special-needs inmates, those with serious mental or substance-abuse problems, has about doubled during the year. He said the numbers began to spike in the summer, about the time the state began cutting funding for county mental health, mental retardation, and drug and alcohol programs.

Doug Price, the human services administrator for the county, said the county will lose about $683,000 in state subsidies for those programs because of state budget cuts and the ongoing impasse over a state budget between the governor and state lawmakers.

The bulk of the $86.4 million budget is spent on human service and other programs largely funded through $12.1 million in federal subsidies, $21.2 million in states subsidies and $25 million in charges for services, including payments to the county-owned Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The county's share of operating the 911 center will increase $107,000 to $371,000, Boxler said. She said the $1.24 surcharge on telephone lines for 911 service does not cover the cost of the system.

Health-care costs are budgeted for a 12 percent increase, up $430,000, according to Hart. Workers' compensation coverage was budgeted for a 10-percent increase, he said.

"We supposedly got a bargain," Commissioner Bob Thomas said of the increase in health insurance.

County employees should be receiving a 3 percent increase in salary and wages in 2004, Elliott said. During budget talks with department heads, he said 22 new positions were requested, along with another 16 position upgrades.

The board only approved 10 new positions, four of them part-time assistants for the sheriff's department, Elliott said.

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