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Franklin County tax rate to jump by 2 mills

December 31, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Despite restoration of some funding for county programs after the long-delayed passage of a state budget, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a 2004 budget increasing real estate taxes 2 mills.

"We do essentially have the same budget for adoption as presented earlier," Chairman G. Warren Elliott said of the $86,419,498 budget that received preliminary approval on Dec. 9. The tax increase includes 1.15 mills for the $24.2 million general fund and .85 mills for debt service on a $13 million bond issue, according to the budget summary.

The tax rate for the county will be 16.75 mills, which includes 15.3 mills for the general fund, the .85 mills for debt service and a .6-mill levy on 18 of the county's 22 municipalities for the library system. Each mill is expected to generate about $1,085,000 in revenues.

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One mill represents $1 on every $1,000 of assessed value on a property. The owner of a property with a market value of $100,000 will see a tax increase of about $31 next year, Elliott said.

According to figures supplied to the county by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Franklin County had the lowest property tax rate among the state's 67 counties in 2003. Even with the increase, the commissioners said the rate will remain among the lowest, if not the lowest, in the state.

The tax rates in neighboring Fulton and Adams counties are more than 60 percent higher, Elliott said.

The impasse between the Legislature and governor over the state budget ended earlier this month, more than five months after the July 1 deadline. On Dec. 9, before the deadlock was broken, county Human Services Administrator Doug Price estimated the county would lose about $683,000 in state subsidies for programs such as Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Drug and Alcohol and the Human Services Development Fund.

The commissioners Tuesday did not have estimates on how much funding will be restored, but Elliott said Pennsylvania's budget year is already halfway over.

"We have to protect ourselves from the fact that the state budget expires in six months and the uncertainty and confusion could start all over again," he said. Elliott noted the Legislature will begin debating the 2004-2005 state budget in less than two months.

Much of the funding for human services comes from state and federal subsidies to those county programs, with only about 5 percent coming from the county general fund. The two primary sources of revenue for the general fund are the real estate tax, projected at $17.1 million next year, and charges for services at about $4.5 million.

About 73 cents out of every local tax dollar going into the general fund is spent on crime, courts and corrections, according to the budget summary.

Court administration costs will rise about $250,000 to $1,652,000, in large part to pay for the office and staffing of the new seventh district justice office that opens in January, according to budget figures supplied Dec. 9 by Kristi Boxler, the county's acting fiscal director.

The cost of operating the prison will go up approximately $400,000 to almost $4.9 million, according to Boxler's figures. The county's share of operating the 911 center will increase $107,000 to $371,000, Boxler said.

Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said county employees will see their wages and salaries increase an average of 3 percent next year.

Health care costs are budgeted to increase 12 percent, up $430,000, according to budget estimates. Plummer said the county is absorbing the increase for those employees with single coverage, but those with spousal or family coverage will pay more in 2004.

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