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Franklin County officials hear budget requests

November 22, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - More capital improvement and personnel requests came in last week as the Franklin County Board of Commissioners held hearings for the upcoming 2005 budget.

County Prison Warden John Wetzel requested that five more corrections officer positions be added next year along with two lieutenant positions.

"It's a function of increased population and the increase in special-needs inmates," Wetzel told the commissioners Thursday. The main prison and work-release annex are designed to hold 194 inmates, but the population was 355 that day, according to Wetzel.

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Wetzel also asked for a correctional counselor "for inmates with serious treatment needs." Earlier this year, the warden said the number of special-needs inmates, those with serious mental, physical or substance abuse problems, has been on the rise.

Operating the prison is one of the county's biggest expenditures, with a budget of approximately $5 million this year, according to 2004 budget figures.

The county is scheduled to begin construction of a new 445-bed prison next year, possibly within the Cumberland Valley Business Park on former Letterkenny Army Depot land. The project is budgeted at $30 million, which will be funded with a bond issue, according to the commissioners.

Other requests include:

· Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Administrator Christopher Bailey requested $298,000 in capital improvements and purchases for the county nursing home, including $156,000 as part of ongoing renovations to the 198-bed nursing home.

Bailey said the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and plumbing are being upgraded.

· Management Information Services is requesting about $99,000 for additional staffing, but that would replace some consulting services, according to Teresa Beckner, the county's fiscal director. Another $318,000 is being sought for various projects including upgrades to computer network security, anti-virus protection and spam- blocking technology, Beckner said.

· The county's emergency management agency requested that salaries for several positions be upgraded next year. The agency also is requesting replacements for two emergency generators at a cost of approximately $20,000.

· Another $7,000 is being requested to purchase 25 portable digital radios. County Administrator John Hart said the purchase is in line with the county's plan to replace its aging public-service radio system.

The $39 million bond issue authorized by the commissioners earlier this year included money for the prison, as well as $4 million for replacing the radio system and $5 million for the purchase of development easements as part of county's farmland preservation program.

Funding the debt on the bond issue could require up to 2.7 mills in real estate taxes, Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said last week.

The county real estate tax is 16.15 mills this year, with each mill generating approximately $1.1 million in general fund revenues.

The 2004 county budget totaled $86.4 million, the bulk of which is funded by state and federal subsidies and charges for services. This year's general fund was about $24.2 million, according to county figures.

Elliott said the county is facing a 17 percent increase in health-insurance premiums, although the county picked up half the cost of the increase for employees' family coverage.

"We have a health-care crisis in this country and it's not the Franklin County Commissioners that are going to solve it," he said.

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